Death of Window XP Is a Golden Opportunity for Linux

NEWS ANALYSIS: Old hardware doesn't necessarily mean Windows XP users need to buy a new box. Linux just may be their solution.

Microsoft's Windows XP dies on April 8, and I will not be among those who mourn its loss. The sad part about the death of XP is that those who still run it might not even realize that their operating system is now dead.

After 12 years, Microsoft is no longer going to be providing security updates for Windows XP, which has plenty of people concerned. The death of XP, however, could be a golden opportunity for Linux—or it could just be yet another missed opportunity for the Linux desktop.

Windows XP, given its age, is running on older hardware that in many cases is still operational but simply lacking in the power to be upgraded to Microsoft's Windows 7 or 8 operating systems. In some cases, those old XP machines are running in very cost-constrained environments where there is simply no additional funds for a hardware refresh, let alone a full operating system refresh.

Linux is a potential solution. For older, resource-constrained hardware, there is no shortage of options in the Linux desktop world. Unlike Microsoft's monolithic Windows operating system, there are multiple flavors of Linux distributions and Linux desktops to suit nearly any need or user preference. As opposed to most Windows upgrades, Linux can be freely obtained without cost, and it might just fit the bill for many Windows XP users.

While there certainly are some resource-heavy distributions and desktops, there are also low-resource options. For example, modern Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Fedora and SUSE all have an option that could enable a user to run the LXDE Linux desktop. LXDE is a very low-resource desktop that I have been able to run successfully on Pentium III-class machines (RAM memory is always a concern, so the more the better). There are also really small Linux distributions like Puppy and TinyCore Linux that offer very small footprint options to users.

While Windows XP users can choose to install a Linux distribution over their existing systems to keep hardware running, that's not always an ideal option. In many cases, these decade-old XP boxes have very full hard drives that are not easily replaced or expanded. Remember that the typical storage interconnect of a decade ago was PATA-based hardware and not the modern SATA-based drives that are widely available today.

That's where LiveCD or LiveUSB versions of Linux may be able to save old Windows XP hardware. Many XP machines have CD-ROMs, which can be used as bootable devices. By inserting a LiveCD version of a Linux distribution, an old XP machine will boot into Linux without the need for the user to actually overwrite the existing operating system or its data.

Also with LiveCD, an XP user has the potential benefit of being able to leverage a modern browser and operating system while still being able to access legacy files on a system.

For those who have systems that support bootable USB, a LiveUSB can perform the same task, with the added benefit of persistent storage. As opposed to a LiveCD, which is typically read-only, a user can choose with a LiveUSB to configure a persistent storage overlay, enabling updates and data to be saved to the USB key storage device.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.