Windows XP will lose all support from Microsoft on April 8, 2014. Not wanting to pay the price of new software and hardware that would be required for me to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8.1, I have been investigating the free, open source Ubuntu UNIX operating system as a possible XP alternative.
I downloaded Ubuntu and tried to install it on my laptop, but quickly ran into a problem. The installation stopped with the following error message:
“This kernel requires the following features not present on the cpu: pae.
Unable to boot – please use a kernel appropriate for your CPU.”
According to askubuntu.com, that message means that my venerable laptop, a Dell Latitude D600 that is now more than a decade old, lacks the PAE extension that allows the CPU to address more than 4GB of RAM. The latest Ubuntu kernels, those for versions 12.04 and beyond, require that feature.
The askubuntu.com article suggested several possibilities for overcoming my laptop’s limitations. I narrowed my choices to the following two:
1. Rather than going straight to Ubuntu, first install a simpler version, Lubuntu 12.04 32-bit or Xubuntu 12.04 32-bit. These use less resources than a full Ubuntu install, and don’t require the PAE extension. Then you can upgrade to Ubuntu 12.04.
2. Install an older version of Ubuntu, version 10.04 or 11.10, which don’t require PAE, then upgrade to 12.04.
These solutions work because once a kernel that doesn’t require PAE is installed, the newer versions of Ubuntu can install over that kernel.
Installing Lubuntu before upgrading to Ubuntu
I chose the first alternative. After downloading the desktop installation disk image from the Lubuntu 12.04 download site, I burned it to CD. Inserting this disk into the laptop, I selected “boot from CD drive” during the boot process (on most machines this requires pressing the F12 key before Windows comes up).
This is the first hurdle. If your older computer can’t boot from a CD (or memory stick), I don’t know of any other way to get Lubuntu or Ubuntu installed.
One great feature of these UNIX operating systems is that they can be installed either with or without uninstalling Windows. In fact, you can elect to not install the new OS at all, and just try it out by running it, although slowly, directly from the CD. I selected the “dual boot” option, which installs Lubuntu alongside Windows, allowing you to keep both operating systems. You can then choose at boot time whether to start up with Windows or Lubuntu.
Be sure before you install!
Note that installing Lubuntu alongside Windows will partition your disk to give each OS its own space allocation. If you should later decide to remove the Lubuntu (or Ubuntu) installation, recovering the disk space allocated to it is not straightforward. If you’re not sure you’ll want to keep your Lubuntu or Ubuntu installation, I suggest running it from the CD instead of installing it to disk.
A preliminary evaluation of Lubuntu
The installation was successful, and Lubuntu is up and running on my laptop. So far, it appears that Lubuntu’s user interface and file manager are less sophisticated than XP’s, but I can probably get it to do everything I need. Since I’m just checking the OS out at this point, I haven’t yet tried to upgrade to Ubuntu 12.04. But so far everything is working fine with Lubuntu. The evaluation continues.
The purpose of this article is simply to say, if you have older hardware that at first seems unable to run Ubuntu, don’t give up hope! There’s a good chance you can overcome that obstacle.