If you're anything like me, you've purchased a few laptops from the cheapo sales. These are beginning to litter your storage. These machines are still good, but worth too little to try and resell them. Windows upgrades from XP seem to trigger a cascade of hardware upgrade costs. Meanwhile, the XP security record is making you edgy about its continued use. You also want to clean up your old system in a total way—none of your financial data should be easily retrievable, for instance. What do you do?
Try Linux, especially workstation Linux. The costs are typically free for home use, and the ease of use has only gotten much, much better than even two years ago.
Meanwhile, schools adopt Linux increasingly for computing classes. The easy availability of source code makes teaching it easy, despite the complexity of the command line. You will find Linux support increasingly available, with the Internet flooded full of how-to articles and books, wonderful books that cover most any need. With today's administrative graphical user interfaces (GUIs), you may find you can administer the once untamed Linux operating system.
But won't the easy administrative interfaces erase a lot of performance benefits to Linux? No, you still have the control over services and daemons, as with Windows, but Linux still wastes fewer resources starting services you can't understand.
So let's agree: We'll take the old family laptop running XP and try to reprovision it as a Linux workstation. A workstation will be a computer with client software, like browsers and email clients, which allow you to use the Internet easily. Like me, you've probably found fast bandwidth available, even in remote, rural settings, so you insist on reasonable performance, without costly hardware upgrades to the laptop.
And this is where Linux has benefits. You can try a new OS without having to buy the new OS. In fairness to Windows, there may be time-limited trial versions. I'm tired of having too little time to complete my trials within the time period. Go Linux and take your precious time exploring it. Yes, you may find that Linux is still too wild for your family. In this case, you'll have ample justification for buying Windows 7 and maybe some RAM.