Wired has an article this morning about Google’s Chrome OS, a downloadable operating system that runs especially well on netbooks, and takes advantage of an always-on internet connection. (You can still work offline using Google Gears, the browser extension that caches things like GMail, and allows you to sync back up when you connect again). And, oh yes, under the covers, Chrome OS is (yet) another version of Linux.
For something a little more conventional, and that is available now, how about Xubuntu, a version of Ubuntu Linux that uses a “low-footprint” windows manager, to create a graphical user interface that works acceptably on older, slower computers?
Xubuntu retains many of the virtues of its parent, Ubuntu, while providing snappy performance on an older machine.
Xubuntu provides the usual tool kit. If you use a browser-based eMail system (gMail, Horde, RoundCube,) you can access it easily from within FireFox. For word-processing Xubuntu includes AbiWord, a Word clone which will save in a host of different file formats including the typical Word .doc and .docx formats. For a spreadsheet they include Gnumeric, which is a pretty good Excel clone. Both AbiWord and Gnumeric have virtually all of the functionality of pre-2007 versions of the Microsoft Office applications. Both of these seem to work well within tight memory constraints.
I’m trying to convince my education clients that Xubuntu is a viable way to get some additional life out of some of their older machines. The scenario has happened a couple times now… something has gone wrong with the original Windows installation, i.e. the boot record, or the registry has gotten messed up, or the hard drive has failed completely. In any case, a reformat of the hard disk is required. The problem is the cost; by reformatting the hard disk, installing the base version of the original Windows that was on the machine (which is definitely obsolete….Windows 2000, Windows ME or Windows NT,), then installing all the hardware drivers for the network card, sound card, and video that are peculiar to the machine, and then tracking down all of the applications….well, this all will take 3 or more hours. Say, $300 or so. Even then, having gotten it back up and running we’ve spent that amount on a 5-8 year old machine that is essentially obsolete. So, the Xubuntu solution is attractive… if the hard drive still works, you can go back to a working machine in about 15 minutes of a mostly automated installation.
I dunno….look at the screen shot…. it looks close enough for me.