Choosing An OS For Your Older Machine

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 9:53 pm

closPERHAPS THE SINGLE MOST important factor in your productivity is your computer’s operating system (OS). It determines how you store and retrieve files; how you connect to the Internet and to your home network; how you use devices like PDAs and peripherals like printers and CD-RW or DVD drives. Most important, your OS governs your interface or interaction with all your other software–and indeed, dictates which programs you can use.

Not surprisingly, the first thing to do when choosing an OS is to assess your workstyle. Just what do you want your computer to do? What software will perform the tasks you require? What operating system runs that software? For example, if you’re a graphics or publishing professional, the Mac OS is the right fit–the best software for you exists on that platform. If you want the broadest choice of business programs or hardware add-ons, you want Windows.

This month, we take a look at five popular operating systems, four for Intel- or AMD-powered PCs and one for Macs. Three–Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional, Corel Linux OS Second Edition, and Red Hat Linux 6.2–can serve as network operating systems as well, meaning that they can handle more than one user request at a time. The others, Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (or Me) and Apple’s Mac OS 9, are designed primarily for a single user at a single desktop or laptop, though both can easily set up a simple network for a few systems to share files and a printer or Internet connection.

We used a total of four machines, each with 128MB of memory, to test the five operating systems. Hopping from one OS to another left us cognitively confused, but we found the essential elements of each interface to be the same–clicking and double-clicking were the basic maneuvers we had to perform, and hopefully the only things you’ll need to master before getting to work.

Apple Mac OS 9

Users either idolize the Mac OS or shrug it off as too far outside today’s business standard. Nevertheless, Mac OS 9 provides a worthy alternative to Windows for home-based workers, especially those who create graphics, video, or audio content.

In this version, attention has been paid to convenient access to applications and files. Rather than promoting Layered menus, users are encouraged to use desktop icons and the Control Strip, a toolbar that can reside near the bottom of your screen or be tucked away. Mac OS 9 is billed as an “Internet operating system,” with Web tools always within easy reach via hotkey, icon, or toolbar. What used to be simply “Find Files” is now a search engine called Sherlock that integrates Internet searches with Local hard disk hunts. Unfortunately, this also puts considerable memory and performance overhead on what used to be a streamlined task.

One new feature we enjoyed was “speakable commands.” By pressing the Escape key and speaking to our machine, we could give a Large number of common commands to most of our applications. Mac OS 9 also shines at switching among multiple users’ settings or preferences and managing their various Internet passwords.

Though relatively speedy and stable, Apple’s OS has long Lacked the multitasking muscle of its rivals. That should change in early 2001 with the release of Mac OS X, which combines a nearly crash-proof Unix core with a more colorful new interface for new applications. Apple promises most OS 9 programs will run under OS X, though they won’t look any different, and that the new operating system will run on all G3 and G4 Macs.

For now, we feel that Mac OS g, while not truly innovative, continues to be a solid and stylish alternative platform.

Apple Mac OS 9 Rating: 8

A Cassy, powerful, crashes are rare

B Fewer apps for the Mac

Corel Linux OS Second Edition

* ($25 Standard, $80 Deluxe with phone support; 800-772-6735,

Linux has been the province of computer pros and serious hobbyists. Corel’s version goes quite a way to change that, but not far enough to reach the home office mainstream.

We found installation to be easy. Corel Linux even offered to repartition our PC’s hard disk so we could switch between Windows and Linux; this is an excellent option for business owners who want to give Linux a proper tryout but may need to fall back on familiar applications.

There are two hurdles for the average user to overcome when it comes to Linux: adjusting to a new interface, and determining whether the software available for the platform will meet your needs. Corel sets you up with KDE, a Windows-like graphical interface that makes the OS easier to navigate. As for software, Corel bundles WordPerfect Office, Sun’s StarOffice, and some powerful freeware. Linux applications remain scarcer than Windows or Mac programs.

There’s also a daunting learning curve to climb. While it’s easy to get advice and technical support from Linux Web sites, it’s a good idea to have at Least one person in your office with an information technology (IT) background.

Today, Linux is for intrepid technophiles only. But as the platform evolves, Corel Linux will be seen as a friendly OS.

Corel Linux OS Second Edition Rating: 6

A Everything you need is in the box

B … everything but an IT department

Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition

* ($109 upgrade, $209 full version; 800-426-9400,

Think of Windows Me as Windows 95 Sixth Edition, with a variety of multimedia and system enhancements that formerly had been the domain of third-party vendors.

