After spending several hours reading over an Anandtech article evaluating Ubuntu as an alternate to Windows or Mac OS X, I predictably got the urge to install it myself on an older desktop computer that has been sitting under my desk for awhile. The challenge I am giving myself is whether I can subsist on older hardware (it’s a beige Dell system with a 1.33GHz Pentium 3 processor and 384 MB of RAM). But as a preliminary to installing and switching over to such a setup, let me first explain how I came to this crazy idea in the first place.
What do I use my computer for? That’s the central question that should drive just about any decision-making process with respect to picking a computer setup to use. And the answer is surprisingly complex (for me), given that I have quite a few computer systems setup in our apartment that meet those requirements.
File/Media Server: I have a quad-core desktop computer with 4.5 TB of redundant storage (RAID 5) that houses an extensive collection of movies, recorded TV series, music, and shared documents. This allows me the flexibility to use other devices to view or listen to the content on the server without each device having to house any of the data on its own hard drive.
Home Theater PC (HTPC): This computer is connected to our HDTV and records digital over-the-air broadcasts as well as streams content from the file/media server. With the addition of a Radeon 4670 graphics card, it doubles as a decent gaming rig for sessions of Left 4 Dead.
Work Laptop: For my job at Case Western Reserve University, I was given a Dell Latitude 4300 laptop. While the primary use of this device is for work-related activities, I also use it in the evenings at home to check email, listen to music, browse the web, and watch videos. Important to note: this is most of what I do with my computers at home.
Mainframe: For lack of a better name, I usually refer to the current incarnation of my primary desktop computer as “Mainframe,” although any allusion to a server computer from the 70’s vastly exaggerates the size of the device. This used to be my only computer (well, I did have an Apple Powerbook G4 laptop before I build my first desktop).Now, all I really use this quad-core, 4 GB of RAM, nVidia 8800GT-toting monster for is playing the occasional game of Left 4 Dead.
Hackintosh: By upgrading the motherboard, processor, and memory in Mainframe, I was able to turn it into a Hackintosh by dual-booting with Mac OS X. Besides the technical challenge (and accompanying thrill of accomplishment at its successful implementation), I’ve used the Hackintosh partition for video editing, as Mac OS X is host to several world-class digital video editing applications that really have no comparison in Windows.
MacBook: My wife is the beneficiary of the only “real” Mac computer in our apartment. She uses this for taking notes in class in law school, checking email, instant messaging, browsing the web, listening to music, and watching TV shows online.
And then there’s this old beige Dell Dimension 4100 desktop computer sitting under my desk right now with no purpose. The tech specs for this computer are almost laughably old, but it might still be worth a shot at running Ubuntu as my primary workstation at home. But wait, why would I choose a crippling old machine to use on a daily basis?
Well, the challenge is to test my theory that what I mostly use my computer for can be accomplished by an old machine running a lightweight operating system. Now of course, there is going to be a LOT of advanced functionality that I’m going to miss by going to Ubuntu and leaving Windows behind. But I want to see if it is possible to use Ubuntu mostly by relying on Firefox for a majority of tasks.
What tasks, you ask? Well, the ones I primarily use my main desktop for: check email, listen to music, browse the web, and watch videos. Pretty much all those items can be accomplished entirely through Firefox. The exception being watching videos (on my server), which I can do with VLC.
Next post: the Ubuntu install and initial impressions.