Why Upgrading from Windows XP to Linux is Easier than You Think

Ryan Dube 31-08-2015

Since at least the mid 1980’s, I’ve been a Microsoft Windows guy. After testing a few interesting Linux distros, I can honestly say that Linux is actually winning me over.


From MS-DOS through Windows 8.1, I remained staunch in my defense that the only way to have a full and productive experience as a computer user was to have a Windows PC with access to the wealth of software available to Windows users. However, after recently trying Chromebook Make an Easy Switch to Chromebook Now (and Never Look Back) I've adopted, studied every Windows OS, adapted, and eventually learned to love each of them for different reasons. Are you curious to know why as of today, I'm a Chromebook guy? Read More , it dawned on me that maybe other operating systems can be just as productive.

Since Chrome OS is actually based on the Linux kernel, it then makes perfect logical sense to consider whether other Linux distributions could be useful. The ideal way to give Linux a try, for anyone who is completely new to Linux and unwilling to invest in new hardware, is to test it out using some of the older PCs that Windows simply stopped working on. Thankfully, I had three such systems to play around with.

Which Linux Distro Should I Use?

One of the most common questions I found in the “newbie” section of most Linux forums was new users asking what Linux distro they should try out 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 . I had the same questions, especially since in my case my hardware specifications required a distro that wasn’t too demanding.

I actually received the best suggestions from the Linux writers here in-house at MakeUseOf. They suggested trying PeppermintOS, Bodhi Bodhi Linux Is Beautiful & Works On Very Old Computers [Linux] Try a lightweight, beautiful Linux distro that works on very old hardware. Bodhi Linux can run on processors with only 300 mhz so imagine how well it will work on your machine. With the Enlightenment desktop... Read More , or a light version of Ubuntu, in that order.

This was the first system I was going to work with – a Dell Dimension 4600, with an Intel Pentium 4 processor.



The system actually ran terribly with Windows XP, even after a full restore How to Factory Reset Your HP Laptop Wondering how to factory reset an HP laptop? Here are the methods to restore any HP computer to its default settings. Read More , which made me wonder if possibly I was facing failing hardware rather than a bogged down operating system. However, the system BIOS included the ability to boot via USB, which made it a nice system to test out several distros of Linux without the need to burn a bunch of CDs.


I’ll go over the basic process of doing this, but over the years we’ve offered a number of very useful guides that are still relevant depending what operating system or hardware you’re starting from. If you’re looking for detailed guides on how to install Linux (as opposed to predicting what your experience will be like – which is the goal of this article), you may want to check out one of those guides.


To take a test drive with Linux on any old system you may have, you’ll want to use either UNetbootin or Rufus, depending on your preference. Our in-house Linux expert, Michael Tunnell, who helped me tremendously during this process, recommended Rufus as his app of choice to create a live Linux USB install dongle.

Create Live USB from ISO

No matter what Linux distro you want to try out, the process is nearly always the same. Download the ISO file, and then create a Live USB or a Live CD.

With UNetbootin How To Install Linux With Ease Using UNetbootin We've already talked about Linux and why you should try it, but probably the hardest part of getting used to Linux is getting it in the first place. For Windows users, the simplest way is... Read More , doing this is really simple, especially because it comes complete with the ability to select from commonly installed Linux distros – making downloading as simple as selecting the distro you want.



In my case, I had downloaded several ISO files already, so that’s the option I took whenever using UNetbootin. This option is at the bottom of the main window.


That’s all there is to it – you select your USB drive and UNetbootin creates the Live USB stick just like that.



If you can’t boot from USB (which many older systems can’t do), then you’ll need to burn a live CD instead Put your Linux Distro on a Live CD Recently, Live DVDs and Live USB have cropped up as well. These live systems are full versions of the operating system that run completely from the given medium. Read More . There are countless solutions out there for burning an ISO file to a Live CD How To Create The Ultimate Boot CD For Windows Read More , but in my case I chose CDBurnerXP, just because like UNetbootin it’s so easy to use – like one click to choose your ISO file and you’re done.

