Microsoft officially ended support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. That means the company is no longer patching newly discovered security vulnerabilities in the operating system, and people who continue to use it are opening themselves up to security risks.
However, according to NetMarketShare, more than a quarter of all PCs (27.69 percent) were still running Windows XP in March of this year.
Why would people continue using a twelve-year-old operating system that would put them at risk?
No doubt, many are home users who simply aren’t very technology savvy and/or may not have the desire or the money to upgrade to a newer version of Windows. Some probably have older, underpowered PCs that can’t run Windows 7 or 8. And others have specific software—often custom business applications—that only runs on Windows XP.
Fortunately, the open source community has free operating systems that meet the needs of users in all of these situations. This month we’ve put together a list of 50 different applications that can replace Windows XP. It’s organized into several different categories. Those that are easiest for beginners to use come first, followed by lightweight operating systems that can run on old hardware, then operating systems that are particularly tailored for business users and open source operating systems that aren’t based on Linux. The list ends with a few applications that aren’t complete operating systems but do allow users to run their existing XP software from Linux.
As always, if you have another Linux distribution or other application that you think should have been on this list, feel free to write a note in the comments section below.
Before we get to the list itself, here’s a some quick background for Windows XP users who aren’t familiar with Linux or open source software. Linux is an operating system that anyone can use free of charge. In addition, anyone can see the source code for Linux and modify it however they like. Because anyone can tweak it, it comes in thousands of different versions, which are known as “distributions.” Different Linux distributions use different interfaces or “desktops,” which determine how the operating system looks on the screen. Unlike Windows, Linux distributions generally come with lots of free applications already built in, so users don’t have to pay extra for office productivity software, security software, games or other applications.
Beginner-Friendly Linux Distributions
1. Linux Mint
Many people consider Linux Mint to be among the most intuitive operating systems for Windows XP users. It supports several different desktop interfaces, including Cinnamon, which users can configure to look and feel a lot like XP.
Very easy to use, Ubuntu is likely the most widely used Linux distribution in the world. The desktop version offers speed, security, thousands of built-in applications and compatibility with most peripherals.
3. Zorin OS
Built specifically to attract former Windows users, Ubuntu-based Zorin is probably the Linux distribution that’s the most similar to Windows. It includes a unique “Look Changer” that switches the desktop to look like Windows 7, XP, Vista, Ubuntu Unity, Mac OS X or GNOME 2, and it includes WINE and PlayOnLinux to allow users to keep using their Windows software.
Also similar to Windows, Robolinux promises to allow users to run all their Windows XP and 7 software without making themselves vulnerable to malware. It also includes more than 30,000 open source applications.
Formerly known as YLMF, the interface for StartOS looks an awful lot like Windows XP. It’s managed by a group of Chinese developers, so the website is in Chinese. However, English versions of the OS are available.
6. Pinguy OS
According to the Pinguy website, “PinguyOS is very much designed for people who are new to the Linux world; many people coming from both a Windows or a Mac background will find plenty of familiar features along with some new ones that aren’t available in either Windows or Mac.” It’s based on Ubuntu and uses the Gnome-Shell desktop.
Popular with new Linux users, MEPIS aims at providing a Linux distribution that’s very stable and very easy to use. It comes with hundreds of applications preinstalled and you can easily dual-boot it alongside Windows so that you can continue using XP software.
Previously known as Cinnarch, Antergos is based on Arch Linux, which is popular with hard-core open source users, but Antergos much easier for beginners to use than Arch. It comes with a graphical installer that allows the user to choose from among several interfaces, including some that look quite a bit like XP.
Like Antergos, Manjaro aims to be a more user-friendly version of Arch. It comes with desktop environments, software management applications and media codecs pre-installed so users can get right to work after installing it.
Like many other OSes on this list, PCLinuxOS was designed with usability in mind. It can run from a LiveCD, meaning you can try it out while still keeping Windows XP installed on your PC.
For those looking to replace Windows XP on a PC primarily used by kids, Edubuntu is an excellent choice. It’s based on Ubuntu (and supported by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu), so it’s very user-friendly. Plus, it adds plenty of software tailored for use by schools or home users with children.
