It’s an age-old question: Now that you’ve purchased a new PC, what do you do with the old one? (Tossing it in a lake is not a wise idea, tempted though you might be.)
The age-old answer: install Linux. You know, that “other” operating system that’s kind of like Windows, only not really, and requires a degree in programming to use?
Reality check: Linux has matured a lot over the years, to the point where anyone accustomed to Windows should have no trouble using it. What’s more, despite offering nearly all the software power of Windows, Linux requires way less hardware power.
That means if you have a computer that’s three years old, five years old, heck, even seven years old, you can install Linux on it and enjoy very speedy performance. For free.
Okay, but then what? An old PC running Linux is still an old PC you no longer need, right? Consider this: Now you’ve got a machine the kids can use, without worrying about them destroying your TurboTax data or accidentally allowing a virus infestation. (Linux is largely impervious to malware.)
Alternately, if there’s a senior in your life who’s not terribly computer-literate but wants to browse the Web and send e-mail, a Linux-powered PC might be the perfect solution. Again, no virus hassles–and no frustrating, inexplicable Blue Screen of Death errors, either.
If you really want to get geeky, use that old PC as a backup system or personal media server. There are plenty of free tools designed for tasks like these, though be forewarned they’re more for intermediate/advanced users.
But I digress. The first thing you should do is try Linux for yourself, which you can do very easily. In fact, you can try Linux without actually installing Linux, simply by booting it from a flash drive. It doesn’t erase anything or really even touch the hard drive at all, but rather lets you test-drive the OS on a temporary basis.
Although there are lots of flavors of Linux out there, I recommend starting with Zorin OS. It was created with Windows users in mind, and in fact you can switch between interface designs that closely resemble Windows XP and Windows 7. Plus, it comes preloaded with lots of software, including an office suite, a Web browser, an e-mail client, and so on.
Here’s a high-level overview of the process of creating a bootable Zorin OS flash drive. If you decide you like it, it’s a fairly simple matter to take the next step of installing it permanently.
The only thing you’ll need is a USB flash drive with at least 4GB of space. (Note that the process will overwrite whatever’s on the drive, so don’t use the one containing all your important documents or photos.) Make sure it’s inserted before starting the process.
1. Download the free Zorin OS 8. It’s a single file with an ISO extension.
2. Download and run the Universal USB Installer.
3. Select the Zorin ISO file you downloaded, choose the drive letter that corresponds to your flash drive, then click Create.
When the program says it’s all done, you can remove the flash drive, pop it into your old PC, and boot. (You may need to venture into the BIOS so the system tries booting from the flash drive before the hard drive.) Make sure to choose Boot the Live System from the menu that appears.
In a few minutes you should see the Zorin OS in all its glory. Now: play, test, and experiment! Heck, you might like Zorin so much that you decide to return the new PC and keep the old one.