I had an interesting situation the other day. My old 300MHz Celeron based IBM ThinkPad 240 notebook (a great little 2.2 lbs. sub-notebook) spends most of its time just lying around. I have newer notebooks in the home and office. But, none of them are in the size/weight class of the old ThinkPad. So, I still carry it for personal trips just to offload digital photos on the hard disk. The problem was I split it into 2GB and 4GB partitions and the 2GB partition for Windows had gotten full. So, I reformated it as a single 6GB partition. I gave some thought to installing Ubuntu Linux or some other interesting Linux distro but the 240 can’t boot from a USB CD-ROM drive. I could have carved a small DOS partition to load a distro into and then boot from a Linux boot floppy. But, that seemed like a waste of the already small hard drive’s space. Windows 2000 and Windows XP won’t install from a simple DOS prompt (following a floppy disk DOS boot). Windows 98 SE, however, can be installed from the DOS prompt. And, I had an old external CD-RW drive that had MS-DOS drivers that could be loaded from a floppy. So, I decided to install Windows 98SE since it had some nice advantages compared to Windows 98 (1st edition). I installed Firefox 1.0pre and some other freeware and Open Source applications and the box is humming nicely again. The now ancient 300 MHz CPU with a mere 128MB RAM actually runs pretty responsively. Even my old 802.11b WiFi card runs fine on it since it has drivers for Windows 98 SE. And, my old Sony USB Spressa CD-RW drive runs on it too (though it doesn’t have DOS drivers like the EXP drive I used to revive the 240).
I am aware of the ReactOS project. But, wouldn’t it be nice to start with the relatively lightweight and stable Microsoft Windows 98 SE codebase to build a freely available Open Source OS that is compatible with lots and lots of drivers, applications, and utilities? Microsoft has already released WiX (Windows Installer XML), WTL (Windows Template Library), and FlexWiki under an Open Source compliant license. They sunset support for Windows 98 SE. It is not part of their revenue stream anymore (as far as I can tell). There are probably thousands of old but functional PCs that are too resource light to run Windows 2000, Windows XP, or even some current Linux distros. Why not Open Source Windows 98 SE to keep these old boxes productive with the thousands of old software and even new Open Source products that run on Windows 98 SE?
OK, I know this will never happen. But, wouldn’t it be nice if it did?
I think old PCs can be made productive again using lightweight Linux distros and Windows 98 SE. What do you think?