The Linux Half-Truth

With Windows Vista requiring a computer more powerful than the majority of computer users have, many have touted Linux as the savior of these PCs. Do not throw away your PC because you must upgrade to Vista. Get all the graphical goodness and latest software with Linux. It has modest hardware requirements and will even ressurrect Windows 98 PCs. Then they talk about Compiz/Beryl, the 3D desktop. All of this is true, but I think it’s a bit of a half-truth.

The extent to which you can resurrect old computers with Linux (or any other *nix) is largely dependent upon what you wish to do and how state of the art the computer originally was. If your computer ran Windows XP then it will indeed run any of the main distros such as Fedora, Ubuntu, and SuSe just fine. If your computer ran Windows 98 and was a top of the line computer, it may run in Xubuntu, FeatherLinux, or other light-weight distros. You’ll still be able to have a graphical interface, but no cubes and flaming window decorations for you. You’ll probably run Linux faster than Windows ran, but don’t expect miracles. And if your computer was behind back when Windows 98 came out – you can run Linux, but it will need to either be extra-light-weight for a graphical interface or only command line.

However, if you don’t mind the command line, there are many things you can still do with your computer. You can talk to your AIM buddies via nAIM. MP3s and OGGs can be listened to with mpg123 and ogg123, respectively. Programs such as BitchX will allow you to chat via IRC. You can also use with with Emacs and Vi as a programming machine as most programs probably won’t take too long to compile.

As an example, I installed freeBSD in command line mode on a Pentium II with 333 Hz CPU and mutt took around 20 minutes to compile and download all the sources it needed. The installation also only took somewhere in the 30 minute range. So there is a lot you can do with your old computers. I just feel sometimes that people tend to exagerate the magic of Linux. I want to tone it down a little because it’s worse to be dissapointed that you don’t have the 3D cube on your Pentium II or III, than to be amazed at all of the other things you CAN do with it.

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