The success of GNU/Linux

Jack Wallen over at Ars wrote, “I’m all for keeping those millions of machines out of the scrap heaps, but I don’t know how I feel about the Linux community crying out for everyone to use their out-of-date hardware for Linux. The success of Linux as a legitimate desktop operating system cannot, in any way, hinge on dumpster diving in Microsoft’s garbage.”

His thesis is in part that GNU/Linux deserves better than slow old hardware.

I say that’s nonsense. Even on old hardware, GNU/Linux idles like every other desktop OS since i386. Really. PCs are much faster than humans and sit in a looping state checking for stuff to do until the human makes another click some milliseconds apart. In a millisecond, an old PC with a single or dual-core CPU can do millions of operations. It’s not that hard to do IT and keep ahead of humans if you are that fast. Further, modern hard drives run ~100-200 MB/s and the old ones slog at 40 MB/s, not that different if you’ve just clicked on an icon or link. A lot of what we do is out on the Internet where a click takes a few tenths of a second to get anything done and many transactions take ~1s.

So, stop this harangue that consumers must have the latest and greatest hardware. Many ten year old PCs are perfectly competitive against a smartphone except in mobility. RAM is the only argument I will accept. When you get as little as 512MB of RAM you will impact how many tasks can be going on at once, but even then a PC can do way more than a smartphone in that case. Certainly there are lots of PCs with XP that run 1gB or more, not that big a deal.

Certainly there is a need for new hardware to come with GNU/Linux but that’s no argument at all against Liberating older machines. I did that a lot and current users find them now ageless. Really. Not slowing down and not re-re-rebooting is a lot better than the trash heap. You also win in a big way by using the older machines with more than 64 MB RAM as thin clients of powerful new machines. LTSP was a miracle that has stood the test of time.

OEMs are supplying a trickle of PCs with GNU/Linux compared to the ocean of older XP machines. We should harvest them using Free/Libre Open Source Software.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux on all computers, from pocket-size to building-filling. It’s all good.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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10 Responses to The success of GNU/Linux

  1. ram says:

    Alot of so called “old” computing hardware is as fast as anything made today, it just burns up more power. That doesn’t matter if it is only powered on for relatively short periods.

    I convert old servers and enterprise workstations over to people’s personal use routinely. Usually up the memory (to fully populated) and put in new disk drives. They run full featured Linux distros just great!

  2. Someone wrote, “It isn’t called GNU/Linux”.

    I call it that. So you’re wrong.

    Google finds 16million hits for GNU/Linux. That’s a lot of mentioning. There are 484million hits for Linux but that’s OK, 30:1. People love abbreviations, acronyms, parables, etc. It’s the same with that other OS. There are 2billion hits for “windows” and 91million for “Microsoft Windows”, a ratio of 200:1.

  3. oiaohm says:

    IGnatius T Foobar this case success of Linux is too much of a generic term.

    If you like it or not this write up is a very good reason why you need GNU/Linux or something else. Rewriting everything just removing GNU/ is a very moronic thing to be doing.

    The Success of LInux Destkop was a maybe for this write up but that is not what you suggested as a title.

    Problem with Success of Linux the writeu up should be broad.

    IGnatius T Foobar yes some usage of GNU/Linux over just using Linux is valid and cannot be just replaced with the word Linux.

  4. The title of this post should read “The Success of Linux.” It isn’t called GNU/Linux except in the wishful thinking of butthurt FSF types.

  5. dougman says:

    Taking older computers and making them feel like new is my specialty. Sometimes you run across a bad cap or PSU, but those are easily fixed.

    I took strong exception to Mr. Wallen’s article, older computers are perfect for current distributions of Linux. I do not know how many comments I received about how much faster Linux has made their computer.

    All I ever say is, Windows is synonymous and rife with problems, this is why you need IT folk to manage it, along with it’s countless 1000’s of patches.

  6. Mats Hagglund says:

    I made a good choice. That desktop was perfect for my dad. Besides i didn’t want to see that box on trash.

  7. Mats Hagglund wrote, “I brought an old ex-enterprise computer (year 2006)”

    You shouldn’t have to pay anything for the box. Many businesses just scrap them and it costs them money to dispose. They should pay you. Many fine boxes end up in dumpsters when they are just a few years old and can’t get that other OS to boot. I was helping a relative move recently and was waiting in the car for “the little woman” to come down from the apartment. It was late at night. A vehicle pulled up and something went into the dumpster… I was too tired to check. It was about 1AM. People do that when they have stuff that’s not supposed to go into the trash, so they use someone else’s trash. Many years ago when I lived in Winnipeg, I got up in the middle of the night and happened to look out through a screen window. To my surprise, a neighbour opened up his garage and dragged some bed frames and mattresses out to my trash. I waited a bit and dragged them over to his place. I never heard anything more about it.

  8. Mats Hagglund says:

    Last Friday i brought an old ex-enterprise computer (year 2006) to my old father and installed Linux Mint 15 on it. With 2 GB RAM and above average components on it dear dad has now remarkable nice, decent, secure, fast and stable operation system surely better than any new computer with Windows.

    And the price? 80 € + 17 € for that extra 1GB RAM. There is no need to despise old desktops if one is using Linux on it.

  9. Michael Rudas wrote, “Many of the folks I work with can’t afford the latest-and-greatest hardware, or the upgrades required to run Win7 or Win8”.

    I would bet most consumers have no objective measure of the performance of their systems. It’s all perceptions filtered through the haze of M$’s OS. I had one teacher who clung to XP even though she could go for coffee in the time it took a “usable desktop” to appear. She had adjusted her life to multi-tasking while that other OS thrashed. After she had finished her paperwork for the year, she finally agreed and was absolutely amazed by the speed of a P4ish GNU/Linux system 8 years old. The average age of an XP system is probably less than that.

  10. Michael Rudas says:

    I agree—new hardware is great, if you can afford it, but why abandon what works? Many of the folks I work with can’t afford the latest-and-greatest hardware, or the upgrades required to run Win7 or Win8. Except for the issues caused by the capacitor plague, even ten-year-old hardware runs KDE or Xfce just fine, sometimes even faster than WinXP. There’s a bigger learning curve transitioning to Win8, anyway. I’m making good headway in transitioning folks to Linux by configuring their desktops to be relatively XP-like.

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