Forked from Mandrake (which was later renamed Mandriva), Mageia is a community-driven Linux distribution with a good reputation for being beginner-friendly. Because it’s updated very frequently, it tends to include more recent versions of software packages, and it has excellent support for several different languages.
Like Mageia, OpenMandriva is a community-managed Linux distribution based on Mandrake/Mandriva. It attempts to be simple and straightforward enough for new users but also to offer the breadth and depth of capabilities demanded by advanced users.
Kubuntu’s goal is to “make your PC friendly,” and it’s fairly easy for new Linux users to figure out. It combines Ubuntu and the KDE desktop and includes plenty of built-in software, like a web browser, an office suite, media apps and more.
Netrunner is based on Kubuntu, plus some interface modifications to make it even more user friendly and some extra codecs to make it easier to play media files. The project also offers a second version of the same OS based on Manjaro.
Kwheezy is based on Debian, which is popular with advanced Linux users, but it’s designed to be more accessible for Linux newcomers. It comes “with all the applications, plugins, fonts and drivers that you need for daily use, and some more,” and it uses the intuitive KDE desktop.
17. Point Linux
Also based on Debian, Point Linux uses the Mate desktop, which should feel comfortable to most Windows XP users. It aims to be a “fast, stable and predictable” desktop operating system.
Based on Fedora, Korara “aims to make Linux easier for new users, while still being useful for experts” with an operating systems that “just works.” Several different desktops are available, so users can choose the interface that seems the most comfortable and familiar.
19. Ultimate Edition
This Ubuntu remix aims to provide the “ultimate” computing experience. It offers an intuitive interface for newbies and improves on Ubuntu’s software management and wireless capabilities.
This Linux distribution focuses on providing an excellent “out of the box” user experience where everything “just works.” At the same time, it attempts to incorporate the latest releases of open source software. And in case you were wondering, the name comes from an Italian dessert.
Trisquel is a Ubuntu-based Linux distribution aimed at home users, small enterprises and schools. The interface resembles the traditional Windows look and feels very similar to XP or Windows 7.
If you just want to give Linux a try without installing anything on your hard drive, Knoppix runs from a Live CD. You can download the code and create your own CD or order a very inexpensive pre-made CD from any one of a variety of vendors.
Lightweight Operating Systems
If you have an older system that doesn’t meet the system requirements for Windows 7 or 8, Lubuntu might be a good option for you. It’s a lightweight version of Ubuntu that’s very fast and energy efficient, and it’s a particularly good choice for underpowered Windows XP laptops.
This variation on Lubuntu was specifically designed to help users give new life to older PCs. It has four different desktop paradigms (basically different looks), including one that mimics Windows XP. Users who have grown tired of XP’s long boot times will also appreciate the fact that LXLE boots in less than a minute on most systems.
Also based on Lubuntu, Peppermint prides itself on “welcoming new Linux users.” It’s extremely fast and takes a web-centric approach to computing.
Like Lubuntu, Xubuntu is a lightweight version of Ubuntu. It uses the Xfce interface, which is clean, modern and easy to use. It also runs well on older hardware.
27. Elementary OS
According to Distrowatch, Elementary is among the ten most popular Linux distributions. It’s very lightweight and fast, and the interface, while more similar to OS X than Windows XP, is highly intuitive.
28. Joli OS
This cloud computing-focused OS aims to “bring your old computers back to life.” You can also install it alongside Windows with the option of selecting an OS on startup. It works with the Jolicloud service that stores your files in the cloud.
Puppy is super small—just 85 MB—so that is usually loads into RAM on most systems and runs incredibly fast, even on older systems that might have been running Windows XP. Despite its small size, it includes a full graphic interface designed for new Linux users.
Because it’s fairly lightweight, CrunchBang (sometimes written #!) is a good option for older or underpowered systems that might be running Windows XP. It’s based on Debian but uses the OpenBox window manager, which will feel familiar to Windows users.
Simplicity is based on Puppy Linux and offers a slightly different look and feel. It comes in four different flavors: Obsidian and Netbook are lightweight versions suitable for older systems, Media is built for PCs that are used as media centers, and Desktop is the standard, full-featured version.
