Monday, 18 August 2008

Joining the penguins

There comes a time, when tucked away in odd corners, you find old computers. These computers have been replaced because they did not have USB ports, or they ran old versions of Windows and had small hard drives and it was just easier to buy a new one rather than keep upgrading. Or they were just so slow that a day’s work seemed to take about three days to complete. Or they were worryingly insecure. Or… the reasons why they were replaced just go on. But there is a way to get some more life out of that old hardware, a way to increase their Return On Investment (ROI), a way to make them useful once more – and that’s to install Linux.

Why choose Linux? Well the first answer is that it seems to run on any old hardware – you don’t need 2GB of RAM for the operating system etc. Secondly, it’s free. So if you don’t like it, it’s cost you nothing (well maybe the price of a blank CD!). Thirdly, Linux upgrades incrementally, rather than major leaps such as ME to XP and XP to Vista. This makes upgrading fairly easy, and takes away the nightmare of running an unsupported operating system.

The thing that puts off many people from using Linux is the choice. Now I know that Vista comes in lots of versions (Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Ultimate), but Linux comes with varieties such as Red Hat, SUSE, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, Puppy, Mint, etc, etc. Which one is best? And an answer of, “it all depends”, just makes it too complicated. However, I have been using versions that fit easily onto a single CD and allow you to boot up from the CD, even if Windows is installed on the hard drive.

So let’s say you have made a choice of which Linux variant you want (Puppy or Mint might be good starting points – but so are the others). The next stage is to download the Linux distribution you want (a distro). The download files are usually ISO files, and these need to be burned onto CDs as ISO files. With Nero, for example, tell it to burn an image from the File menu and then Open the ISO file.

The next stage is to check that the computer will boot from CD. Go to the BIOS and, if necessary, change the boot priority to the optical drive. Usually the computer will boot OK from your new boot CD. Just watch out for any messages about booting from CD – it’s definitely what you want to do.

The clever thing about the small Linux systems is that they will discover hardware. From then on you can access files on the old C: drive. It should also discover old hardware and make it available. It will then discover networking capabilities and allow you to get on to the Internet.

I would just play with this version of Linux for a while and see how it goes. Once you are happy that Linux gives your old hardware a new lease of life, then install it – so it will boot from the hard drive in future.

There are loads of Web sites that explain the nitty gritty of installing the Linux variant of your choice. They explain things like the /home directory, /root, /boot, /dev/sda or /dev/hda, and /swap.

Like it says in the title, I have started to use Linux for more things than just recovering data from “dead” Windows laptops. Give it a go – and then try OpenOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office and Firefox as an alternative to Explorer, if you’re not doing so already.

1 comment:

42gems said...

not quite sure its right to compare different linux distros to versions of vista.