I had an old P2 750 PC that I wanted to give away on freecycle but it needed reformatted and reinstalled. It had originally been Windows 98 and had been upgraded to XP so I no longer had the correct disks. I decided to install Ubuntu Linux to see what would happen.
Ubuntu is the Linux distribution being used by Dell. My last attempt at running Linux on a desktop PC was under Redhat and it was torture getting it all to work properly. I downloaded the ISO and burned the install CD, stuck it in the machine and it installed. Everything appeared to be OK. It picked up the network internet connection OK. I couldn't really believe that there had been no problems so out of curiousity I put my pen drive in one of the USB sockets on the back (it has 1.1 on the motherboard and a seperate 2.0 I had fitted at one time so I tried the 2.0 one thinking that would bound to be not recognised). It opened the files up and displayed them. I clicked on one of the word documents and it opened it instantly in open office (which it installs by default).
The machine is working 100% and is many times faster at doing everything than it was on Windows. Its like getting a new machine. In fact I am probably going to use it for something now rather than give it away!
Encouraged by this I took the install disk home and put it in my old Toshiba laptop which was also due to be disposed of because it was taking half an hour to launch Windows and stabilise itself.Remarkably it installed perfectly on that, even detecting my PC card wireless adaptor and installing it. The DHCP did not work at first but eventually it started up. I think this was just down to the machine needing rebooted. The power management function gives an estimate of how long it will take for the battery to charge which the old windows did not.Its now a fully functional machine with a new lease of life.I even managed to install Radmin (a windows application) under Wine (emulator) on it so I could access Windows machines on the network.
Oddly I can access shared files on a Vista machine on the network with the laptop when the Vista machine is invisible to all my XP machines.
So, if anyone has a low spec scrap PC that you want to get going again for word processing, spreadsheets (open office is compatible with excel) or general internet use then I can recommend Ubuntu.It doesn't need much disk space either and it warns you of software updates which is useful.I don't know what amateur radio software is available for it (its Debian Linux basically so anything that says it will work on Debian will work on Ubuntu).
More importantly I am fed up with Windows. The cost of upgrading systems and software due to Vista is getting very silly and I need to break out of that cycle of upgrading and throwing out perfectly good gear. I still have a few issues like how to play DVD's on Linux (have tried a few things and not found them to work but the solution will be out there somewhere). There is a Linux GUI called Beryl which is very like Vista in the way it operates if you real want fancy things and have a good machine to run it on.
(confession time: I actually use Linux professionally but on servers not desktop machines. This may have given me a head start as I understand the file structures and was able to tweak the machines to suit the way I do things by logging into the shell, but out of the box the installations all run perfectly. Anyone could have done those installs and got the machines running with no prior knowledge).