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?
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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.
Windows 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.