Linux can bring your old PC or Mac back to life -- for free

Have you heard of Linux? It's a version of Unix developed by a Finn, Linus Torvalds. But what is Unix? It's a computer operating system developed by Bell Labs in the 1960s. What was Bell Labs? It was the research arm of Bell Telephone Co.

Unix lives on and we all use it just about every day. Every time we insert a dot (a period) inside something we type on the computer, like a .com, .org, or .gov, it is a Unix command to go to that location in its memory banks and find what came before the dot. Unix ran the big mainframe computers that used to fill large rooms; they had to be specially air-conditioned because of the heat generated by these huge machines. Torvald wanted a similar, free version of the system, so he rewrote it. A co-worker named it Linux, and the name stuck despite Torvalds' objection on grounds that it sounded egotistical.

Linux can run on just about anything. Got an old PC or Mac gathering dust at the back of the closet? You can load Linux into it and it will live again. It's relatively trouble-free and comes in 20 flavors, each with a slightly different look. The most common is called Ubuntu, the latest flavor of which is named after a cat in Madagascar. But a reader wrote to say that he favors Linux Mint because it's similar to the Mac operating system. He installs it for schools and nonprofit organizations for $5 per machine.

You can run Linux and keep your old operating system at the same time in one of two ways: Create a partition on your Windows PC and get an option to start up in either Windows or Linux. Linux will usually set this up automatically. The other way is to load Linux on a thumb drive and plug it in.

We recently advised a reader not to get a product, the X-tra PC Pro, heavily advertised on Facebook. It claims to "completely restore and update an old computer," and comes on a thumb drive with Linux for $47. It gets lots of complaints, some because it simply didn't work. You can buy a thumb drive for $6 and download Linux free at Linux.org. Linux.org has tutorials or you can hire someone to do the conversion for you at freelancer.com.


Kanopy.com offers unlimited movies for kids, unlimited videos for adults from The Great Courses series and three free feature films or documentaries a month. We remember when The Great Courses cost about $100 each many decades ago. At Kanopy, the courses include just about any topic you can think of including drama, law, medicine, history and science fiction. We liked "Thinking Like a Screenwriter," taught by a professor who has worked with Academy Award-winning directors.


We use Ashampoo's free Uninstaller from Ashampoo.com when we want to get rid of something.

We made a mistake recently while trying out a new version of an old program, RealPlayer. It claims to download any video from the web for offline viewing. Our test computer bogged down right after we used it.

Instead of uninstalling it using the Windows Add/Remove programs, however, we turned to Uninstaller. Uninstaller starts with the normal uninstalling routine, then moves into high gear to remove those extra bits that can slow a computer down. It removed 283 objects with deep cleaning and performed 17 additional actions to get our computer back to where it was before we added junk to it. It's sort of like a mob hit. Think of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago.


If you see an image on the screen and want to know more about it, go to Images.Google.com. Click on the little picture of a camera next to the search bar. There, you'll be prompted to upload an image or paste in its web address. We uploaded a painting of an early 18th century tavern in Boston, probably the Green Dragon, which was a popular meeting place for luminaries of the American Revolution like Paul Revere, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Google told us the painting was done by Thomas Rowlandson.


We tuned in to an online demo of new products. One was a pen that spews out a gooey filament that can be made into simple toys. At least that was the pitch.

So we got a copy of Polaroid's new Play 3D Pen, available at Joann.com. Bob knew it was a dud the moment he read the box.

The Pen squirts out a ribbon of biodegradable material in various colors. We got a template for a little toy house from the Polaroid website. Using the melted goop, Joy put it together, sort of. It took an hour and Bob said it looked awful. (Joy didn't think it looked that bad.) It would have been easier and cleaner to make one out of cardboard and paint it. The little house was only about 2 inches high and used an astonishing amount of the supplies. There was no replacement goop offered at Joann.com, the only retail supplier of the pen.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at bobschwab@gmail.com and joy.schwabach@gmail.com.

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