11 Free Alternatives to Windows Operating Systems
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Need a new operating system that doesn’t cost a penny? You might have heard about Linux, the free and open source alternative to Windows. However, there are many other free operating systems for laptops and desktop PCs.

Capable of performing standard computer tasks, these free operating systems are strong alternatives to Windows.

1. Linux

Linux is free, widely available, and has acres of online guidance, making it the obvious choice. MakeUseOf publishes its own Linux help guides, while we’re also addicted to compact Linux-powered ARM hobbyist computer the Raspberry Pi.

And that is the beauty of Linux: it will literally run on anything. If you’re looking for a free alternative to Windows, you try Linux Mint, currently the most popular Linux operating system. But this is a competitive field—perhaps you aspire to own a Mac? If your Cupertino lust is all about the visual design of macOS, then you might consider Elementary OS.

In short, Linux is the number one free alternative to Window for the simple reason that it is amazing. Check our list of the top Linux operating systems The Best Linux Operating Distros The Best Linux Operating Distros The best Linux distros are hard to find. Unless you read our list of the best Linux operating systems for gaming, Raspberry Pi, and more. Read More to download a version to suit you.

2. Chrome OS

In some ways this is another obvious choice. Chrome OS, from Google, is available on a number of low-cost and some high-end laptops, known as Chromebooks. It’s also available to download free, suitable for installing on aging hardware.

Lightweight and with a focus on cloud computing, Chrome OS is great for web browsing, social networking, and word processing. It’s less impressive at media playback, and media editing and gaming are beyond its capabilities.

If Linux isn’t your cup of tea but you’re looking for something that is easy to use, Chrome OS is a good free alternative to Windows.

Download: Chrome OS

3. FreeBSD

Many think that FreeBSD is just another Linux distribution. While sharing the Unix-like roots of Linux, FreeBSD is the modern, open source version of the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD).

FreeBSD can be considered a relative of Linux and its code can be found in many places. These include Apple’s macOS and Sony’s PlayStation 4 operating system.

Overall, FreeBSD is a reliable operating system for servers and desktops alike. While it doesn’t ship with a desktop environment by default, there is support for GNOME, KDE and Xfce desktops.

FreeBSD is of interest to those with security and privacy concerns, offering enhancements developed by the TrustedBSD project. This has the of McAfee, DARPA, Google, University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, Apple, and many more.

Download: FreeBSD

Our guide to the differences between Linux and FreeBSD Linux vs. BSD: Which Should You Use? Linux vs. BSD: Which Should You Use? Both are based on Unix, but that's where the similarities end. Here's everything you need to know about the differences between Linux and BSD. Read More should explain further.

4. FreeDOS

FreeDOS is a great free Windows alternative

Most modern operating systems are built around the concept of multitasking. FreeDOS is different. This DOS-compatible OS is as different from Windows as it’s possible to get— FreeDOS is based on Windows’ predecessor, MS-DOS.

A free operating system with support for older games and applications, FreeDOS can be easily connected to your network. In addition, various software packages can be installed, from tools to enhance the classic DOS experience to apps and emulators.

FreeDOS is as useful for productivity as it is for recovering old data.

It doesn’t matter if you own a modern desktop, an older rig, or you’re running it in a virtual machine. FreeDOS is a great option if you’re looking for a more traditional experience reminiscent of 80s/90s computing.

Download: FreeDOS

5. illumos

Another UNIX-based free Windows alternative, illumos is based on OpenSolaris, an operating system abandoned by Oracle in 2009. Based on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) and System V Release 4 (SVR4), the illumos core is the heart of many OpenSolaris forks.

This is not unlike the way in which the Linux kernel is found in every Linux distribution. As a result, many illumos distributions are available. The most popular is probably OpenIndiana, which features in the accompanying video.

Download: illumos

6. ReactOS

If talk of the alternatives being Linux and UNIX is leaving you on edge, consider ReactOS as your Windows alternative.

Originally launched in 1996 as a Windows 95 clone project, the official website states that “the ultimate goal of ReactOS is to allow you to remove Windows and install ReactOS without the end user noticing the change.”

