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out of the scrap heaps, but I don’t know how I feel about the Linux community crying out for everyone to use their out-of-date hardware for Linux.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.