The power of Linux lies in the super efficient way that the Linux kernel utilizes hardware. I have installed various versions of Linux on a number of older Windows desktop and notebook PCs and I have never been disappointed with the results. A great example is an HP desktop with a Pentium 4 processor and 1GB of RAM that runs rings around a much newer Gateway running Windows Vista!
There are several Linux distributions available, but the two that I use most are Ubuntu and Puppy. Ubuntu works extremely well on most computers, but Puppy Linux is outstanding for systems with slower processors and limited RAM. My suggestion is to try Ubuntu first, then switch to Puppy if you need even more speed.
You can download the latest version of Ubuntu Linux here, then burn it onto a CD-R. If you have access to a PC running Windows 7 you can simply right-click on the downloaded file and click "Burn Disc Image". When the process completes you'll have a bootable Ubuntu Linux installation CD.
You can download the latest version of Puppy Linux by clicking the "Download Latest Release" link on the Puppy Linux homepage. Then use the same procedure described above to create a bootable Puppy installation CD.
Regardless of which version of Linux you decide to install, the process is pretty much the same. Simply configure your PC's BIOS settings so that it will boot from the optical disc drive, insert the CD, then turn on the power! The computer will boot right up into Linux and you'll be able to install it onto the hard drive. You can even run Linux right from the CD for a while to see if you like it before actually installing it! Just bear in mind that it will run even faster once installed.
The installation process for both Ubuntu and Puppy is fast and easy, with just a few simple questions to answer for a typical installation. The Linux plug-n-play process works very well for detecting hardware devices and installing the appropriate drivers. It works so well in fact that I have never had even one hardware issue when installing either of these versions of Linux onto a machine. Your mileage might vary of course, but if you do have problems help is readily available in the support forums on the Ubuntu and Puppy websites.
There you have it. Don't let that old PC sit on a shelf gathering dust! Fire it up and replace Windows with Linux so you can experience computing the way it ought to be!
Rick Rouse is an A+ certified PC technician and the owner of RLROUSE Infoblog.