Your old laptop can live again for the cost of a USB drive

There are better uses for an old computer.
There are better uses for an old computer.
Image: AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
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Even if it looks the same, the software on your computer now is different than when you first booted up the machine. Developers constantly update their software with new features, performance optimizations, and power-saving boosts. Over time, your machine is bound to slow down from all that new code, some of which is built for newer hardware, along with programs you’ve installed and forgotten about, and the thousands of pictures you’ve been meaning to sort.

But if you want to gift that machine to someone or repurpose it around the house, and aren’t afraid of Linux (gulp), the makers of the Raspberry Pi have a way to give it a second chance at life for free, other than the cost of a USB drive. It’s called Pixel, an experimental operating system built specifically to revitalize older computers. The OS was originally built for the company’s $35 computer board, but now it’s going wider.

“Back in the summer, we asked ourselves one simple question: if we like PIXEL so much, why ask people to buy Raspberry Pi hardware in order to run it?” Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton wrote in a blog post.

Pixel is a modified version of Debian, the popular flavor of Linux, meaning there are apps being developed for the operating system. It has basic software support like Adobe Flash, and comes with preinstalled productivity and programming software. Simply put, it’s a clean, light operating system meant to use as little resources as possible, while offering the tools people use day-to-day.

But the OS does come with a list of caveats: it can only run from a USB drive for now, meaning you’ll always have to keep the USB stick in the computer. It still won’t boot on every Mac, and doesn’t come with Minecraft like other Raspberry Pi operating systems.

Upton imagines a utopian scenario for Pixel: A student can move between coding on computers at home and school effortlessly, not confused by switching operating systems, since the free software can be installed on every kind of computer. The dream!

If you want to try Pixel, Upton’s blog post gives a simple explanation of how to download the operating system and install it onto a flash drive.