Old computers can be a bit of an annoyance. They tend to lock up often, won’t run the newest software, and if it is one of those off-white boxes that were so common around the turn of the century, it may have even turned yellow by now.
While there’s not much you can do about yellowed plastic (although I’d venture a guess that bleach would work), there is an option other than the trash heap. After all, you paid so much for that computer back in 2001 it just doesn’t feel right sending it to its grave when all the parts are still working. Is there any hope?
Our old Compaq Presario 1200 laptop (circa 2000) was on its last days. The Windows 98 operating system had atrophied to the point where it took 5-6 minutes to boot. Once booted, there was about a 50% chance that it would lock up soon after you began doing anything. If that happened, of course, you would have to re-boot, which would take yet another 5-6 minutes. In short, running the machine with an 8 year-old operating system was an exercise in futility.
Enter Ubuntu, the free Linux distribution that purports to be a “humane” version of the open-source operating system. Fed-up with waiting so long to get a computer operational, I decided to give it a whirl. I backed up my important files to our desktop computer, and inserted the Ubuntu CD into the laptop. An hour and a half later, installation was complete — and it was surprisingly easy. At any rate, it was no more difficult than a typical Windows installation.
Now for the big test: would it recognize my Netgear wireless network card? Once again, Ubuntu came through. Aside from having to reconfigure my router with fixed DNS numbers from my ISP, connection was a breeze.
There has been a noticeable change in the speed and stability of the computer. It hasn’t once crashed, and it boots in about half the time it took Windows 98. Ubuntu manages the battery life much better as well — it lasts almost twice as long.
Neither I nor my wife use the laptop as our primary computer, and we only use it for occasional web surfing or word processing. The Ubuntu distribution includes OpenOffice 2.0, Firefox (which I upgraded to 1.5 via the Automatix script), and even a decent Tetris clone. There’s much more, but those are the essential programs I use.
If you’ve got an old computer sitting around collecting dust, and you want to breathe into it some new life, and you’re a bit adventurous, I suggest giving Ubuntu a try.