Some of you may think that you need to be a geek to play with an OS build by geeks. You're wrong! Ubuntu and it's derivative are way easier to install and to update than Windows or OSX. It's just a matter of knowing how to click on a button.
But let's go back to your old PC. The first thing to do is to ensure that nothing was left on that machine like photos, videos or documents. Make sure that everything was saved somewhere else like Dropbox, a USB key or a CD. This way, you'll be sure that nothing will be lost what ever mistake you may do.
If your PC was build with standard components (network card, video card, etc...), you have a good chance that everything will work out-of-the-box. The good news is that you can try out Ubuntu by simply booting from the CD or a USB key (if your PC can boot from external USB disk). Ensure that your CD/DVD drive is working as this is the easiest way to discover Ubuntu before erasing your hard disk.
- Download a copy of Ubuntu in any computer having a disk burner (http://www.ubuntu.com/desktop)
- If you're unsure that your PC supports 64 bits, grab the 32bits image, it will work anyway.
- Once the file is downloaded, you'll need to burn the image onto a CD. Remember that you need to burn the image, not the file onto the CD. The file is often an ISO image. It's like an uncompressed ZIP file that will put all it's content on your CD.
- Grab your newly burned CD of Ubuntu and insert it into your CD/DVD player of your old PC.
- Reboot your computer and be prepared to press F12 or DEL (Depending on your PC brand) to invoke the menu to boot from something else than the hard disk.
- Sometimes, the PC will boot directly from the CD without asking if the BIOS settings are set for that. Other time, you may have to enter your BIOS configuration to specify that you can boot from a CD. Each brand is quite different so you'll have to explore a bit.
- You should now be booting from the CD at this stage. Just follow the instructions and simply select the default settings when asked.
- At some point, you will have to choose between installing or exploring from the CD. Try it out before installing to make sure that your video card will be detected and that your network card is working also.
- It will take some time to boot the desktop from the CD as it's way slower than booting from a hard disk. Be patient, it's just a few minutes longer than usual.
- If you see the desktop, that your mouse pointer is working, that you heard sounds and you can see your WIFI network, you're in luck. Everything should work out-of-the-box.
- Play around with it, but don't think about installing apps in this mode. Everything was loaded into memory so there is not enough space left.
- If you like it, the proceed with the installation. The icon should be on the desktop already to start the process.
- When installing, just select default settings. You'll be able to change everything later.
- Just erase the entire disk, forget about keeping your old Windows XP. You'll start fresh and won't have to struggle with disk space.
- After the installation is completed, the PC will reboot and you'll have a brand new PC with new features that you may never have seen before.
If something goes wrong, don't struggle. There are many ways to fix bad drivers in Linux, but you'll have to read a bit to be able to do it. Most of the time, everything will work out-of-the-box. Just make sure that you're connected to your network for updates and occasionally having to install a driver from the repository (Think about AppStore, but for Ubuntu).
Remember that this is not Windows. Some softwares are not available for it, but it has great alternatives, sometimes better. Some hardware may not have the drivers to support them (like PVR cards for examples). Google around for hardware compatibility if you're unsure.
Ubuntu is great to recycle an old PC for the kids or as your primary computer. It's up to you to decide if you like it.
And yes, it's completely free!