In the world of free software, for many purposes, there is not only one application. Often, several alternatives are offered. Among them are also very slim programs which perform fast on old computers due to their modest resource requirements. Through a strict selection of such lightweight libraries, window managers (comparison), and applications, you get a performance optimized overall system that covers everyday tasks, a system that is of interest for many educational areas. Particularly for facilities who only have low financial resources, but who nevertheless want to get out the outermost of performance on old and very old hardware, with contemporary, modern and continuously maintained software. Whole IT infrastructures can be built up out of used hardware, servers on intranet level included.
GNU/Linux Operating Systems are excellently suited for old computers.
The multitude of Linux distributions comes to be particularly through the specialization in application purposes and through focusing on professional branches. With regard to old hardware it means for you, that you can use the maximum performance of your computer. There are numerous gradations concerning the total consumption of computational power the GNU/Linux operating systems need. Choose the distribution which is most suitable for you, and subsequently, according to your demands and your taste, select your prefered lightweight applications.
Collections of free, alternative device driver programs, for example the printer device driver collection Gutenprint, enable the parallel operation of modern peripheral devices (printers, scanners, ...) together with old computers. Internet usage is also possible. If the mainboard of an old computer should not have an integrated network card, you can buy a separate network card to make it ready for the Internet. For old laptops, USB-network-cards are available.
Generally, there are nearly all kinds of adapters available, in many directions. They enable you also the usage of modern storage mediums like, for example, memory card readers (SD cards), USB storage devices etc.
With regard to the selection of applications, you can choose among many powerful alternatives which perform smoothly and fast on old computers. Instead of Firefox, you can use the free Chrome variant Chromium, for example, or other even more lightweight browsers, like Xombrero. Use ad blocking filters to stop unnecessary advertisement animations consuming a lot of computational power (extensions). Overview: “Comparison of lightweight web browsers”.
Home e-mail and office e-mail: Use primarily a local e-mail program (“Category: Free email software”), instead of computational power intensive webmail, when working with an old computer or if you should have a slow internet connection or restrictions on data volume. Thereby, you save as well computational power as also online time. Moreover, this kind of handling your electronic mail is, in contrast to webmail, the professional form of e-mail administration, for both mail protocols, for IMAP and for POP.
If you would like to have a personal information manager, first test, if your computer is suited for the use of “Evolution” (official site), an alternative to Microsoft Outlook. Other e-mail applications can be provided with similar functionality, via extensions and plugins.
Get yourself overviews: “Category:Free email software” “Comparison of email clients”, “Category:Free personal information managers”, “Category:Free calendaring software”.
The e-mail reader Claws Mail (WP article) is an excellent lightweight alternative to Mozilla Thunderbird. All these applications can be tested easily and be downloaded freely. Via the Lubuntu package manager, you have access to all the software for Ubuntu.
Teletypewriting: From the beginning, communications software formed a central part of the Unix world. Free instant messaging applications, like, for example, Pidgin, master numerous communications protocols, also the XMPP protocol which is suited for PC based telephony (VoIP). Further information: “Category:Free instant messaging clients”, “Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol”, “Category:Free XMPP clients”.
Office Software: The slim high performant word processor Abiword forms, together with the spreadsheet Gnumeric and free PDF applications, a good alternative for many basic office tasks, for the creation of letters, articles, brochures, scientific works and other types of documents. Further Information: “Category:Free word processors”, “Category:Free spreadsheet software”, “Category:Free office software”, “Category:Open-source office suites”, “Category:Free accounting software”, “Category:Free plotting software”, “Category:Calendaring software”.
Graphics: mtPaint is an excellent lightweight image manipulation software for the post-processing of photos, scanned images and documents, and for the creation of graphics. Its scope is considerably and encompasses also the layer technique. Instructions: The mtPaint Handbook. mtpaint, XPaint and other free graphic applications are also suited for creating screenshots, besides the Lubuntu standard function (press the Print Screen key, whereupon the screenshot will be saved in the personal directory).
Diagrams, schematic and technical drawings, circuit design and the the design of printed circuit boards are often drafted with vector based programs. In these fields too, there are several lightweight alternatives available, for example the free vector graphic program xfig. Overviews: “Category:Free vector graphics editors”, “Category:Free diagramming software”, “Category:Free electronic design automation software”, “Category:Free computer-aided design software”.
Practical File Management: Naturally, classic “Drag and Drop” of files is possible under free operating systems too. From the set of free file managers, the lightweight programs PCMan File Manager, ROX-Filer and Thunar stand out due to their low resource requirements.
Tradtitionally, free operating system distributions are excellently suited for learning programming. Java is supported by the free GNU Compiler Collection and by the free OpenJDK. The popular, universal Python is also nearly almost preinstalled. By default, numerous applications and tools are provided, including free text editors and network relevant programs. They form a good base for the teaching and apprenticeship in the information technology field, in educational institutions.
