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Open source and older hardware

In a few days time, we are upgrading computers and we will probably be looking for bigger, faster and better computers. As it is the case for hundreds of other companies in the country, the machines will have their contents wiped and this includes the operating system, whose license is not transferable. has an interesting article on how to run Linux on older hardware (opens in new tab). The bottom line is that you can run Linux on almost any kind of platform, even those twenty years old although you will have to make compromises in those cases. It is a noteworthy trend in that Linux does provide with a fallback solution whereby you can always switch to a less demanding Linux distribution if your computer is less powerful.

That is in stark contrast with what Microsoft Vista, for example, will deliver. You will need a faster, more powerful, more expensive machine to run it. Granted it will have a refined user interface and more security options but you will basically do the same things you were doing since Windows NT4, that's more than a decade ago.

If your needs are not particularly demanding or specialised, Linux might be the kind of "upgrade" your computer will need if your budget does not allow for expensive replacements.

Another beautiful thing with Linux and older hardware is that you can recycle and reuse obsolete computers that would otherwise be discarded or dumped. With relatively little knowledge, you can convert that old Pentium II of yours into (a) a Media Centre à la Microsoft Media Centre Edition (b) a hardware firewall (c) a standalone wireless file server or (d) a Linux Terminal.

More importantly, even if you do not have that old computer, you can always buy one for cheap and try to play with it. I've recently purchased a second hand Apple Mac G3 computer and I'm looking forward to install Yellow Dog Linux on it.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.