Modern Operating Systems for old Computers

Compact introduction to free operating systems for old computers, 100 % free article

Free Software strengthens the individual’s and the nation’s in­de­pen­dence. Its permanent free availability and its adapt­a­bil­i­ty support the mass education on practical computing and can turn an old computer into an effective production system. Learn more on the essential aspects.

Modern Operating Systems for old Computers
Modern Free Software for old Hardware

In the world of free soft­ware, for many pur­poses, there is not only one application. Of­ten, sev­er­al al­ter­na­tives are of­fered. Among them are also very slim pro­grams which perform fast on old computers due to their modest resource requirements. Through a strict se­lec­tion of such light­weight li­bra­ries, win­dow man­ag­ers (com­par­i­son), and ap­pli­ca­tions, you get a per­for­mance op­ti­mized over­all sys­tem that cov­ers eve­ry­day tasks, a system that is of interest for many educational areas. Par­tic­u­lar­ly for fa­cil­i­ties who on­ly have low fi­nan­cial re­sources, but who nev­er­the­less want to get out the out­er­most of per­for­mance on old and very old hard­ware, with con­tem­po­rary, mod­ern and con­tin­u­ously main­tained soft­ware. Whole IT in­fra­struc­tures can be built up out of used hard­ware, serv­ers on in­tra­net lev­el in­clu­ded.

GNU/Linux Operating Systems are excellently suited for old computers.

The mul­ti­tude of Li­nux dis­tri­bu­tions comes to be particularly through the specialization in application purposes and through focusing on professional branches. With regard to old hardware it means for you, that you can use the maximum performance of your computer. There are numerous gradations concerning the total consumption of computational power the GNU/Linux operating systems need. Choose the distribution which is most suitable for you, and subsequently, according to your demands and your taste, select your prefered lightweight ap­pli­ca­tions.

Combine old Computers with new Hardware

Collections of free, alternative device driver programs, for example the printer device driver collection Gu­ten­print, enable the parallel operation of modern peripheral devices (printers, scanners, ...) together with old computers. Internet usage is also possible. If the mainboard of an old computer should not have an integrated network card, you can buy a separate network card to make it ready for the Internet. For old laptops, USB-network-cards are avail­a­ble.

Generally, there are nearly all kinds of adapters available, in many directions. They enable you also the usage of modern storage mediums like, for example, memory card readers (SD cards), USB storage devices etc.

A great Variety of fast and lightweight Applications
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With regard to the selection of applications, you can choose among many powerful al­ter­na­tives which perform smoothly and fast on old computers. Instead of Firefox, you can use the free Chrome variant Chromium, for example, or other even more lightweight browsers, like Xombrero. Use ad blocking filters to stop unnecessary advertisement animations consuming a lot of com­pu­ta­tion­al power (extensions).

Home e-mail and office e-mail: Use primarily a local e-mail program (“Category: Free email software”), instead of computational power intensive web­mail, when working with an old computer or if you should have a slow internet connection or restrictions on data volume. Thereby, you save as well computational power as also online time. Moreover, this kind of handling your electronic mail is, in contrast to webmail, the professional form of e-mail administration, for both mail protocols, for IMAP and for POP.

If you would like to have a personal information manager, first test, if your computer is suited for the use of “Evolution” (official site), an alternative to Microsoft Outlook. Other e-mail applications can be provided with similar functionality, via extensions and plugins.

Get yourself overviews: “Category:Free email software” “Com­pa­ri­son of email clients”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free per­so­nal in­for­ma­tion ma­na­gers”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free ca­len­da­ring soft­ware”.

The e-mail reader Claws Mail (WP article) is an excellent lightweight alternative to Mozilla Thunderbird. All these applications can be tested easily and be downloaded freely. Via the Lubuntu package manager, you have access to all the software for Ubuntu.

Teletypewriting: From the beginning, communications software formed a central part of the Unix world. Free instant messaging applications, like, for example, Pidgin, master nu­mer­ous communications protocols, also the XMPP protocol which is suited for PC based telephony (VoIP). Further information: “Category:Free instant messaging clients”, “Ex­ten­sible Mes­sa­ging and Presence Pro­to­col”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free XMPP clients”.

