Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

I Can’t Upgrade to the Latest Windows. Should I Switch to Linux?

Question: My computer, 1.8 Ghz with 440 gig megabytes of RAM is not powerful enough to install the Windows 8 upgrade. I cannot afford to buy a new computer. I’m 85-years young. Would you recommend switching to Linux?  If so, do you know which is their best distribution?

Your question actually has a much more complicated answer than you might imagine. Switching to Linux is often a very reasonable approach to lengthening the life of your machine; there are many distributions of Linux and some are specifically tailored to make fewer operating demands on your computer.

That being said, I want to ask one thing first: why are you considering switching at all?

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Staying with Windows XP

If Windows XP is working for you, you might consider just continuing to use it. At this point in time, I don’t see any reason why you should stop running Windows XP, especially if your machine can’t run newer versions of Windows.

Yes, you will run into some issues. You won’t be able to run some software, but you’ll run into that with Linux as well.

The only real risk is malware. By that I mean that once updates stop being made available for Windows XP then any newly discovered vulnerabilities will remain … well … vulnerable. My belief and hope is that not many more will be found, malware authors are moving on to target later version of Windows, and a good anti-malware solution – along with your own good habits – will go a long way to protecting you.

Switching to Linux

Ubuntu is probably the most popular consumer distribution of Linux today. It’s running on a couple of my machines and I think it’s a good, solid system with good support. Mint is another that I’ve experimented with that has a good reputation as well. For older machines, there are some variations of Linux that place lower demands on the machine. Puppy Linux is one and there may be others.

Ultimately, it comes down to how you use your computer.  What do you do with it? If what you do requires Windows applications, then Linux simply isn’t an option.

UbuntuWindows applications on Linux?

Now, I don’t know what applications you run. If all you’re doing is something like web and email, then Linux could be fine. Even the small distributions of Linux have good web and email support. If you’re doing things that are more complex, like writing documents in Microsoft Word, then you’re going to have to either find alternatives, like Libre Office or Open Office, or stick with Microsoft Office on Windows.

It’s an interesting conundrum that ultimately depends on your personal preferences. All of the Linux systems have a graphical interface with icons that you use to start programs, but there are nuances that are quite different than Windows. It just depends on your ability to adapt to the different ways of doing things under Linux.

My recommendation is to go download the most recent version of Ubuntu, burn it to a DVD, and boot from that without installing it to your machine at all. This will tell you if:

  • The distribution will work on your hardware (my guess is that it probably will).
  • The distribution meets your needs.

You’ll be able to play around with Ubuntu from that DVD. Don’t pay attention to the speed because the DVD will be a little bit slower, but you’ll be able to determine whether or not the interface works for you and you can try it out before you make a switch.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

6 comments on “I Can’t Upgrade to the Latest Windows. Should I Switch to Linux?”

  1. The major thing that impacts users switching to Linux is printer support. The generic print drivers that come with Linux have a tendency to turn a 3-in-1 printer into a printing-only device. No more copying, scanning or faxing. That’s something to keep in mind if you need any of those additional features from your printer.

  2. Oh here do I start? Chuckle Switching to LINUX. I grew up in UNIX afore the IBM PC and the MAC. Got into LINUX which led to UBUNTU. But then they did What Microsoft did with Windows 8. Forced a change. Via an upgrade called Unity. Similar to Windows 8 and the Touch concept. So from working with something that was understood, made a complete change in use and functionality. Kinda like taking that little automatic car that was easy to dive and fit so well and putting you in a Semi (with trailer) and saying here you go. Search windows 8 sucks. Then Unity sucks, for a common theme.

    @Tom. Aren’t some people saying the same about windows 8 and printers? Conversely I’ve been picking up Cannon scanners powered by the USB port at yard sales that no amount of driver downloads get them to work with MS. Yet the fire up and do generic scans on UBUNTU (Pre UNITY) without any manipulations.

  3. Ubuntu won’t be happy with 440 MB of RAM. Xubuntu should be OK if you don’t push things, such as opening 20 tabs in Firefox. Use Xubuntu 12.04, which will be OK until April 2017. The latest version, 13.04, is only good until April, 2014.

    With more RAM, I would suggest Linux Mint with Cinnamon, which presents a familiar interface. Mint 13 is the one to use, same expiry dates as Ubuntu.

    Here is my test for prospective Linux users:
    1. Do you know what a partition is?
    2. Can you make your computer boot from a DVD?

    Actually, those questions also apply to a person thinking about installing Windows.

    Lots and lots of seniors use Ubuntu or Mint. They have the time to figure out how to use Google when they run across an unfamiliar term.

  4. Ubuntu may be the most popular, but I would say that Linux Zorin is the most like Windows -the easiest for a Windows user to understand. Linux Mint is also good.

    • And a nice tip… with a bootable CD (or thumb drive) you can try out the Linux versions and see which you like.

  5. Definitely. You choose your hard drive, sceern size, memory dimm configuration, your OS and this is how much it costs. Dell/HP and others do that, but only within the versions of Windows. Windows XP is always included. XP Home is just there, and XP Pro adds another $50. With Vista, the list is really long. I’ve only seen the No OS option in servers. It would be nice for consumers to see that as well.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.