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Gary Eikenberry Consulting
22-1010 Polytek Street, Ottawa, ON Canada  K1J 9J1
E-mail: Click to email;  Web: http://www.geconsult.ca
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GEConsult: New Life for Old Computers
[Green computing]

As new generations of computer operating systems and productivity software become more and more demanding in terms of minimum hardware requirements computers tend to become "obsolete." They're not necessarily broken -- just unable to meet the latest demands. Similarly, as a Windows installation "matures," the system disk tends to fill up and the Windows registry tends to grow to unwieldy and sluggish proportions. Applications like CCleaner can help, but eventually you'll probably reach the point where impatience and frustration levels have you scanning big box electronics store flyers.

But wait! Before you buy (or even after you buy) consider this. If you mostly use your computer for surfing the web, email and some word processing and spreadsheets there may be another solution. There are a number of light weight, free and open source solutions that can turn a sluggish older Windows computer into a very serviceable platform for those requirements. And the speed will probably have you wondering if someone secretly upgraded your hardware. When you add in the fact that these lighter Linux-based operating systems are far more malware-resistant than any Windows installation and the extensive on-line support and developer communities behind them, you've got a win-win-win situation.

On up-to-date or maybe one or two generations old equipment, we prefer Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu is a well supported and maintained up-to-date operating system. A lighter weight variant, Lubuntu uses the minimal desktop LXDE, and a selection of light applications which focus on speed and energy-efficiency. Because of this, Lubuntu has lower hardware requirements. Or you might want to check out the "Which Linux Distribution Is Best For Me" to explore a wider range of options and match them your requirements. And, by the way, if there are Windows applications you can't live without, there are options there as well, including WINE, a compatibility layer for running Windows programs under Linux, or running a Windows virtual machine through Oracle VM VirtualBox or one of several other virtualization options.

And if, after considering all the options, you decide to try Ubuntu, here's a handy guide to making the transition from Windows: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/migrating-from-windows-7-to-ubuntu.

For older less powerful equipment, there are others, but two of the light and fast solutions we've tested extensively enough to recommend to non-technical users are:
  • LXLE: There are a number of light weight Linux distributions suitable for extending the life of computers that might no longer have the power demanded by the latest version of Windows. LXLE is our current favourite. LXLE is based on Lubuntu which is an Ubuntu OS using the LXDE desktop environment. It is designed to be a drop-in and go OS, primarily for aging computers. Find out more or download the latest version at http://lxle.net.
  • lubuntu: lubuntu is a lightweight "flavour" of the Ubuntu Linux operating system but using the LXDE desktop environment in place of Ubuntu's GNOME desktop. We've got it running on a couple of older laptops originally designed for Windows XP. You can download a disc image HERE (click on the Get lubuntu link) and burn it to a CD or load it on a bootable USB key to try it. It may be a little slow running from the CD or USB without actually installing it, but it will give you a chance to test it with your hardware and explore a bit and then, if you like what you see you can actually install it (either side by side with Windows -- assuming you have sufficient free disk space) or replacing Windows. A write up on one user's experience can be found HERE.

  • In either of the above cases, we're talking about no risk options to try something different without destroying your current installation and no cost if you decide to go ahead and try something new. You could well be pleasantly surprised.

    Servers

    Time to replace that ageing or no longer supported Windows Server (Support for Windows Server 2003 officially ends July 14, 2015)? Here are a few options you might want to explore and consider:

  • SME Server: (SME Serverhttp://wiki.contribs.org/) Lately we've become a big fan of SME Server.SME Server is a leading Open Source distribution for small and medium enterprises. Based on CentOS (see below), it is a simple, powerful, secure Linux server for networking and communicating. It provides a friendly, free alternative to expensive proprietary software, standing apart from the competition by shipping with most common functionality preconfigured, and features a number of popular additional enhancements.
  • Ubuntu Linux: (http://www.ubuntu.com/server) Probably the best known, and possibly most user-friendly Linux distributions. Its biggest advantage is its active development cycle and extremely broad user and support base.
  • Debian Linux: (http://www.debian.org/intro/about) Debian is a leaner and perhaps less cutting edge approach than Ubuntu, but still with strong community support and excellent documentation.
  • CentOS: (http://www.centos.org) Similar to Debian, CentOS describes itself as stable, predictable, manageable and reproduceable platform derived from the sources of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
  • FreeBSD: (http://www.freebsd.org) A UNIX spin-off with a substantial user base and support community.
  • FreeNAS: Although not strictly a full server, FreeNAS is an open source (FreeBSD) based operating system for turning virtually any computer into a NAS ((network attached storage) system for file sharing, backups, etc. Check it out at www.FreeNAS.org



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