When it comes to repurposing older hardware for new projects, Linux takes a clear lead over other operating systems. With its smaller resource footprint and many lightweight flavors, Linux can restore life to a dusty old box previously relegated to the spare parts closet. A number of lightweight distributions are available that can restore even the 15-year-old hardware to its former glory.
Why would you want to revive an older computer? To that, we respond: Why wouldn’t you want to? With a little creativity, Linux can open up a number of interesting uses for otherwise obsolete hardware.
While the Linux learning curve may seem steep, it’s really not. Linux isn’t any more complex than any other operating system. Even if you don’t know the first thing about Linux, you can learn quickly.
The learning process itself can be a rewarding learning experience, and that old box can become the perfect hobby project. Here are a few easy, interesting possibilities for reviving an older computer with Linux.
1. Learning for the sake of learning
We had to put this one first. After all, we are an education company. As we discussed in another blog post, learning Linux is an adventure in itself that pays dividends professionally and personally.
What better way to learn Linux fundamentals than by building your own server? While you might not be able to study virtualization on an old single-core machine, there are still plenty of opportunities to learn the ins and outs of Linux, MySQL, Apache, or email administration, among others.
2. Build it for science
Building a weather station or scientific research project can be a valuable and rewarding educational experience. The data you collect can contribute to the scientific community. For instance, uploading weather station data to NOAA can help improve climate research and prediction.
3. Install a DIY Linux video security system
Your cost for security monitoring plummets when you realize you already have hardware lying around that just needs a lightweight OS and some storage for recording. ZoneMinder is available for free to manage a full closed-circuit surveillance system. So, how many USB cameras can someone connect to a 10-year-old machine? There’s only one way to find out!
If you need a little extra help with the storage side of things, you can get a little help from our Linux Essentials course.
4. Assist in the search for alien life
The Berkeley BOINC client can be installed on Linux to help process scientific data of enormous complexity Pretty cool stuff. Probably the most well-known of all crowd computing projects is Seti@Home. However, if helping to identify alien civilizations is not your cup of tea, there are dozens of other projects that need your CPU cycles, including analyzing underwater acoustics and quasars.
5. Watch movies over your home network
If you’re tired of playing all those home movies off a flash drive (because we know you wouldn’t download movies), it’s time to upgrade to a home media system. We’ve found that media server software such as Plex or Serviio run best on Linux.
If it seems like a hassle to build a media server when you have your Roku, Chromecast, or Apple TV, we direct your attention to Reason #1: It’ll be fun, educational, and give you some serious nerd cred.
6. Backup your backups
The first rule of backups is to perform backups — on your backups. We talk a lot about cloud storage options for good reason. They’re cheap and easy. However, in the spirit of adventure and education, backing up to your local Linux box can really keep your own home safe and secure.
On a professional note, you’ll definitely want to play around with this functionality if you’re building your Linux box for professional (as well as personal) edification. You’ll find Linux in most server rooms — and you better believe there’s storage in those racks.
7. Help a gamer out
Want to give back to your favorite online game? Many online games are operated by volunteers, using player-provided hardware. An older Linux box can be perfect as a game, bot, or chat server. Some low-resource game servers can support over a hundred concurrent users on an older PC with a decent Internet pipe.
8. You can build a laptop for your kid
Linux even has a number of distributions and packages which are optimized for young kids, among them Sugar and DouDouLinux. This allows children to explore technology using an age-appropriate and fun interface, without the risk of damaging modern hardware.
Hopefully, these scenarios have provided the inspiration to start your own exploration of Linux with some interesting educational or hobby projects. Be careful though, as once you get started, you may quickly empty that retired PC closet!