Boot to USB or CD

With most PCs, getting to the boot menu requires pressing F12 while the system is booting. This brings up a screen for you to choose what to boot from – hard drive, CD or USB. Once you choose whichever option has your Live install files, you’ll typically see the install menu for that Linux distribution.

Her’s a quick tip that will save you hours of intense headache: If you find that after you’ve chosen the “Install xxx” option ends up with your screen going blank and nothing happening, then you need to add “nomodeset” to the end of your boot parameters.

Don’t let that phrase scare you if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. It’s a common problem that happens, especially if you’re installing on an older system. Since most new kernels have the video mode setting built right into the kernel so users can have a high resolution splash screen leading to the login screen. The problem is that many of these older video cards won’t work properly because of this, so the “nomodeset” parameter tells the kernel to avoid loading the video drivers and just use the BIOS modes instead.

Adding this parameter is crazy simple. When the install screen from the Live CD The 50 Cool Uses for Live CDs Live CDs are perhaps the most useful tool in any geek's toolkit. This live CD how-to guide outlines many uses live CDs or DVDs can offer, from data recovery to enhancing privacy. Read More or Live USB Linux Live USB Creator: Easily Boot Linux From Your Flash Drive Read More comes up, select the install option and then press “Tab” (or whatever option the screen says you should use to “add parameters”).

You’ll see a command string (usually starting with “/boot/” that often ends in “splash –” or “noram”. Regardless what the string looks like, remove any “–” at the end and make the next text parameter “nodemoset”.


The example screen above is from the SliTaz distro 5 Ways to Avoid Censorship & Reach Your Audience with Technology Censorship prevents you from sharing your message with your audience. Technology can be a way around that. Here are ways to unmute yourself and get your message out. Read More I tested. In that case, it was still too laggy on my Pentium 4. But, we’ll get to the Linux distros I tested below, and I’ll show you the one that I ended up keeping, because it worked so much better than Windows XP ever did.

Installing Peppermint OS

The first Linux distro that was recommended to me to try on this older system is Peppermint OS.  It just looks fantastic, and supposedly can run well on older hardware.

When I first ran the installer off the live USB stick, correctly configuring the nomodeset parameter, I thought everything had gotten screwed up, because this was the screen that I saw.


However, in no time, I started seeing regular install screens.


The first verified my hard drive size was appropriate, and told me that I forgot to plug the PC into the network (whoops).


Remedying the network issue with a long network cable, I continued. On the installation type screen, you can choose to dual boot Peppermint OS with whatever your current system is. In my case, I wanted to completely wipe Windows XP and start fresh.


The next screen asked for my geographic location, I assume to correctly set my date/time.


And finally, it let me set a login ID/password and the computer name for network ID purposes.


The interaction with the installer was honestly that simple. Unlike my attempts back in the 90s, this was a real eye-opener. No crazy command-prompt jazz, no partitioning or creating swap space….nothing crazy or more complex than anyone with a basic knowledge of pointing and clicking a mouse can accomplish.


Once the installer was finished, the PC rebooted, and when it finally came up, I was presented with this beautiful desktop, and a “Quick Setup” window for date/time configuration.


This honestly would have been the end of my story, if it wasn’t for the fact that Peppermint OS ran DOG SLOW on this Pentium 4. I mean, I would move the mouse and count to between 5 to 10 seconds before it would respond. Again, I suspect hardware (hard drive) issues, but not one to give up so easily, I decided to see if I could find a light enough version of Linux to run smoothly on this system.

In the process, it would give me a chance to see the flavors of different distros The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees Read More .

Testing Linux Distros

The next distro I went for was Bodhi Linux. I was informed by our MakeUseOf Linux experts that Bodhi is often considered to be one of the more lightweight, yet “pretty” and feature-filled distros, given the low hardware requirements. This sounded good to me, so I loaded up a Live CD and booted up the PC using it.


As you can see on this menu, the same rule applies. Hit Tab and append “nomodeset” to the boot string or else the screen will go blank.

Unlike Peppermint, there’s no “Install” option. You need to launch the Live System, which will start into a desktop environment and you’ll have the option to install Bodhi from there.


