How to breathe life into an old computer with Linux/Ubuntu

Published by Tim on Monday May 3, 2021

Last modified on September 25th, 2023 at 22:44

In this article i explain how i switched from Mac OS to Ubuntu, which is a powerful, free, Linux-based operating-system. Short version: With Ubuntu and Linux you can refurbish almost any old computer to a fully functional device.

Maybe one or the other has already noticed it: I have been working exclusively with Linux since summer 2020 and have left the Apple cosmos when it comes to desktop computers. The trigger for this decision was a broken laptop: When I wanted to go on vacation for a few weeks in 2019, my beloved Macbook-Air (2012) broke shortly before. The operating system became so slow that simply nothing worked anymore and an update was not available for the “old” device.

To be honest, this annoyed me quite a bit at the time. Was the laptop really completely scrap just because the software no longer worked properly? Why do companies build devices that have to be completely thrown in the trash when the part is getting on in years? It’s not like I needed a lot of features: All I wanted was a device for writing, coding and surfing the web.

One of my best friends gave me the decisive tip at that time and advised me to install an OS called “Ubuntu” on the device. Theoretically, the laptop would then be like new. And that’s exactly what I did.

What is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is a graphical operating system based on Linux. It’s Open Source and therefore completely free, and it is similar to “Mac OS” and “Windows” in almost every way. Furthermore, Ubuntu is very resource-efficient, so it can also be installed very well on less powerful devices.

My desktop on Ubuntu 20 looks quite similar to Mac Os X

How to install it

You can download the operating-system from the Ubuntu-website for free. After, you have to install it to a USB stick. You can do so using a software called “Rufus” (for WIndows) or the pre-installed “Disk Utility” on Mac.

Once the USB stick is prepared, you can insert it into the laptop to be refurbished and start the so-called “bootloader”. This works a bit differently for each manufacturer. If the “bootloader” is loaded correctly, the installation process of Ubuntu already starts.

Applications on Ubuntu

Once Ubuntu is installed correctly, you can start downloading the software you need. Admittedly: If you are used to a Mac as a creative, you will probably be a bit disappointed at first: The Creative Suite from Adobe and also a large part of beloved Apple programs are obviously not available for Ubuntu. Nevertheless, you can find a tool for every use case. Ubuntu has a built-in software-store which provides a very wide range of applications. Whereby the word “store” does not quite fit here, since almost all programs under Ubuntu are “open source” and thus available for free.

My workflow today runs completely on Ubuntu. Pain points were definitely image and video editing, though I’ve acquired very good alternative workflows in the meantime.

Here’s a list of applications i use:

Video EditingFlixier / DaVinci Resolve
Video ConferencingZoom
Image EditingGimp
Vector GraphicsFigma for Linux
Streaming and Screen-RecordingOBS Studio
Writing Text (Markdown)Typora
Writing CodeVisual Studio Code
Creative Coding / Motion GraphicsProcessing
Surfing the WebMozilla Firefox
Audio EditingAudacity
3D-Modelling and AnimationBlender

Wrapping up

For the vast majority of everyday tasks, a computer with an Ubuntu operating system is more than sufficient. I could imagine that, for example, entire rooms in schools could be equipped with older computers with very little effort and cost.

All in all, refurbishing and reusing older devices instead of buying new ones is a great contribution to the protection of our planet and our environment.

Related Links


What Creative Coding can teach you beyond crafting visuals

Learning to code has had a bad reputation for ages. Many people have the impression that it’s all about acquiring […]

How I built myself a Digital Garden

It was a red hot day in July 2023 when I met Alex Muñoz for breakfast in the morning at […]

Instagram-Live with Lena Weber

I met Lena Weber at a workshop at International Assembly, after that we became friends and she helped me over […]

Digital Impact @ Disseny Hub

A few days ago, I visited the Disseny Hub in Barcelona to see the exhibition “Digital Impact”. On the website, […]

A conversation with Raphaël de Courville

A few weeks ago I had the honor to meet Raphaël de Courville in person at the audivisual jam at […]

Demystify Technology – A kind of Manifesto

A Fortunate Look into the Spam Folder When I opened my email program on an ordinary workday in the morning […]

Ksawery Kirklewski on his Symphony in Acid

For me, it’s by far the most inspiring project of the last few years: “Symphony in Acid”, a collaboration between […]

Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence

Photo: Vyběr Socky What a ride! I’m sitting in the room of a luxury hotel in Prague, once again packing […]