March of the Penguins

Sure, it’s not hitting those Microsoft installation figures, but the Linux operating system continues to gain popularity. If you’ve got old hardware gathering dust around the house because it’s too old to run the latest flavor of Windows, installing the free (or very inexpensive) Linux operating system on the old gear can give it new life.

As mentioned last week and before, Ubuntu Linux is even making the move to tablets and smartphones. But if you know nothing about the system and are curious, it’s quite easy to repurpose your older PC laptop and desktop hardware into an Ubuntu Linux machine. Ubuntu is free, can use thousands of equally free applications and generally has lighter system requirements for hardware. It’s also one of the easier Linux distributions for newcomers to wrangle.

QuetzalThe current desktop edition, Quantal Quetzal (aka Ubuntu Linux 12.10) came out in October 2012, but the long-term support version is Precise Pangolin, version 12.04. If you haven’t upgraded your Ubuntu installation in a while — or are new to the system — Quantal Quetzal has a number of new features, including the ability to pin Web applications to the Launcher bar, plus search and preview powers right from the Dash.

Ars Technica has a very detailed look at Quantal Quetzal, as does ZDNet, and neither review sugarcoats the annoyances of this current distribution. The Ars review also points out some installation problems on some of the test systems and some workarounds, so it’s definitely worth a read before you jump in.

Not sure if you want to make that move to Linux Land? Not a problem. You can give it a test drive and run it from a DVD or a USB stick. The Ubuntu site has instructions. You can also just go for it and download an .iso file to burn your own installation disc, or use the Windows installer to get the system on your PC.

The system requirements for Ubuntu Linux are pretty low compared to recent editions of Windows. But if you want to try to squeeze even more life out of really ancient hardware, you can try a “lite” version of Linux like Lubuntu or Xubuntu instead.

Although Quantal Quetzal just came out last October, this bird won’t be flying high as the current version for long. The next edition, 13.04, will be called Raring Ringtail and has an expected release this April.

TuxUbuntu is not the only Linux distribution out there. Some people don’t care for its Unity interface and its approach to privacy, which Canonical founder and Ubuntu leader Mark Shuttleworth addressed recently and has blogged about.

If you try it out and decide the Ubuntu variation of Linux is not for you — or those privacy issues are a deal-killer — check out one of the other distros like Linux Mint or Mageia. Windows and Mac OS X may dominate the current desktop operating system market share, but with Linux, you can be part of the 1% at last.

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