32. Bodhi Linux
Another lightweight variation of Ubuntu, Bodhi is a true minimalist distribution that installs only a few pieces of software by default. That makes it great for users with older hardware or users who want to have a lot of say in which applications are installed; however, it might not be as good for new users who don’t have familiarity with open source applications.
33. Linux Lite
As its name implies, this is another lightweight Linux distribution. Its website states, “The goal of Linux Lite is to introduce Windows users to an intuitively simple, alternative operating system. Linux Lite is a showcase for just how easy it can be to use linux.”
34. Tiny Core Linux
If you have a really, really old or underpowered system, you may want to take a look at Tiny Core Linux. It weighs in at just 12MB but still offers a graphical interface, but doesn’t include a lot of hardware support or applications. It’s highly customizable, however, so users can easily add in just what they need while keeping the OS footprint small.
Designed specifically for older systems, AntiX claims it can even run on old 64 MB Pentium II 266 systems. It comes in full, base and core distributions, with full being the best option for Linux newcomers.
Just 50MB in size, DSL can run on old 486 PCs or can run within RAM on newer PCs with at least 128 MB of memory. It comes with a surprising number of applications built in, and it can also run from a live CD or USB thumb drive.
In the race to create the smallest distribution of Linux, Nanolinux comes near the top of the list. Although it’s only 14 MB in size, it includes a browser, text editor, spreadsheet, personal information manager, music player, calculator, some games and a few other programs. However, it’s not as newbie-friendly as some of the other distributions on our list.
The self-proclaimed “best little Linux operating system available anywhere,” lightweight VectorLinux aims to be very fast and very stable. It includes tools that will be popular with advanced users but it also has an easy-to-use graphic interface for newbies.
Formerly known as “Minislack,” ZenWalk is a lightweight distribution that focuses on fast performance and support for multimedia. It includes some special features that appeal to programmers, and the desktop version can also be tweaked to function as a server. Note that the website is organized like a forum, so it can be a little tricky to navigate.
40. Salix OS
According to the Salix website, “Like a bonsai, Salix is small, light and the product of infinite care.” It’s based on Slackware, but it’s simplicity makes it more accessible for Windows users.
Business-Friendly Operating Systems
Red Hat is probably the most well-known enterprise-focused Linux distribution. It comes in both desktop and server versions. However, unlike many other Linux distributions, you’ll need to pay for a support subscription in order to use it.
If you like Red Hat but don’t want to pay for support, check out Fedora, which is the free, community version of Red Hat. It comes in different “spins”—versions that are tailored to particular uses like science, security and design.
This “Community ENTerprise Operating System” is another free version of Red Hat. It aims to be highly stable and manageable to meet the needs of business users without requiring that they purchase support.
Used by more than 13,000 businesses around the world, SUSE counts the London Stock Exchange, Office Depot and Walgreens among its users. The website primarily emphasizes the server versions, but it does also come in a desktop version. Like Red Hat, it requires a paid support subscription.
OpenSUSE is the free, community edition of SUSE for those who don’t want to purchase support. It comes in both desktop and server versions and aims to meet the needs of both beginners and advanced users.
Non-Linux Operating Systems
Chromium is the open source project behind Google’s Chrome OS—the operating system used on Chromebook devices. It’s best for users who use Google’s cloud services heavily. Less technical users may find it challenging to install Chromium on a former Windows XP machine.
Users interested in trying a desktop operating system that isn’t based on Linux can also check out PC-BSD. It’s based on FreeBSD, which is known for its stability, and emphasizes user-friendliness. Older versions supported the KDE desktop only, but the latest update allows users to select their choice of desktop interface.
Unlike most of the other operating systems on this list, ReactOS isn’t a version of Linux or BSD; instead, it’s a completely new free OS designed to be Windows-compatible. At this point, it’s still an alpha release, but it shows promise.
WINE (which stands for “Wine is not an emulator”) allows users to run Windows programs on Unix-based systems, including Linux distributions and OS X. It offers very fast performance and excellent stability. A supported version known as Crossover Linux is also available for sale.
This emulator can run applications made for any operating system on any other operating system. In other words, you can use it to run Windows XP software on Linux systems or to run Linux applications on Windows (in case you want to try them out before you install Linux on your hard drive). It’s best for more experienced users; less technically savvy folks should probably stick with Wine.