Like Peppermint, the installation was fast and painless. In 15 minutes I was staring at the fully installed Bodhi Linux desktop.


I actually liked the look and feel of this, but yet again, the cursor kept locking up on me every few minutes. I’d have to wait 30 seconds before the cursor would start moving again. I was starting to have some serious concerns that the issues with the computer have less to do with difficulty running Linux distros and more about a failing CPU or hard drive.

As one last ditch, I decided to give Xubuntu a shot, since I had heard that it is extremely lightweight and highly regarded across the Internet as a good OS for older hardware.

In this case, the Live CD did include an “Install Xubuntu” option, but to set the nodemoset parameter requires pressing F6 and selecting the option from the list.


Once again, I was just completely taken aback by how fast the install happened – far faster and less painless than any Windows installation I’d ever witnessed. In no time, the Xubuntu desktop was up and running (taskbar on the top of the screen – interesting!)


Finally, I had discovered a lightweight distro that worked really well on this old hardware. No mouse pointing freezing up, no churning CPU without any activity — nothing to suggest there were any problems at all really. In Xubuntu, I had discovered the saving OS that would give new life to this old tower.

Playing around a bit with Xubuntu – seriously, the first Linux OS I have ever tried in my life – I was quite pleased. The file manager actually had the look and feel of just about any other file manager I’d ever used on Windows or Chromebook. The layout wasn’t confusing or unusual – a refreshing change from the 1990’s when I last used Linux. Back then it was the most atrociously complex OS I’d ever witnessed.


This OS is actually rather impressive. Clicking the upper left icon that represents the equivalent of the “Start Menu” brought up a start menu that I’d actually be satisfied using. It had not only the basic apps you’d expect from an OS, but it also included a bunch of preinstalled apps like Pidgin, a Word Processor called AbiWord, and of course the Ubuntu Software Center to load up more apps.


I have to say the one thing that impressed me the most about the experience was how effortless the Internet setup was. I moved the computer to an area of my shop without wired Internet, so before installing Xubuntu, I plugged in a wireless adapter to see how Xubuntu would handle it.

To my surprise, after the install, without any special device installation required, Xubuntu recognized and started using the Linksys wireless USB adapter and spotted my wireless network. No questions asked.


I launched the included web browser (Firefox) and connected to Google. Only moments after install, I was online and surfing the web on this old beast of a machine that previously had struggled to run Windows XP.


I’m not sure what I’ll be using this old tower for – maybe as a file server, or as a simple terminal 4 Ways to Teach Yourself Terminal Commands in Linux If you want to become a true Linux master, having some terminal knowledge is a good idea. Here methods you can use to start teaching yourself. Read More to run some dashboards – but what I can tell you is that installing and using Xubuntu was much easier than any OS install I’ve ever gone through. And the quality of the OS, at least based on first impressions, is that it’s nothing less than a professional OS with a lot to offer.

Installing Linux on REALLY Old Hardware

My next experiment as a first time Linux OS user was to put the lightest Linux distro I know of – Puppy Linux – on the oldest piece of software that I own. This is an old Pentium II Dell Latitude that formerly ran Windows 2000.


Installing Puppy Linux Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Puppy Linux Here, we'll be taking a look at a distribution of Linux that is famous for being able to run with very little hardware requirements, Puppy Linux. Puppy Linux isn't based on another distribution; it is... Read More is almost as easy as installing any other distro, but there are a few caveats. First, running the Live CD will boot you into the Puppy Linux desktop after running through this initial window.


Once you get to the desktop, there are a few things you need to do if you want to do a full Puppy Linux install. Murga Linux offers one of the closest step-by-step procedures I’ve found for Puppy Linux, but basically here’s all you need to do:

  • Partition and format the hard drive using Gparted
  • Don’t forget to create the linux-swap partition as well, as described at the Murga Linux link above
  • Use “mange flags” in Gparted to set the main partition as a boot drive
  • Install Puppy Linux using the Puppy Universal Installer (FULL installation)
  • Install GRUB so that the PC will boot up into Puppy Linux

All of the installation utilities you need to perform the steps above are included in the Puppy Linux live CD, and running through them all is very easy.


