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.
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 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
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.
Our guide to the differences between Linux and FreeBSD should explain further.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Awesome Free Windows Alternatives to Install Today!
These alternatives to Windows are free, easy to find and straightforward to install.
- Chrome OS
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 that you can access in your browser.
Explore more about: Operating Systems.