An Alternative To Windows 8
Help Desk - Hints & Tips

Ubuntu logo So the scenario is this, you have an older but not antique computer that is currently running Windows XP and you have just found out that XP is only going to be supported for another year, 8th April 2014 to be exact.  So are there any alternatives to Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system?



This situation is quite common with our customers, many having bought new machines 4, 5 and 6 years ago who just don't have the resources to upgrade to a new desktop/laptop or don't want to. A cheaper alternative would be to switch to Windows 8, but only if your machine will support the new software. Many of the older machines would struggle or would need hardware upgrades as well making it expensive.


In the spirit of trying to find a suitable alternative for them and for my aging netbook, we have over the last week been tinkering with Ubuntu which is a type (or distribution) of the Linux operating system.


Billed as “The worlds favourite free operating system” with over 20 million users world wide, how bad could it be, the answer not bad at all, now it's running that is.


Starting with a bit of web searching at to find the right download (its free therefore not easy to get on disk) we found a file for what's known as a “live CD” which lets you try the software on your computer before going to the trouble of installing it.


The live CD worked well on my netbook although we had to run it from a USB stick as it does not have a CD drive. So what to do? Bite the bullet and try it for real or look for something else, Ubuntu gives you a few options:


  1. Run the live CD – Good for a trial but you cannot save anything and you have to reload each time you start.
  2. Side by side installation – This lets you install Ubuntu alongside your current operating system and gives you a menu at startup to choose the one you want to use. This gives you a much better chance to put Ubuntu through its paces.
  3. A full install – Basically wiping whatever you currently have off the computer completely and starting from scratch with Ubuntu.


For most people starting with option 1 and moving to option 2 is the way to go, however we decided after option 1 to go straight for 3. this we did for a number of reasons:


  1. To give Ubuntu a proper trial in a real world environment without the safety net of using XP.
  2. We have a few computers to play with so if it all went wrong it wouldn't be the end of the day.
  3. We have backup facilities for our data so there would be little risk.


So the plan was set, the first issue would be to download the correct file from the Ubuntu website, it's about 750Mb so can take a while. Then you need to burn this to create an installation disk and that's when the fun starts.


On the netbook we tried to install from a USB stick, then direct from the internet and eventually we dug out a USB CDrom drive and had a go with that all to no avail. Each time we got part way through and had an issue and had to refer back to one of about 6 websites we now had stored in favourites just in case. On the 12th try the installation was successful and we even managed to get Ubuntu installed on a much older mini laptop at the 2nd try, but a lot of head scratching was done on the way


Once installed the system runs smoothly, the battery on the netbook lasts longer and we have some new software to play with. Ubuntu comes with an office system (Libre Office) out of the box along with Mozilla Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for emails and a host of other applications to play music etc. So far we have installed a graphics editing suite, Skype for communications, a twitter client and a few smaller items to try all free so far from the Ubuntu community.




So what do we think? Well Ubunto is a great alternative for those that don't want or can't have Windows 8 on their machines, it's free which is always good although you are given the option to donate to the cause and we would suggest that you do.


The bad bits, there are a few unfortunately, the installation wasn't straightforward, although it may be easier on different machines, we still haven't managed to get the webcam working on the netbook and everything is different from what we are used to. Sometimes it is difficult to get devices such as printers to run as the manufacturers don't always supply drivers and those that do have to be downloaded rather than using the disk from the box. It is important therefore to research any new item you are going to buy before purchase.


Recommendation - give the liveCD a try from and see what you think, as long as you don't click install you won't do any harm. If you manage to get that done whithout resorting to drink it may be worth pursuing. If you would like to give Ubuntu a go but are not sure how to proceed then give us a call and we can arrange to carry out the installation for you.


At Alien Technologies we have experience of many different operating systems including versions of Linux, however in the case of Linux it's been a while and we are a bit rusty but always happy to help.






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