Office Software: The slim high performant word processor Abiword forms, together with the spreadsheet Gnumeric and free PDF applications, a good alternative for many basic of­fice tasks, for the creation of letters, articles, brochures, scientific works and oth­er types of doc­u­ments. Further Information: “Ca­te­go­ry:Free word pro­ces­sors”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free spread­­sheet soft­ware”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free of­fice soft­­ware”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Open-source of­fice suites”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free ac­coun­ting soft­ware”, “Ca­te­go­ry:Free plot­ting soft­ware”, “Cat­e­go­ry:Calendaring software”.

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     Original image source:,

Graphics: mtPaint is an excellent lightweight image manipulation soft­ware for the post-​proc­ess­ing of photos, scanned images and documents, and for the creation of graphics. Its scope is considerably and en­com­passes also the layer technique. Instructions: The mtPaint Hand­book. mtpaint, XPaint and other free graphic applications are also suited for creating screen­shots, besides the Lubuntu standard function (press the Print Screen key, whereupon the screen­shot will be saved in the personal directory).

Diagrams, schematic and technical drawings, circuit design and the the design of printed cir­cuit boards are often drafted with vector based programs. In these fields too, there are sev­er­al lightweight alternatives available, for example the free vector graphic program xfig. Over­views: “Category:Free vector graphics editors”, “Category:Free diagramming software”, “Category:Free electronic design automation software”, “Category:Free computer-aided de­sign software”.

Practical File Management: Naturally, classic “Drag and Drop” of files is possible under free operating systems too. From the set of free file managers, the lightweight programs PCMan File Manager (preinstalled), ROX-Filer and Thunar stand out due to their low re­source re­quire­ments.

Tradtitionally, free operating system distributions are excellently suited for learning pro­gram­ming. Java is supported by the free GNU Compiler Collection and by the free OpenJDK. The pop­u­lar, universal Python is also nearly almost preinstalled. By default, numerous ap­pli­ca­tions and tools are provided, including free text editors and network relevant pro­grams. They form a good base for the teaching and apprenticeship in the information tech­nol­o­gy field, in ed­u­ca­tion­al institutions.

Learning Languages,

Even without Internet connection, you can profit from the possibilities the com­put­er offers for learning languages. Download free learning materials via public In­ter­net places and save them on an USB flash drive

Video films of Internet video portals, like Youtube, can be downloaded and saved and be viewed later at any time, on your local computer, at home. For example, with the officially by Mozilla recommended Add-on “Vi­deo Down­load­Hel­per” (freeware), or with the free program “XVi­de­o­Ser­vice­Thief”, with a suited ex­ten­sion for the Internet browser Chromium, or with an other software. Address yourself to the personal of your Internet café respective of an other facility relating to the possibility, to pro­vide certain basic free extensions for browsers. Use free dictionaries and translation tools.

E-letters can be written on the local computer at home, for example as comprehensive illustrated text document file which you can later simply attach to the e-mail, respectively whose text you optionally can copy in the e-mail body. Audio files on texts can also be recorded at home at the computer. Overview on free software audio recorders: “Ca­te­go­ry:Free au­dio edi­tors”. Then, in the Internet café, you take your prepared message and send your letter together with the audio file via e-mail to your language friend resp. pen friend. At the same time, you can download from the e-mail account the message and audio file sent to you by your pen friend, save them on your USB flash drive and listen quietly to it at the computer at home.

A great number of resource sparing free programs are also available for MS-Windows, so that you can use this operating system in an optimized form for older computers too, together with a self compiled selection of lightweight applications which run fluently and fast. However, Microsoft's supply of security updates for their operating systems ends after a certain period of time, whereas modern free lightweight operating systems for older hardware are continually maintained and updated, extra for old computers.

Advanced users can check which daemons resp. services are being started during the start up phase of their computer and deactivate those which they do not need.

Powerful Free Math Software is available for old Computers too

Nowadays, schools use powerful calculators. Notwithstanding this, it is of great ad­van­tage to know about the basic functions of a free com­put­er algebra system, if you would like to verify the solutions of com­plex systems of equations with the help of the computer, within les­sons, in the educational field, in studies, in the sciences, and gen­er­al­ly in the daily professional life. The Py­thon based Sa­ge includes an in­ter­face to a se­ries of long existing math software programs, what turns it into a powerful, u­ni­ver­sal­ly ap­pli­ca­ble computer algebra sys­tem. How­ev­er, its resource requirements are not in­sig­nif­i­cant. Despite its plat­form independence, it probably will not run (performant enough) on very old com­put­ers.

