Tech-Friendly: Bring new life to an old PC with Lubuntu

July 10, 2013

By Paul Gorski

Disclaimer: This is not really a “tech-friendly” article. It is more of a “summer project to save a few bucks” article, as it might involve installing a new operating system on a retired desktop or laptop computer. I will be sending you to a far-away land, where the resident geeks speak of “Ubuntu, Xubuntu and Lubuntu.”

Microsoft and Apple have long fought the computer operating system (OS) wars, with Microsoft winning the sales battle and Apple winning the style battle. Neither company would like to have you seriously consider the free computer operating systems available to you today. You might just extend the life of perfectly good computers, weakening an already slow computer market.

Our trip begins in the past, 1991, when a young Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, created the core, the “kernel,” of a free computer operating system while developing a program to access the UNIX-based servers at his university. To make a long story short, the “Linux” kernel, as it now commonly known, spawned a long list of free, open source computer operating systems. The Android OS on your smartphone owes its humble beginnings to Linux.

Today, Linux-based OSes are popular computer server operating systems, another fact Microsoft would like us all to forget. Linux drives many web, e-mail and financial application servers worldwide, but isn’t nearly as popular as a desktop or laptop OS.

Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com/desktop) is a desktop Linux-variant, developed by a worldwide network of volunteers with support from Canonical Ltd. Although free, Ubuntu developers have developed a robust, full-featured operating system that looks and feels a little like Windows 7 at times and other times like Mac OS X. A major benefit of Ubuntu is that it runs on older hardware that Windows 7 and 8 do not support.

However, Ubuntu developers have lost their way a bit, and Ubuntu has become a bit bloated, and it is not the leanest and meanest OS Linux can offer, so the variants of Xubuntu (http://xubuntu.org/) and Lubuntu (http://lubuntu.net/) have been developed by other volunteers.

Lubuntu has a simple, clean interface and can be installed on some very old PCs, bringing new life to them. You may run Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice business suite, and more. Perfect for browsing the Internet and basic office tasks. You’ll also find programs for managing e-mail, music and photos, but you will not find QuickBooks or a host of Windows-only programs. Make it your backup Internet surfing computer.

You can try Lubuntu on your PC without erasing any data by downloading a disk image and making a live CD/DVD to boot from (https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Lubuntu/GetLubuntu). If the live CD/DVD works, then your computer is compatible, and the installation process is pretty simple. However, depending on how you install Lubuntu, you will likely erase information already on your PC. So, backup the PC before installing if that information is valuable to you. Please don’t install Lubuntu on your PC if want any of the information on that PC.

You have to try Ubuntu/Lubuntu to learn more about it. Support is community, online forum-based. No toll-free numbers, no tech staff e-mail addresses. This is the beauty and drawback to some of these open-source solutions. Some vendors offer paid support, but not for Lubuntu.

This may not be your summer project, but it might be a nice project for a friend or relative. So, share the article, and help spread the word of the open-source, free operating system community.

Visit http://lubuntu.net/ for a screenshot slide show, more information about the OS, and to download the live CD/DVD installer.

Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

From the July 10-16, 2013, issue

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