A Free Windows XP Alternative

Category: Linux , Windows

Okay... you know that sticking with Windows XP is like driving with bald tires on an icy highway. But you don't want to spend even a dime on another version of Windows. Fortunately, there's a free alternative operating system that will do pretty much everything that Windows XP does. Read on to learn if it's the right choice for you...

Can Ubuntu Replace Windows XP?

I have urged everyone still using Windows XP to upgrade before April 8th, 2014 when even security patches will cease to be available. By continuing to use that obsolete operating system beyond that date, you endanger yourself and everyone with whom you come into electronic contact. (See Windows XP: Game Over)

“But I can’t afford Windows 7 or 8,” I keep hearing in return. Well, all right; but still you must get rid of XP! So here is an operating system whose price you can’t refuse; it’s free.

Ubuntu is a Linux “distribution” – a free and secure version of the open-source Linux operating system. Open-source means that the programming code is publicly available, and in the case of Linux, developed and supported by a vast community of volunteers. It’s one of the more successful evolutionary paths that Linux has taken, and one of the most consumer-friendly.
Replace XP With Ubuntu

The current Ubuntu distribution includes a solid core of apps: Libre Office for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and graphic images; Firefox for Web browsing; Thunderbird for email; Skype; a music player; instant messaging client; games; and a whole lot more. There’s also the Software Center, your link to a cloud-based warehouse of free apps compatible with Ubuntu and other Linux distributions.

Replacing Windows XP with Ubuntu could not be easier or safer. The Ubuntu Windows Installer does not disturb your Windows system at all. Instead, it creates a virtual partition on your hard drive and installs Ubuntu there. When you reboot your PC, you get a choice to load either Windows or Ubuntu.

Finding Your Way Around Ubuntu

The first time you start Ubuntu, you'll see a desktop that's similar, but somewhat different than Windows. The Ubuntu logo on the top of the desktop sidebar is called Dash, and is the equivalent to the Windows Start button. Shortcuts to frequently used apps will appear there, and a search box lets you quickly find any file, app or setting.

The Firefox web browser is pre-installed, but if you prefer, you can install the Google Chrome browser. (In the Ubuntu Software Center, Chrome is called Chromium.) And here's one pleasant surprise: If you sign in to either Firefox or Chrome, all your browser settings, stored passwords and bookmarks are magically transferred. You should also find that all your favorite websites look and work the same way. So if you've already made the move to cloud-based apps and file storage, moving to Ubuntu won't be such a big deal.

If you prefer to store your files locally, no problem. You don’t even have to deal with migrating your documents, images, videos, and other user-generated data over to Ubuntu. In the Ubuntu File System is a folder named “host” which is your gateway to everything on your Windows "C: Drive" partition. To give Libre Office access to everything stored in Windows’ My Documents folder, you simply point it to your Windows documents path, which is found at: /host/Documents and Settings/<username>/My Documents (Replace <username> with your actual Windows login username.)

You can work on a given document or spreadsheet while in Ubuntu and again after switching to Windows, or vice versa. Changes made to a file in one operating system will be there when you switch to the other, if the need arises. Any file left behind in the Windows world can be found by navigating the host folder.

Your Music, Photos and Email

Worried about leaving all your iTunes music behind? RhythmBox comes pre-installed on Ubuntu, and with a few clicks, can import your iTunes library. Your Windows XP iTunes folder is found here: /host/Documents and Settings<username>/My Documents/My Music/iTunes/iTunes Music

Your photos are covered as well. Fire up Shotwell, tell it to import all your pix from /host/Documents and Settings<username>/My Documents/My Pictures and you're good to go.

If you use a webmail service for your email (such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail), there is nothing you need to do when you migrate to Ubuntu; just log into your webmail account using Firefox or Chrome. All your email, folders and contacts will be there.

If you use a desktop email client such as Thunderbird, Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, etc., then you may wish to move your account settings, contacts, and messages over to a client on Ubuntu. The simplest way to do this involves the Thunderbird email client.

While in Windows XP, download and install Thunderbird if you don't already use it. During the installation process, Thunderbird will ask if you want to import your account settings, contacts, and messages from whatever other email client it finds on your hard drive; let it do so. Then export your account settings, contacts, and messages from Thunderbird to EML files using the Export feature built into Thunderbird. Store the exported data to a folder under My Documents, e. g., “MyMail,” so you can easily find it again after switching to Ubuntu.

Restart your computer and select Ubuntu at boot time. Start Thunderbird and use its Import feature to import account settings, contacts, and messages from the EML files in /host/Documents and Settings/<username>/My Documents/

There’s a bit of a learning curve to Ubuntu, of course. It does not use the same names for landmark features that Windows does. But with a bit of practice you’ll soon get the hang of the new names and subtle differences in functionality. If there's a Windows program that you really miss, look for a replacement in the Ubuntu Software Center. If you don't find something similar, explore Wine, which makes it possible to run many Windows programs on your Linux desktop.