Puppy Linux loaded right up on this old laptop once I rebooted after install. It was snappy, lightning fast, and included everything I needed to make this old laptop fully functional again!

Installing Peppermint OS

Getting a taste of Peppermint OS on the Dell tower really gave me incentive to get it to work smoothly on a faster PC. Thankfully, I had one on hand – this Dell Optiplex that formerly ran XP and I’ve had stored away in my basement for a while.


The CD drive still works great, so I popped in the Peppermint OS Live CD, booted it up and remembered to click TAB and edit the nomodeset parameter just to be sure the graphics card would work fine during install.


The install ran even faster on this PC, and before I knew it, it booted to the awesome-looking Peppermint OS desktop (I really love the look of this OS!)


Just like Xubuntu, Peppermint OS immediately recognized the Linksys wireless USB device and connected to the Internet (after prompting me for the wireless password). Checking out the “start menu” for the first time, I was pretty excited to start exploring – Chromium, Graphics software, Office software, and the Software Manager to start browsing for more (FREE!) software!


Opening up the Software Manager, I got pretty excited pretty fast. Thousands upon thousands of software packages available across so many different categories.  Where to start??


On the advice of MUO Linux guru Michael Tunnell, I uninstalled the “bloated” Chromium browser and instead installed QupZilla straight from the Software Manager.


Without a doubt, this Peppermint OS install on the Optiplex is the fastest, most impressive Linux distro install yet. I’m pretty excited to start playing around with what other software packages area available and seeing what else this baby can do.

Using Linux as a Primary OS

Just browsing through the available software so far, it seems like I can set up this PC to do everything that it could do when it was running Windows XP and more. In fact, it looks like I could get it to do just about everything I can do with my Windows 8.1 laptop.

The ultimate question will be this: will I end up using Peppermint OS more than my other computers? Will I like Linux more than any other OS I currently use? Stay tuned for future articles, and we’ll see what we see…

Are you a brand new Linux user too? What was the first Linux distro you went with, and which one do you use today? I’d love to hear why you chose the one you did, and if Linux is now your primary OS. Let’s discuss in the comments section below!

Related topics: Linux, Live CD, Old.

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  1. Mike Walsh
    April 30, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Why does this site always lose my comments?

  2. Mike Walsh
    April 30, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Started out with Ubuntu 'Trusty Tahr' 14.04. Proved to be too heavy for my old Compaq PC due to the 3d acceleration requirements of the Unity desktop. Switched to Puppy Linux around 2 1/2 years ago.....and haven't looked back since.

  3. Patrick
    August 3, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I know this is an older article, but I can relate. My laptop was completely useless running Windows 7 for two solid years before I first tried to install Windows 10 and give it a try.

    It crashed halfway through the installation, giving me the same blue screen I'd seen a thousand times before.

    Lesson learned.

    So I switched to Linux! My friend is big into computers (as am I now) and is a Linux/macOS user. The first distro I tried was Xubuntu 14.04. I loved it and used it as my daily driver for half a year, before I started to get bored of it.

    I switched to Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon two days ago and love it. It's now my go-to distro for any new devices I'm going to set up.

  4. Anonymous
    September 2, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Sorry, XP Is Still Far From Dead To Me.

    With Some Volume Licenses, And The Possibility Of Buying The Most Customized Recent Hardware, It Will Take Years To Bring It To Its Knees.

    Besides, Any Dual Core Machine With 4GB Of RAM Is More Than Decent Enough.

    I Do Not Even Care If Support Was Cut In APRIL 2014.

    After Some M$ Crappy Update(s) In The SUMMER Of 2009, I UnInstalled All M$ Updates I Could Live Without, And Have Never Installed Any Newer Ones Since - 6 Years And Counting.

    Take That, M$.


    • Mihir Patkar
      September 3, 2015 at 7:18 am

      Not scared of any bugs or security holes?