Even without Internet connection, you can profit from the possibilities the computer offers for learning languages. Download free learning materials via public Internet places and save them on an USB flash drive
Video films of Internet video portals, like Youtube, can be downloaded and saved and be viewed later at any time, on your local computer, at home. For example, with the Add-on “Video DownloadHelper” (freeware), or with the free program “XVideoServiceThief”, with a suited extension for the Internet browser Chromium, or with an other software. Contact the personal of your Internet café respective of an other facility relating the possibility, to provide certain basic free extensions for browsers. Use free dictionaries and translation tools, some of them are also offered in a free software version for the offline mode, for example Beolingus and QuickDic.
E-letters can be written on the local computer at home, for example as comprehensive illustrated text document file which you later can simply attach to the e-mail, respectively whose text you optionally can copy in the e-mail body. Audio files on texts can also be recorded at home at the computer. Overview on free software audio recorders: “Category:Free audio editors”. Then, in the Internet café, you take your prepared message and send your letter together with the audio file via e-mail to your language friend resp. pen friend. At the same time, you can download from the e-mail account the message and audio file sent to you by your pen friend, save them on your USB flash drive and listen quietly to it at the computer at home.
A great number of resource sparing free programs are also available for MS-Windows, so that you can use this operating system in an optimized form for older computers too, together with a self compiled selection of lightweight applications which run fluently and fast. However, Microsoft's supply of security updates for their operating systems ends after a certain period of time, whereas modern free lightweight operating systems for older hardware are continually maintained and updated, extra for old computers.Advanced users can check which daemons resp. services are being started during the start up phase of their computer and deactivate those which they do not need.
Nowadays, schools use powerful calculators. Notwithstanding this, it is of great advantage to know about the basic functions of a free computer algebra system, if you would like to verify the solutions of complex systems of equations with the help of the computer, within lessons, in the educational field, in studies, in the sciences, and generally in the daily professional life. The Python based Sage includes an interface to a series of long existing math software programs, what turns it into a powerful, universally applicable computer algebra system. However, its resource requirements are not insignificant. Despite its platform independence, it probably will not run (performant enough) on very old computers.
On the contrary, SymPy is 100 % Python based and therefore greatest possible platform independent. Together with Pyglet, it forms a modern maintained computer algebra system, which covers all elementary functions of the mathematics lessons. Thus, a performant, free of charge and free math software is worldwide available, also for very old computer systems and for financially weak educational institutions. Information resources: Offical site to SymPy, documentation, Faq, WP article “SymPy”, website of Pyglet.
Familiarizing with the Python notation is generally advantageous. Python (official site) is an easy learnable universal applicable script- and programming language, which enjoys a worldwide support in many professional fields. A great number of software programs offer Python interfaces, and it can also be used on server side for functions of websites (form evaluation, search functions, and more).
Xubuntu, equipped with the desktop XFCE, and Lubuntu with LXDE, are official Ubuntu derivatives. Ubuntu operating systems have the highest degree of user comfort and automation. Xubuntu is relatively resource sparing oriented, Lubuntu consumes considerably less computational power than Xubuntu. As both operating systems are free of charge, you can try out one after another to find out, which one is the more suitable for you.
Lubuntu information: Official site, WP article “Lubuntu”, applications, Linux Magazine article “Lubuntu: Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee”, OSnews article from March 01, 2011 “Lubuntu: Finally, a lightweight Ubuntu!”.
“Operating systems for really, really old computers”, lists a very comprehensive list of specialized Linux distributions, „Lightweight Linux Distributions“ contains further central references.
The operating system ConnochaetOS is especially developed for very old computers. The provided standard programs comprise applications for basic computer tasks: word processing, spreadsheet, browser, e-mail clients and more (official news)
News excerpt (Announcements) on the current operating system version 14.2, which has been released on August 26, 2016, hyperlinks added to the original text: “[...] As always it contains only free/libre software as defined by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). We are now using our own deblobbed Linux kernel, named "kernel-free" based on the de-blobbing mechanism done by Debian GNU/Linux. ConnochaetOS contains:
In our slack-n-free repo we provide the current versions of Iceape [renamed Internet application suite SeaMonkey (Browser, E-Mail, et al)] and Icedove, the brand-new qt5-webengine based web browsers qupzilla and otter-browser and libreoffice 5.1.4 [...]”
Article on ConnochaetOS (June 04, 2015): “ConnochaetOS Makes Slackware Truly Free and a Bit Easier”, Jack M. Germain.
Besides graphical “Desktop environments” and application software, Linux Distributions provide by default “text mode software” (“Text-mode”) too. Programs with “text-based user interface” are very efficiently and belong to the preferred tools of many users, administrators, IT professionals and scientists
Websites and recommended articles on text modus programs: WP articles: “Console application” • “Text-based (comvputing)” • “Shell (computing)” • “Command-line interface” • An excellent introduction: Floss Manual “Introduction to the Command Line“ • WP articles: „GNU Screen” • “Computer terminal”. “automatisch.cc :: freie Textmode-Software” • “Webseiten zum Thema Textmode”
Organizations like Free Geek for the North American region, and Linux4Afrika (www.linux4afrika.de) in Germany devote themselve to support equal opportunity, using free software and used hardware.
Traditionally, free software has an excellent international language support, free operating systems included.
For almost every field, there are several different application programs for one and the same task. The here shown programs form only a small excerpt of the thousands of freely available applications (GNU/Linux respective Unix/BSD software) available for Lubuntu.