In short, the aim is that you should be able to continue using your PC as you did before. ReactOS features over 9 million lines of code and is open source.

However, ReactOS has been in the alpha stage for quite some time now. While some apps such as Adobe Reader will run on ReactOS, many won’t. It’s lightweight, though, requiring just 500MB of hard disk space and 96MB of RAM to run.

One day, ReactOS might be a perfect, free alternative to Windows, but until then, it is available for your evaluation. Install it from the boot CD or run the LiveCD on your existing operating system.

Download: ReactOS

7. Haiku

Haiku is free and open source and was first released in 2001. Since then, this free operating system has been in continuous development and runs various apps. Some you will have heard of, like VLC Media Player and Quake. Haiku will also run may apps from the abandoned BeOS operating system.

However, Haiku releases are infrequent, making it perhaps the least attractive alternative in this list. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a free alternative to Windows, it’s certainly worth looking at Haiku.

Download: Haiku

8. MorphOS

MorphOS is an Amiga-like operating system, based on the 80s/90s home computer and available for PowerPC and similar devices. While, the chances an old Windows PC has a PowerPC processor are small, old Macs will run MorphOS.

However, if your Mac experience ended with Apple’s adoption of x86 CPUs, a Windows alternative might be useful. Time to dig out that old iMac, Mac Mini, or Power Mac!

Download: MorphOS

9. AROS

AROS is a free operating system with a similar heritage to MorphOS but designed for x86 systems. This means that it should be able to run on your PC. In some ways, your PC or laptop turns into a modern-day Amiga computer, capable of running old and new software.

Note, however, you’ll be unable to read old Amiga discs on a modern PC, even with a 3.5-inch drive. As such, you’ll be limited to ROMs.

Even so, this makes for an interesting alternative to Windows. There’s a Live CD you can try of AROS, giving you a good flavor of this free operating system for PCs.

Download: AROS

10. MenuetOS

Available for 32-bit and 64-bit hardware, MenuetOS is an operating system that can be installed from a single floppy disk. Just to clarify, that’s a single floppy disk of 1.4MB.

Incredibly, it includes a full GUI desktop, a browser, media player, and spreadsheet pre-installed. Built with Assembly language, MenuetOS also features support for USB webcams, and handles resolutions up to 1920×1080 (16 million colors).

Some games are also built in, along with email client, FTP, and HTTP server. You don’t have to boot MenuetOS from a floppy disk—it can be installed from CD or USB.

Download: MenuetOS

11. Android

Google has been developing Android and Chrome OS towards a convergence of operating systems in recent years. Thanks to the addition of mouse and keyboard support, Android is becoming increasingly useful as a desktop operating system How to Use Your Android Phone to Replace Your Desktop PC How to Use Your Android Phone to Replace Your Desktop PC Your phone is powerful, so why not use it is as your full desktop operating system? Read More .

And thanks to some independent developers, Android is available as a free download for 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems.

The benefits of using Android as your free Windows alternative are clear. After Windows, it is the most-used operating system on the planet. Apps for Android are everywhere and you’re probably already using at least one.

Android offers support for standard PC applications, like word processing and email/web, along with good media editing tools.

Android can also be used for media streaming and has a massive library of games. In short, Android could be the ultimate free alternative to Windows. It really depends what you’re looking for in an operating system.

Various Android versions are available for desktop and laptop PCs. Phoenix OS provides an Android gaming platform on PC; you should also consider PrimeOS for an Android desktop experience.

Download: Phoenix OS
Download: PrimeOS

Awesome Free Windows Alternatives to Install Today!

These alternatives to Windows are free, easy to find and straightforward to install.

  1. Linux
  2. Chrome OS
  3. FreeBSD
  4. FreeDOS
  5. Illumos
  6. ReactOS
  7. Haiku
  8. MorphOS
  9. AROS
  10. MenuetOS
  11. Android

Not all will suit your specific requirements, but we’re certain you’ll find a new OS you can grow to like. Interested in seeing how operating systems have evolved over the years? Check out this list of classic operating systems 8 Classic Operating Systems You Can Access in Your Browser 8 Classic Operating Systems You Can Access in Your Browser Feel nostalgic? You can still relive some of the operating systems of old. Enjoy these classic operating systems in your browser. Read More that you can access in your browser.