If you decide that Ubuntu is not for you, you can uninstall it via the Windows Control Panel and reclaim the disk space that it and its virtual partition occupied. Windows XP will act as if Ubuntu was never there. But then... what?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "A Free Windows XP Alternative"

(See all 84 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

09 Apr 2014

bob! been reading your daily letter for many years and have benefitted from a great many of them...

i have an old lenovo laptop that runs XP. so, i read with interest your article on ubuntu, it seemed innocuous, and pretty straight forward. so, i installed it. now, when i go back (at boot up) to XP, it hangs... every time, tho sometimes at log in and sometimes just after it... what's up with that? HELP!

i find it interesting, that with all of the comments posted to date on this very important topic, mr. rankin has not commented in response... what's up with THAT?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hmmm, so far I've replied to 16 of the 64 comments posted here. Anyway, are you saying that XP starts to boot, and then hangs at or after you login? Or is it Ubuntu that hangs?

Posted by:

10 Apr 2014

Got a new computer and was Introduced to Ubuntu by a friend. No problem installing, using, and finding new programs.The problem I got was installing the printer ans scanner. After a week I got the printer going. Now I still can't get Ubuntu to recognize my scanner. The Ubuntu community and Forum was quite helpful but got to be very patient.

Posted by:

10 Apr 2014

bob- apologies for the dig... was expecting to see a post from you rather than edits to the comments... i spoke out of turn. no offense...

so, on my machine, ubuntu is a little flukey and sometimes won't come back from hybernation requiring a re-boot... that and it's unfamiliar environment and quirks make it less than satisfying to use up to this point. and, i can't seem to get it to install my printer or scanner.

however, the main problem is my inability to now get XP to run, when i choose it at the boot prompt. it hangs: either before log in, or just after it.
wondering how i can uninstall ubuntu and if i do, will i be also unable use XP? grrrrr!

thoughts? (ps- i purposely do not use capitals except for titles - been doing email and blog posts that way for over 10 years... just how i roll.)

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you installed Ubuntu via the Windows Installer, you can uninstall it with Windows Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs option. Ubuntu shouldn't affect any part of your Windows OS, but if you still have problems after the uninstall, try a System Restore.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2014

First, you wrongly assumed that we all had "newer" machines. That is soo wrong. If we are running XP, that would probably mean we have older machines!
That said, DO NOT try to instal Ubuntu unless you know a little about DOS. It took us 3 days to figure it out. Get Linus Mint. Get one of the older versions and let it update itself. Almost like Windows.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I didn't assume that at all. In fact, I often recommend Ubuntu for older machines, that may lack that the RAM or CPU horsepower to run newer versions of Windows. Ubuntu installed just fine on my 8-year old Gateway machine...

Posted by:

15 Apr 2014

I started reading your great article and thought to myself, I can't wait to see the comments. Free doesn't mean easy people. I've been into computers for 20+ years and have learned over the years that a computer is like a car. It's only as good as the operator. Ubuntu is easy once you adapt to it. Human beings just don't like to adapt. they want it done for them, their way.

Posted by:

Danny H
16 Apr 2014

Thanks Bob. I've always had an urge to try Linux, but all the comments about printers and modems having problems bothers me. I've been quite busy at work, and have not had the time to deal with my desktop XP predicament. Thankfully I have a laptop installed with Windows 7 ( which I hate). I like my desktop and still prefer it over my laptop. Any thoughts and the printer/scanner/modem problems?

Posted by:

19 Apr 2014

Back again Bob, you do a fine job. Here's more help: http://www.linux.com/learn/tutorials/770346-how-to-install-and-try-linux-the-absolutely-easiest-and-safest-way

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

Would I have a problem using AutoCad 2014 on Ubuntu?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes. See http://appdb.winehq.org/appview.php?appId=86

Posted by:

R D Lee
22 Apr 2014

Bob, I've been using various editions of Ubuntu for about 6 yrs now. I use W7HP a well. I really like the Ubuntu OS. But it does have a few minor drawbacks. The learning curve is a little bit of a pain and unless you have time it's just easer to stay with a Windows OS. That said if Microsoft continues with the OS screw-ups like 8 has been it'll be a lot easer to stay with Ubuntu. I keep a hard drive available with Ubuntu on it "just in case" something happens to my Windows on my notebook.

Posted by:

Eric Williams
24 Jun 2014

I downloaded Ubuntu but when I try to run I get "Windows cannot open this file, Windows needs to know what program created it" Where do I get such program? I have XP-SP3 - 32 bit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ubuntu is not a Windows program. It's a complete and separate operating system -- an alternative to Windows or Mac OS X . In short, you'll need to burn the file you downloaded to a CD, then use it as an installation disc. You should be able to find instructions for that on the page where you downloaded Ubuntu.