      • Anonymous
        September 3, 2015 at 2:19 pm

        I Never Ever Have Engaged In Any Electronic Financial Activities With My Computers, And I Do Not Plan To, Period.

        I Am A Brick Stores And Cash Only Kind Of Guy.

        All Kinds Of Stores Here Are No More Than A 30 Minute Car Ride Away.

        That SUMMER Of 2009 Gave Me A Lot More Headaches Than 20+ Years Of MalWare.

        In The Last 6 Years, I Was Hit Several Times In Last DECEMBER And Last FEBRUARY.

        OPERA15+ Is My Main Browser, But I Access Streaming Shady Sites With IE8 ( IE8 On Purpose ) And The Browser Lets Sites Do Downloads Even When I Change The Settings To Not Allow So.

        Since Then, I Changed The Firewall Settings.

        I Renamed All .EXE Files To A Customized Sequence Of Lowercase And Uppercase, So With Task Manager I Know When A Rogue Program Is Running - Of Course, When I Install Or Upgrade Any Software, I Have To Repeat The Process.

        Low Tech, But It Works.

        The Penultimate Version Of MCAFEE, VSE88 RP5, Takes Care Of The Unwarranted Downloads, Now.

        All Hits I Talked About Were Really Puny - An Old Restore Point Quickly Solved The Problem.

        Thank You For Responding.

  5. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    My favorite distro (for old or new hardware) is Linux Lite. Simple, elegant, easy to install and use. Lubuntu is a close second. However, on REALLY old hardware, LXLE is worth a look. Some hassles with wifi drivers, but once you get past that LXLE works well and looks good.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 2, 2015 at 7:05 am

      Hey, a distro I haven't tried! Downloading now, thanks for the recommendation, Michael!

    • Anonymous
      September 8, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      You should take a look at Puppy Linux, it's a small distro made for the express purpose to give a decent, modern OS with a good desktop on really old hardware. The whole download is about 200 megabytes, which isn't the smallest compared to really small distros, but it comes with a pretty decent set of software.

  6. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I appreciate positive articles about Linux by, why, after all these years, do people still feel the need to find the oldest hardware they have to run Linux? What I mean to say is that Linux still continues to get touted as the OS to use on your old machines but not on your new ones. It would be nice if more of these articles were focused on running Linux on more-current hardware (<2 years old) just to show how well it performs on more modern setups.

  7. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 10:56 am

    I've always wanted to install some version of Arch but i've never had any luck. But recently tried Kubuntu with the latest KDE desktop and it is great. Chromixium is also interesting, it stacks the Chrome OS interface on top of Ubuntu.

  8. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 5:26 am

    I started out using Ubuntu and now use Linux Mint as my main OS. The only software I have ever felt like I was missing was AAA games, but this past year has been amazing for gaming, so I am perfectly happy on Linux.

    Also I have always had trouble using UNetBootin. It works great for Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros but it never seems to work for me with other distros. I had even more trouble with Rufus when I tried.
    dd is really the only way that consistently works to get distros properly running from USB.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 7:32 am

      OMG YES! UNetBootin is the devil. I had the exact same experience for the longest time. Are you on an AMD or an Intel?

    • Anonymous
      September 1, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Wow! Even I can never get it to work! But I haven't tried in a few months so who knows.

    • Anonymous
      September 1, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      If you have a FAT32 formatted USB disk, it may just be as easy to do this from a command line, using the dd command.

      You would supply the iso file name (including the path, if needed), block size and output destination. For example, say your USB stick is on /dev/sdd.

      For example, you could do the following:

      sudo dd if=/path/to/linux/distro.iso bs=1M of=/dev/sdd

      Let it finish and you have a bootable USB stick.

  9. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 2:18 am

    I started using linux a few years ago and have love it ever since. I have tried several distros including: Puppy, Peppermint, Xubuntu, Mint and Ubuntu which I am currently using. Windows! Never again. :D

  10. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 2:11 am

    You have to give elementary OS a try. Lightweight and one of the more refined and cohesive Linux distros.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 7:24 am

      I have a love-hate relationship with Elementary OS. Damn thing is so beautiful, but I always find some bugs or inadequacies that put me back into Ubuntu. We do have a full guide on switching to Elementary though: //

      • Anonymous
        September 1, 2015 at 1:53 pm

        Yeah, it still needs a couple things worked out but it's the OS others should strive to be like. It's the one distro I install and feel like I can just start using and want to use.