On the contrary, SymPy is 100 % Py­thon based and therefore greatest possible platform in­de­pend­ent. To­geth­er with Py­glet, it forms a modern maintained computer algebra system, which covers all elementary func­tions of the mathematics lessons. Thus, a performant, free of charge and free math software is world­wide available, also for very old computer systems and for financially weak educational institutions. In­for­ma­tion resources: Offical site to SymPy, doc­u­men­ta­tion, Faq, WP article “SymPy”, website of Pyglet.

Familiarizing with the Python notation is generally advantageous. Py­thon (official site) is an easy learnable universal applicable script- and programming language, which enjoys a world­wide support in many pro­fes­sion­al fields. A great number of software programs offer Python in­ter­faces and it can also be used on server side for functions of websites (form evaluation, search functions, and more).


Xu­bun­tu, equipped with the desktop XFCE, and Lu­bun­tu with LXDE, are official Ubuntu de­riv­a­tives. Ubun­tu operating systems have the highest degree of user comfort and au­to­ma­tion. Xu­bun­tu is relatively resource sparing oriented, Lubuntu consumes considerably less com­pu­ta­tional pow­er than Xubuntu. As both operating systems are free of charge, you can try out one after another to find out, which one is the more suitable for you. Lubuntu is officially recommended by the town of Munich.

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Lu­bun­tu information: Official site, WP article “Lubuntu”, ap­pli­ca­tions, Li­nux Ma­ga­zine article “Lubuntu: Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee”, OSnews article from March 01, 2011 “Lu­bun­tu: Finally, a light­weight Ubuntu!”.

Operating sy­stems for really, really old com­pu­ters“, lists a very com­pre­hen­sive list of specialized Linux distributions, „Light­weight Lin­ux Di­stri­bu­tions“ contains further central ref­er­ences.

The operating system Con­no­chaetOS is especially developed for very old computers. Currently, it still is in the Beta phase (stage of development before the release). The provided standard pro­grams comprise applications for basic computer tasks: word processing, spreadsheet, brows­er, e-mail client etc. See of­fi­cial screenshots and overviews).

Besides graphical “Desktop environments” and application software (“Gra­phi­cal App­li­ca­tions”) “text mode software” is provided too, by default (“Text-mode”) Programs with “text-​based user interface” are very efficiently and belong to the preferred tools of many users, ad­min­is­tra­tors, IT professionals and scientists

Websites and recommended articles on text modus programs: WP articles: “Con­sole app­li­ca­tion” • “Text-​based (comvpu­ting)” • “Shell (com­pu­ting)” • “Command-line interface” • An ex­cel­lent introduction: Floss Ma­nu­al “In­tro­duc­tion to the Com­mand Line“ (PDF ver­sion, Epub ver­sion) • WP articles: „GNU Screen” • “Computer terminal”. “ :: freie Text­mode-Soft­ware” • “Web­sei­ten zum The­ma Text­mode” •

Introducing Articles on Specialized Distributions for old Computers

Organizations like Free Geek for the North American region, and Linux4Afrika (www.​l​i​n​u​x​4​a​f​r​i​k​ in Germany devote themself to support equal opportunity, using free software and used hardware.

Traditionally, free software has an excellent international language support, free operating sys­tems included.

Screenshot on Lubuntu 12.04

For almost every field, there are several different application programs for one and the same task. The here shown programs form only a small excerpt of the thousands of freely available applications (GNU/Linux respective Unix/BSD software) available for Lubuntu.

A small excerpt of office applications.
Text example shown in the Abiword word processor:
'Word processor applications offer very extensive
design possibilities whose effective use implies
a longer training period. Here, long term durable
software proves to be advantageous. Operating system
platform independence and the mastering of a real
open document format suited for archiving are 
further central criteria for the use in heterogeneous 
company computer networks and in the field of administration.'

Office applications: Word processing Abiword, spreadsheet Gnumeric, calendaring software Osmo, calculator Galculator.