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Help me turn my Windows dinosaur into a fast Linux machine!

At home, I have an old, slow computer running Windows 98, and a high-speed Internet connection. I would like to use that computer to telecommute to work once a week, but Win 98 is incompatible with my company's webmail program. A colleague suggested that Linux and Mozilla might be able to handle the challenge, but I don't know where to start. I know some things about computers, but as far as this goes I'm a newbie. Can you recommend a Linux distribution that will be easy (and free!) for me to download and install? Do you think this will solve my compatibility problem?

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The problem you describe can be a nice starting point to make a switch to Linux. The question has two aspects:
  1. Will Mozilla solve my compatibility problem?
  2. Where can I find a free and easy-to-use desktop Linux system?
On whether Mozilla offers a solution I can say the following: Your colleague might be right that Mozilla may solve your problem. If it will is uncertain, since you didn't tell me the ins and outs of the compatibility problem. The Mozilla Foundation has two products that might help you out: First off there is Mozilla: that is a Web browser and an e-mail client. The alternative is Thunderbird, an e-mail client based on the Mozilla product. Both applications also work under Windows 98 and can be downloaded from the Mozilla Web site. Maybe you could try it to ensure that the solution works.

The second part of the question is the move to Linux. Also here, your friend is right-on! Windows 98 isn't officially supported any more, but Microsoft has been giving out some urgent patches until recently. So when it comes down to security, you do have a problem waiting to be fixed. Linux could be a very nice alternative that is currently very suitable for the desktop. As you might know, there isn't just one supplier that delivers the software, but there are many distributions. Which one to pick is very personal, but a couple of famous free distributions are:

  • Knoppix that comes on a single CD and can run without installation. This is very useful to verify if all hardware is correctly detected. If you like it you can install it to your hard disk.
  • Fedora that used to be the Red Hat distribution, but is now a true open source project. It can be downloaded and burned on CD.
  • Mandrake Linux that delivers a Linux desktop that can freely be downloaded.
But there is something else I want you to consider: There are two companies out there that have a Linux distribution that only is aimed at the desktop user. The distributions are not free, yet dramatically cheaper than an MS-Windows-upgrade. Those alternatives are very interesting if you're only looking for ease of use and easy installation of software. This may cost you some bucks, but still be very worthwhile. Have a look at Linspire and Xandros. As you can see there are plenty of possibilities out there.

When everything works you might also have a look at Evolution, which is an e-mail package that looks a lot like Microsoft Outlook and supports many corporate features.

This was first published in October 2004

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