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  1. Bruce
    October 23, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    So what would you suggest for an old XP laptop?

    • Luís
      January 17, 2018 at 11:51 pm

      Hello. It depends memory you have and cpu, but you can try linux mint xfce, lubuntu, xubuntu or xubuntu core (lite).
      Regards

    • Jim
      September 7, 2019 at 12:00 pm

      Go to distrowatch and do a search of old computers.
      If coming from Windows Q4OS is a good one, it is made to be very windows like.
      antiX is also very good. Along with LXLE. If your computer is really old you could try any one of the Puppy Linux's, Legacy OS being a good one. Just remember it is Linux, now Windows.Good luck.

    • Jake
      September 17, 2019 at 6:51 pm

      I would suggest you try MX Linux. I use it on an old EEE PC netbook, it works great and currently the number one distro on Distrowatch , more than twice than Mint.

      Puppy is OK too, I used it for a few years, but MX is by far my favorite, having distro hopped quite a bit

    • Eric
      September 18, 2019 at 4:53 am

      Linux Lite should work just fine on it.

  2. Stavros K.
    April 29, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    MorphOS is not actually free. As you can read in their website:
    "The price is 79 EUR for one laptop or desktop computer. Special pricing of 49 EUR per device is offered for EfikaPPC and Sam460 systems.

    The unregistered version of MorphOS includes the full functionality, but slows down operation after a 30 minutes period until you choose to reboot your computer."

  3. Pete
    April 22, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Non-geek checking in here. Although there are many things disturbing about Windows 10, not the least of which is lack of privacy, my main beef is automatic brightness. Having the brightness flip around willy-nilly is unnerving & of course no way to gain control. It's really just unbelievable that a company this powerful allows such a complete failure in aesthetic as this automatic brightness to go forward. Even more disturbingly unbelievable is how nobody seems to mind. Are humans that controlled/conformed? Bill Gates is clearly a fascist. It's enough to make a person go expat away from USA, except for how this kind of fascism has spread throughout the planet.. but I digress.. Switching to another OPS is simply too scary. More likely, I will buy another PC but this time with Linux installed. Thanks for an interesting article.

  4. Dave
    April 5, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Syllable also discontinued, server in 2010 and desktop had last update in 2012.

    • Christian Cawley
      April 7, 2017 at 7:37 pm

      Useful to know Dave, thank you.

  5. Mikko Lemmetti
    March 21, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    "After Windows, it is the most-used operating system on the planet." About 90 % of DESKTOP computers are on Windwoes. More than 90 % of ALL DEVICES that have so called smart(ass) capabilities be it super computer, server, smart phone, set top box, blue-ray player... are running LINUX kernel. And that includes android, being built around that kernel.

  6. Doc
    March 14, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    AtheOS is discontinued. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AtheOS

    • Christian Cawley
      March 16, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      Thanks Doc, not sure how that passed me by.

  7. Zhong
    March 14, 2017 at 2:25 am

    Will you guys write an article about debugging the kernel?

    • Christian Cawley
      March 14, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Thanks for the suggestion, Zhong, we'll see what we can do.

  8. William Peckham
    March 13, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    You missed several other fine options, including Freedos and KolibriOS among others. Still, a proud list.

    • Christian Cawley
      March 14, 2017 at 10:49 am

      Thanks William. I wanted to keep the list to mouse driven GUIs, which is why FreeDos was omitted.

      I admit, I've completely overlooked Kolibri, but we may take a look at it at a later date.

  9. spyjoshx
    March 13, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Thank you for mentioning ReactOS. I had seen it before and it looked intriguing, however I don't know much about it (how it works, etc.). Is there the possibility that one of you at MUO could do an article about it?

    • jymm
      March 14, 2017 at 10:45 am

      ReactOS is not really ready for the desktop yet. I had an interest in it years ago, but the development has been slow and painful. The idea is great but the implementation is spotty at best. It may work as a dual boot, but it is not ready to be a production desktop yet.