        • Mihir Patkar
          September 1, 2015 at 2:20 pm

          All right, you convinced me, I need to give this one another shot :)

    • Anonymous
      September 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      Have you tried out Freya yet? The older versions are buggy.

  11. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 1:49 am

    Peppermint 6 is truly awesome - try playing with the ice app - you will need either chromium or Google Chrome installed for it to work but it is awesome! Also make things nicer looking (yes it can get even better!) with some themes from raveAffinity (not associated with them - just love their themes) and bump up the size of your panel a bit and change it to a translucent color.

  12. Anonymous
    August 31, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    I started out using Linux a few months ago and since then it has been my primary OS. I started out with an amazing Dell XPS 1645 laptop from 2010 with 8 gigs of ram and an i7 processor. I first tried Zorin OS for a while and loved it. What made me switch was the bloated feel of the OS and the whole theme of the thing being good for begginers. I forget what I switched to next but I can tell you that I have installed and tested more than 30 distros over the course of a few months. Currently i'm running an ubuntu system thats I have completely tailored to me (The only reason I started out with Ubuntu was because of apt-get and online support).

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 6:54 am

      Zorin is the perfect beginner's OS for someone who's coming from Windows, so I totally see how you made that transition. The next step is Ubuntu, and I see you're already there. Like you, I too went with several different distros and landed back on Ubuntu. I'm increasingly intrigued by KDE now though. You played around with any recently?

      • Anonymous
        September 1, 2015 at 1:41 pm

        Cool! KDE as been my main desktop for a while now. Just yesterday I booted into Solus which was great, but I think it was too simple (Read my review on it here . What did you use before Ubuntu?

        • Mihir Patkar
          September 1, 2015 at 1:52 pm

          I keep coming back to Ubuntu. I keep switching to check out other OSes. Fedora is my usual go-to for KDE because yay Plasma

        • Anonymous
          September 1, 2015 at 2:01 pm

          Cool! I always boot live for a day to try it out. I wish more distros had 5.4... Some still have kde 3

        • Mihir Patkar
          September 1, 2015 at 2:19 pm

          Same. I go Live for a day or two. I know it's not a fair run, but I've been using Linux long enough now to know if the changes will make me stick around or not.

        • Anonymous
          September 1, 2015 at 3:00 pm

          Yeah, same

  13. Anonymous
    August 31, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    On the increasingly infrequent occasions I need to boot up Linux to do something I can't do on my Chromebox or Chromebook, I too use Peppermint Linux. It works great, and runs far better on that pc than Windows 7 ever did.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 6:51 am

      Why Peppermint over others? (Genuinely curious, not being argumentative)

      I mean, is there something about it that is especially good for Chrome OS?

  14. Anonymous
    August 31, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    I had an aging PowerPC iMac, and since the development of MacOS X, my old MacOS 9 software wasn't getting many needed updates anymore. I couldn't afford a new Mac, I didn't think this machine would run MacOS X, and I didn't want to get a cheap Windows computer (I can't stand using Windows - no offense). So I read up on alternative options, and stumbled across Linux. I found Debian was a strongly recommended distro for PowerPC systems at the time. It was a pain to install, but I managed to get it running. After getting used to it a bit, I absolutely loved it!

    I then bought a fairly cheap Windows laptop, wiped it and installed Debian on it as well. It was even better, since some of the Linux-supporting proprietary software that I wanted to use didn't support PowerPC, but ran great on the x86 hardware. Shortly after that, I tried a few other distros (OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and Linux Mint), and eventually settled on Mint. I still occasionally try other distros in a VM, but Mint is still by far my favorite.

    All of my computers run only Linux Mint. No Windows at all. And despite what the nay-sayers I talk to say I must deal with, I've never run into any problems with not having the software I need. It's all there, and it works great!