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Ok, so I have a spare machine that has windows XP installed on it and pretty much sits there doing nothing. Both myself and my GF have laptops that we use as our primary machines so I figured I'd just use the spare machine as a file and print share.

Now, I know that I can simply keep XP on there and enable what I need, but Im wondering if I might be better of wiping the thing and installing a linux based os instead.

There's no real reason for me to do this (except that I want to play with linux) so I guess my questions are, is there any point in me doing this? If so what can I do with this machine other than filesharing and what do you reccomend as a fairly light linux installation? Also what else could I use this spare machine for?

Basically, give me some ideas/justifications for bunging linux on here :-)


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migrated from Jan 18 '10 at 3:04

This question came from our site for system and network administrators.

You may be interested in FreeNAS, even though it isn't exactly Linux. It is an open source NAS distribution based on the FreeBSD operating system. With a bit of configuring it can also act as a print server!

FreeNAS is an embedded open source NAS (Network-Attached Storage) distribution based on FreeBSD, supporting the following protocols: CIFS (samba), FTP, NFS, TFTP, AFP, RSYNC, Unison, iSCSI (initiator and target) and UPnP.

It supports Software RAID (0,1,5), ZFS, disk encryption, S.M.A.R.T/email monitoring with a WEB configuration interface (from m0n0wall).

FreeNAS can be installed on Compact Flash/USB key, hard drive or booted from LiveCD.

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If you are just going to do file and printer sharing, doing it in Windows is much easier than on Linux. However, you might be able to set up a Windows Domain using Linux (which you cannot do, as far as I know, on Windows XP- you'd need Windows Server, meaning $$$). The advantages of a Windows Domain on a 3-machine network are, on a practical level, probably not worth it, but the tinkering would be interesting.

edit: That of course if your laptops are running XP Pro. If they are running XP Home they won't be able to join a domain.

As for the things you can do on a Linux box, that mostly depends on your interests.

I you have system administration inclinations, I would definitely recommend you to install Linux, learn to set up Samba for the filesharing/printsharing, remote administration via SSH, etc.; basic Linux administration skills are interesting even for Windows-focused admins. You can add more daemons you might want to learn to admin, such as a web server (Apache's httpd), mail server (Postfix for SMTP, Dovecot for IMAP), db server (PostgreSQL), etc.

On a higher level, there are tons of apps which run pretty well on Apache+PHP+MySQL which you might want to know how to install and admin, such as, for instance, Mediawiki, Wordpress, etc.

If you are more development-bent, you might want to learn how to set up a server for your apps and deploy something to it, such as a PHP app, Java app, etc. This is interesting, as it's fairly cheap to rent a Linux virtual server, and having one at home is excellent for getting acquainted. Then you can deploy apps you develop on the shared server so that they run in a "pro" environment (network redundancy, UPS, etc.).

You can also run anything you want to leave running 24/7, such as downloads, or want to have available from everywhere (people still run IRC clients on Linux boxes so that they can access them from everywhere, for instance).

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Nice point about the Windows Domain. – Nathaniel Jan 18 '10 at 5:25
XP Pro can handle domains, IIRC, but not XP Home. Not an expert, could be wrong. – CarlF Jan 18 '10 at 5:50
thanks guys, edited the post to reflect that. Creating a Windows domain will work out really well if his laptops are running XP Home :-p – alex Jan 18 '10 at 20:21

if you want to learn linux - by all means do install it. there will be a brief period of enthusiasm followed by long period of grief - most probably, yet it's worth it.

you can use the computer as:

  • headless download box
  • smallish web-server [ if you have public ip with your internet connection ]
  • media center server [ if you have UPnP compatible media players in the home network ]
  • platform for testing and development of whatever you're interested in - can be central node for a sensor network monitoring temperature in your place or machine gathering stats from stock markets in the local DB.

be aware that you risk compromising the box and it's content if you put it online - regardless of the OS choice.

btw: your q. is probably better suited for superuser.

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Turn it into a Home Theatre PC and connect to it through your wireless router. That way you can still have it for File/Print share, but you can also play movies/music off it on your tv

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Good thought, but this is highly dependent on the specs of the machine. I have several machines that are way too slow to smoothly decode MPEG4 or HDTV in real time. They're worthless as media PCs, because I can't even watch streaming TV shows full-screen, nor can I hook up a cheap USB HDTV tuner and watch TV. – rob Jan 19 '10 at 0:13

Regardless of what OS is on the machine, you can use Dropbox, or similar, to sync passwords and files between your main machine and the desktop.

Then, when you accidentally leave you laptop somewhere, you can still browse the web, check webmail, perhaps watch a video from your fileserver.

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Based on your desire to have a useful box, and play with linux, I would go with an XP / Ubuntu (or maybe better Mint) dual boot. I have a dual boot that only ever uses Ubuntu at home for all 5 members of the family and everyone loves it. I have a mostly XP for work but sometimes Ubuntu dual boot laptop that I use for security outside the house (and because I generally prefer linux). And a Ubuntu only box at work that I use in a windows network as network attached storage for all the computers because the box was old and free. Rather than repeating some things that elaborate on these points I will just say ditto to what I said and the rational listed in these two posts.

and (don't let the title of the question scare you)

Be really careful though, I started innocently enough now I find myself promoting linux, using almost exclusively open source software for everything on all my computers, and listening to Ubuntu podcasts.

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