For home-based workers, the most valuable new features are the under-the-hood utilities, including System Restore, which takes periodic snapshots of your Registry and Program Files folders to rewind your system to a previous state after a crash. Also, what was Sleep is now Hibernate, allowing you to shut down your PC with files open and return to your work in progress at restart. A System File Protection feature attempts to ensure that third-party program installation routines won’t trash existing programs by replanting important resources.

We found the interface a bit cleaner than earlier versions, with frequently used menus easily accessible. Behind the scenes, Windows Me boots up and runs slightly faster than its predecessors.

Installation was faster than previous versions, as well, and Win Me checks for incompatibilities, which it’s likely to find since many Windows 95/98 communications and Internet-related programs require upgrading.

Even so, Windows Me has far more software available to it than any of its competitors, and comes preinstalled on far more new PCs. In short, it’s likely to be the new home office standard–and although still more crash-prone than the other platforms here, it proved stable enough to be a worthwhile upgrade.

Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition Rating: 8

A The future home office standard

B Still more crash-prone than others

Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional

* ($219 upgrade, $319 full version; 800-426-9400,

This successor to Windows NT 4.0 is not as friendly to individual PC users as Windows 98/Me; it doesn’t work with as many popular software packages; and it’s not as universally supported by hardware add-ons and home networks (other than Ethernet).

Win 2000% one big plus is that it proved much more stable, though not noticeably faster, than other Windows variants we tested. It’s greatest power Lies in corporate network environments; as such, it made good use of other Microsoft applications on our Ethernet LAN. However, its Learning curve and demand for network manager/administrator aptitude call for a setting with on-site tech support–not common in home offices and small businesses.

Like Red Hat Linux, Windows 2000 is much better suited to the enterprise than the home office environment at this stage of the game. While wonderfully stable and powerful, Microsoft’s flagship OS just isn’t ready for a small office that values productivity and compatibility above all else.

Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional Rating: 6

A Excellent network support

B Not the best choice for the home

Red Hat Linux 6.2

* ($30 Standard, $80 Deluxe with phone support; 888-REDHAT1,

Of all the OSes we Looked at, Red Hat Linux was the most stable, most flexible, and most awkward to use–we had to get our hands dirty several times during the configuration process.

On the positive side, Red Hat’s Deluxe distribution includes one of the best available Linux software bundles, plus excellent support. Once you have everything set up, there’s little you need to worry about. Red Hat gives you a choice of both the KDE and GNOME graphical desktop environments, and offers great flexibility for customizing your interface.

However, most of the caveats we gave for Windows 2000 apply here as well. Linux is not for the faint of heart, and Red Hat’s version is targeted more toward the IT expert than the casual user. We had to reinstall and tweak the OS a few times before we were able to achieve the configuration we wanted, and that’s not something a home business owner will want to spend time doing. As such, we can’t recommend Red Hat unless you’re a Linux enthusiast ready to take advantage of its power and Low cost.

Red Hat Linux 6.2 Rating: 5

A Today’s most stable and flexible OS

B … is the hardest to learn and use


We rates products on a scale of 1 to 10–with few 9’s or 10’s–based on value, performance, innovation (medals go to rare standouts in these areas), ease of use, and suitability for home offices. The A and B symbols indicate pros and cons.


Enterprise A large business organization and the computer and network systems it uses.

GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) A graphical user interface (GUI) for the Linux OS, designed to make both using the OS and developing software for the OS easier.

KDE (K Desktop Environment) The most popular graphical user interface used with the Linux operating system.

Linux An open-source version of Unix that runs on several popular platforms. The basic source code, or kernel, is developed into distributions by vendors including Caldera, Corel, and Red Hat.

Open Source Software that is distributed for free, with the source code available to anyone who wants to develop it.

Categories: Platforms

3 Comments on “Choosing An OS For Your Older Machine”

  1. Mom is beginning to like surfing the internet. However, she keeps on complaining about the slow response of her computer. It’s like a few years older than me and I guess this computer badly needs an operating system that matches its old features.

  2. I guess, I really need to exert extra effort to find the best os for my computer. It is a bit old and choosing the wrong operating system can affect its performance.

  3. Our company does not have enough funds to acquire new computers and this makes work less manageable. I have tried on several operating systems. Unfortunately, those were not compatible with our machine. It’s just so timely that I have bumped into this article. I learned a lot of great options!

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