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I'd like to offer another demonstration of the remarkable achievements being made in open source software these days. I'm running PC Linux OS 2009 on a near-decade old PC, a Gateway P4 box that is now my only machine. As you can see, it's a pretty attractive desktop, featuring KDE4 in the excellent customization done by Texstar and his Ripper Gang at PCLOS. KDE4 features these plasma desktop widgets that are fairly cool, but I like the traditional interface, so I'm grateful that Tex chose to make that the default.
You may also notice that Google Chrome (actually a Chromium build) is running in the upper right. Even on 9 year old hardware with less than a gig of RAM, I can comfortably run a mail client (Thunderbird), Chrome, and a couple of other applications. I can only imagine how this stuff runs on a modern PC with some real juice inside it.
Once again, this stuff is all free (though if you're like me, you'll feel the need to <a href="http://pclinuxos.com/?page_id=7">donate to the project</a> -- unemployed as I am, even I could afford $25 in acknowledgement of Texstar's extraordinary work). For those of you wishing to try this at home with P4 or older hardware: there are no published system requirements that I can find, though my guess is that a machine with a P3 or better processor and 256MB or more of RAM will work. This box here is an early P4 (1.3GHz) with 640MB of RAM (it shipped with 128MB, and the old RAMBUS memory ain't cheap). Over the years, I've also added a 160GB hard drive (it shipped with 10GB); a cheap legacy nVidia graphics card (GeForce 5500FX); an IDE dvd drive; a USB 2.0 card (the original ports are USB 1); and a new fan to keep it cool.
To keep things slim at the outset I installed the LXDE version of PCLOS, and built up from there, gently pushing the limits as I went. Monster apps like OpenOffice.org, the MS Office contender from Sun, and GIMP, the Photoshop-quality image editor, do not play nicely on an old box like this. For word processing, Abiword is plenty for me, and a lightweight image editor like Gwenview is fine. I also installed Chromium to make web browsing fast and simple, and Thunderbird as my email client.
Trading up on the desktop was a no-brainer, because GNOME and its downsized variants don't perform as well as KDE on older hardware like this. I began with KDE 3.5, and after a few days was impressed enough with it to give version 4 a try. That went well, so I figured I'd push one more boundary: 3D compositing. I turned it on thinking I'd get a look at the effects, and if they dragged then I'd turn it off again. The OS appropriately informed me that compositing wasn't supported and returned me to the default. What I didn't know at the time, though, and only found out later, is that when you turn on compositing in PCLOS's hardware configurator, it sends an instruction to the video card to turn on all 3D effects. So when I started up the machine next time, a gray screen of death appeared, which cleared after a few minutes. Then I was able to get into the setup program for the video card, turn off 3D effects, confirm again that the compositing features were disabled, log out, and return to a functioning OS. I used to be a QA tester, so I guess I don't know better than to mess around; but if you're an ordinary PC user who prefers functionality over trouble, stick with the defaults that PCLOS gives you: it's a well tested distro and those defaults are there for a reason.
Once again, Linux and KDE offer choice for people with older hardware, and in this economy that means something. Windows 7 and its Aero interface require 1GB of RAM just to scrape by, and my suspicion is that anything less than a dual core processor will groan under its demands. KDE4 offers you at least 80% of what you get in Aero but uses older hardware more intelligently, not to mention more safely (every Linux distro I've tried comes with a free antivirus application with the base installation, which doesn't try to sell you an "upgrade" like AVG's free product for Windows does).
The other neat thing about KDE, especially for Windows refugees -- particularly in PCLOS -- is its design. The "kicker" is right where you'd look for a Start button, and the applications are nicely organized by group (Internet, Office, Games, Multimedia, etc.). There's also a Dock-style panel at the bottom of the screen, which resembles the look that Win 7 borrowed from Apple's Mac OS X. And the Dolphin file manager now features a column interface that makes file browsing in a single window comfortable and scrolling minimal.
I've had excellent results installing PCLinuxOS 2009.2 on 800-1000 MHz, P3 machines with as little as 256 MB of RAM and found that the Gimp or Open Office work just fine (just not simultaneously) if a little slowly at times.
RE: PCLinuxOS rocks! written by Eldergeek:
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