Breath new life into older hardware – Xubuntu Linux

By | September 17, 2008

From mainframes, P.C.’s to terminal clients I’ve used various Unix and Linux systems over the last 15 years. I am extremely weary of people who say Linux isn’t ready for mainstream use and question their motivations for saying so. Linux OS’s like Ubuntu, Fedora, Suse, Debian etc have regular updates, great support and a tremendous amount of available software. Deciding whether Linux is right for you is dependent on your requirements and then making sure you have access to the right support.

So this leads me to Xubuntu http://www.xubuntu.org/. A version of Ubuntu that uses Xfce instead of Gnome or KDE for your desktop experience. Xubuntu has been created to use less memory and provide good performance. A good explanation that goes into more detail can be found here: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Xubuntu

I happen to use Ubuntu on my main computer and it caters well for my requirements of development work, virtual machines, graphics, email and office apps. However I wanted to use something a tad bit lighter for an old laptop I had lying around and wanted to use for a journey, I didn’t want to have a slow performing laptop (which would of been the case if using Windows XP or other alternatives). I needed something to do a bit of business and blog work on, but also for entertainment. So I thought I would give Xubuntu a try after considering my requirements.

My requirements for the journey were…

  • Simple graphic editing
  • Word processing and export to pdf or MS word format
  • Spreadsheet work
  • Internet access for webmail and surfing via wifi
  • Watch some free tech shows such as CommandN, GeekBrief.TV or EpicFu

Now the laptop is a Toshiba Tecra 8200. The 750mhz version, with 512mb ram, a 40gig hd I installed, pcmcia wifi card I use (as inbuilt doesn’t do above WEP). Plus a 2nd battery that fits into the CD bay for extra power when required. I’ve also upgraded the cd rom to a writer for backup when not near a network access, but I didn’t need this for the journey.

Installing Xubuntu was straight forward and just as easy as installing Windows XP is. The first hurdle was the full screen wasn’t being used, but a quick trip to the fantastic Ubuntu forums http://ubuntuforums.org/, a search on my cyberblade graphics adapter brought up three solutions and a few minutes later the full screen was being used. Not bad seeing as the graphics adapter is extremely old.

My second hurdle was my wifi wouldn’t connect properly to a network. However I realised I hadn’t run the update manager. That would be like someone complaining of a XP networking issue, but not installing any XP service packs. On Xubuntu it is very easy to do updates also. I connected the laptop via a ethernet cable to my network, installed 114.6mb of updates and the wifi worked perfectly after a reboot.

For word processing Abiword had been installed by default. I was amazed by how quickly abiword opened and it supports MS word documents as well as export to PDF. So that was my word processing requirements met.

The default media player Totem worked smoothly and had no problem coping with the free tech shows I downloaded before the journey.

As expected Xubuntu came with firefox version 3, but I was amazed at how responsive it was and couldn’t notice a difference in browsing on a high spec machine using firefox.

For graphic editing my requirements were very simple. I needed to do simple edits for images for this blog. So GIMP which was installed by default was perfect. Again very fast and responsive running on the laptop.

Now I never got round to the Spreadsheet work (sorry read a few chapters of a book instead), but Gunermic Spreadsheet was installed by default. I noticed it can export to multiple versions of MS Excel and also CSV, pdf among other formats. So am sure it would of been fine.

Wireless access was also easy to use and worked perfectly fine with the wifi pcmcia adapter I installed. Again not bad for an adapter that is at least four or five years old.

When I got back I simple put the text documents I had created on a removal drive to put on another machine.

There is a good selection of software installed by default on Xubuntu and thousands of additional pieces of software available for Xubuntu, I just happened not to need them for the journey. Anyone who has used an Apple Mac or Windows system can easily use Xubuntu or Ubuntu for that matter also.

Xubuntu breathed new life into the old laptop and I am sure it can do the same for older hardware in many small businesses. Why not install Xubuntu on an old computer you were going to replace and try it out?

I am sure I will write some further updates about Xubuntu on the blog. If you have any questions or feedback don’t hesitate to leave a comment.