Posted by:

24 Aug 2014

I prefer Linux Mint over Ubuntu but in both cases people need to keep in mind that the latest versions of both with all the interface updates to compete with Windows and MacOS demand a lot of resources. As mentioned by someone previously, if your hardware is lacking, use an older version of one of the Linux distributions. If you go to Puppy Linux you can actually run it just off memory without even installing to the hard drive. As far as the drivers questions, it's impossible to give a hard and fast answer. I've found that some hardware combinations seem to have all the right drivers available, and on others you have to search long and hard. It really just depends on whether someone in the Linux world has tried your combination of hardware before and created the necessary files. For this situation I've found Linux Mint to be much more complete in most cases. If it doesn't work out of the box, find the forums related to your distribution and first search, then if you don't find anything, ask. I've found Linux people very willing to help, but they do expect you to do your homework and not just walk in with your hand out and expect all the answers provided immediately.

Posted by:

Thomas Lang
21 Sep 2014

If anyone is still monitoring this thread...I'm going insane. As Einstein said "keep doing the same thing over, etc, etc"
I've downloaded several distros, three different computers, been to 20 or so forums, spent 3 hrs a day for a week trying to get this to work. Install goes ok, boot to Linux and get a text screen (BugBox) which tells me, in so many words, fix my computer...run chkdsk /r and try again. I've done this countless times. Still the same result. You all make it sound so easy! What am I doing wrong?? I'm hating Linux at this point.

Posted by:

22 Sep 2014

TL, I just answered to help bring attention to your question. I figured 2 comments in the sidebar are easier to notice.

I haven't tried Linux yet myself.

Posted by:

Bob Pegram
29 Dec 2014

Linux Mint is laid out more like Windows than Ubuntu is. Mint is built on Ubuntu and has more software drivers than Ubuntu. Mint works on a wider variety of computers due to the extra drivers.
For people with a really old computer, there are versions of Linux that will run on 512MB of RAM or even 256MB or RAM, and less for a few versions. Distrowatch.com has LOTS of downloadable versions. Do a search (link at top) and check 'Linux' for OS Type, 'old computers' for Distribution Category, and i386 through i686 for Architecture. Leave the rest at ALL and Active for Status. That will show you all the versions that run on very old computers. There is a picture of the desktop so you can see the layout. A live CD lets you try a version without installing it. You boot off the CD or DVD. You can make sure it works on your computer before installing.

If you have 1Gig of RAM or more you don't need a version of Linux for old computers. Just use Mint. It is the most popular for a reason. It has the taskbar at the bottom like Windows and has the Start menu (Menu on Linux) in the same lower left position, etc.

Posted by:

Dave B
29 Dec 2014

I am currently using Win XP in Virtual mode on a Win 7 machine, only because I have some old legacy programs that won't run on Win 7. Would they run on Ubuntu? I'm fine with Win XP not being updated by MS, but is there a way to shut the Virtual XP off from the internet without also shutting it off for Win 7. Nothing that I do in XP needs the internet. If I could keep it from contact with the internet, I wouldn't need to worry about security threats.

Posted by:

30 Dec 2014

I downloaded the Crunchbang iso to a CD and loaded it on my old laptop.
Wifi and printer work fine, not scanner.
Also doesn't look like XP. It has a blank desktop and you rightclick to get a menu.

Posted by:

31 Dec 2014

It seems to me that Linux Mint and Zorin are much more user friendly to refugees from Windows than Ubuntu and other Linux distros. Linux is like learning a whole new language -but Mint and Zorin are simpler.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2015

Some time ago, I installed Ubuntu on a computer I had. I say had because once it was installed, I could never get it to completely boot up again. (It was too many years ago to give the details.)I even had a professional try to get it to boot up. He couldn't get it to do so either. I would never use this OS again! I don't have money to update from XP. So I am going to use it as long as I can until I can update or someone shows me that there is an OS I can use without fears my computer would get messed up.

Posted by:

23 Nov 2016

I tried switching to ubuntu on my old XP a couple of years ago. Reading your article I saw you didn't mention the difficulty in connecting to the internet after initial installation. I'm no computer whiz-kid so I was on my own here. After what seemed an eternity of Googling and clicking I learned that in order to establish the internet connection for the first time one must do it via a wired connection. That was some HARD to find info but, apparently one first time ubuntu hopefuls are faced with constantly. This is confirmed in your reader feedback as when I began reading the comments, the very first post, above, related a similar story.

Posted by:

24 Nov 2016

I have an old machine winxp with net framework--only the first. If I download Ubantu, can I still maintain my website with MS Frontpage 2003?

There's more reader feedback... See all 84 comments for this article.

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