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Thanks for all the replies they are very helpful.

Yesterday I bit the bullet and carried out a clean install of Light Ubuntu on one of the machines and everything works OK.

The machine I installed on has the following spec ...

1800 MHz Intel Celeron CPU.

1289 MB RAM with 32 MB shared with the onboard graphics card.

All the other machines have similar specifications.


Now a personal comment from me.

I have heard that the Linux community is full of geeks, Most of the replies on this thread prove otherwise BUT some people need to lighten up.

I came on here asking for advice and lots of the replies have supplied advice and as with advice in all walks of life it is opinion based.

Others have said I need to be more specific with my question[s] and I will tell them straight - that kind of attitude reinforces the geekiness that outsiders do not like about the Linux community.

Again my thanks to everyone that took time out to give their opinions and to those that have put a newbie off this forum - goodbye I won't be bothering you again.


Background

One day each week I do volunteer work at Learning for Life Enterprise a charity that caters for and looks after people from all over Sheffield England providing ESOL, training, support, stability and advice.

The vast majority of the 'customers' speak very little or no English.

Situation

LFLE has got a suite of around 20 PCs of differing specifications all running Windows XP to either Service Pack 2 or 3.

'Customers' use the PCs to check emails, keep in touch with family & friends, surf t'interweb and carry out online English Language testing and quizzes.

These PCs are now struggling to run due to the lack of support for XP and when something goes wrong the OS is proving very difficult to repair.

The Dream

Install a new Operating System (I'm thinking a version of Linux) that will have two users (Administrator and User).

I want the machines to be as easy to use as possible but as difficult as possible to mess with by the User login.

I want to install the following:

  • Web browser
  • Video player
  • Photo viewer
  • Office suite

Any tips and tricks that the Ubuntu Experts out there can share?

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    A lightweight version of Ubuntu, such as Lubuntu, will meet all of your requirements out of the box. When installing, create a user called "admin" (or something like that); afterwards, create additional users with different passwords and no sudo permissions. – Jos Aug 15 '16 at 10:29
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    There are different flavors offered by Ubuntu, for your situation I'd stay clear of the main Ubuntu and look to Ubuntu MATE, Lubuntu, or Xbuntu. These three lighter weight Ubuntu option will probably run on your machines. All three options have reasonable offerings to answer your questions; Ubuntu MATE is my choice. – pfeiffep Aug 15 '16 at 10:31
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    Having seen the website you linked to, I would like to contribute offline, if I can be of any help. Please find my email address from the website mentioned in my profile. – Jos Aug 15 '16 at 10:35
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    By any mean please add your boxes' basic hardware specs to "up" the adequate answers number. For exemple, old 32-bit cpus (especially non-sse2 ones like Athlon XP and some Pentium M) will require some attention regarding the Linux kernel max version, desktop environment and web browser choice. – tuk0z Aug 16 '16 at 14:33
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    Without any specs (RAM at least) answers to this question are mere statements of opinion. – Luís de Sousa Aug 16 '16 at 17:48
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As far as running Ubuntu on older hardware goes there are two main 'lightweight' version of Ubuntu: Lubuntu and Xubuntu. Lubuntu is the less demanding of the two, in terms of system requirements. Whichever flavour you choose, you should select an LTS (Long Term Support) version. The current LTS versions are 12.04, 14.04 and 16.04, with the latter being the most recent, and the version which I'd most recommend using.

When you install the operating system, the user that you create should be your 'Administrator' user, as this user will have the permissions to alter system settings. Once installation is complete, you can create your 'User' user without the privileges required to make far reaching system changes.

Be aware that the 'User' user will be able to save files on the system, and can alter their own user specific settings. You may want to set up guest logins if this behaviour is undesirable.

Warning
There is a risk when installing any OS, that it may not be compatible with the old hardware, and you may be left in a situation where you have no working OS, and nowhere to go to from there. Before installing either of the suggested versions, it is a great idea to select the 'Try Lubuntu' or 'Try Xubuntu' options on the installer. This should give you a reasonable idea as to whether your hardware can run the intended OS, before you commit, you could even use it to determine which flavour you prefer.

Personally I've found that Lubuntu seems to support a large range of 10+ year old PCs which previously ran on Windows XP.

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    One problem that you could run into is hardware, that simply is too old for even lightweight ubuntu, like network and video cards. I've had some problems with a desktop pc with both (in 2016 with hardware from 2008). Ubuntu does not always fail in a nice manner during installation, when there is hardware-too-old problems. If at first it does not succeed, consider not trying too much, the excess blood pressure is not worth it. But if the hardware is sufficient, I think this is the way forward. – Bent Aug 15 '16 at 15:54
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    I've incorporated advice to trial the OS before installing, based on your comment @Bent – Arronical Aug 15 '16 at 16:30
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    Re: hardware incompatibility. In my experience, the older the hardware, the less likely this is to be an issue, as there's been more time for drivers to be written. The recommendation of using the installation media first as "Live CD" is sound, of course. – Monty Harder Aug 15 '16 at 16:59
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    If this is really old, old hardware, most compatibility problems could still be worked around with a custom kernel build. And an XP-era machine would typically still be new enough to not have the really difficult to handle hardware (pre-PCI bus systems etc.). – rackandboneman Aug 16 '16 at 9:26
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Ubuntu and its variants are all easy to install. I'd recommend Ubuntu MATE for your computers. During the install process, create an admin user (with a strong password). Then, when you start the machine up, add a user with standard (or custom) privileges.

Ubuntu is excellent for user restrictions. Everything is locked down - users cannot install or remove programs, they can't delete critical system file and they can't change system wide settings. You can even limit their access to printers and external media.

As for the other things you require...

Web Browser:

Have a look at Vivaldi. It's a new browser with some really advanced features, that just works. It has an easy setup, and comes with Flash as part of it (the latest version), so you can play online games and watch videos.

Video Player:

Ubuntu MATE comes with a free and open source video player - VLC - installed by default. Just make sure you check the "Install non-free components" during the installation.

Photo viewer

A photo viewer - eye of MATE - is included by default. It can open pretty much all image files.

Office suite

Ubuntu comes with a free and open source office suite - libre office. However, compatibility with Word, Excel and PowerPoint is lacking and the GUI hasn't changed in 10 years.

I use WPS office on my computer - it looks very much like Microsoft office, and it will save as a .docx, .xlsx and .pptx very well.

My pronouns are He / Him

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    OP didn't yet specify their boxes' hardware spec. Some of the applications advised may fit if installed on no-less-than ten years hardware. Other than this, nice advice IMHO. – tuk0z Aug 16 '16 at 14:47
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    «compatibility with Word, Excel and PowerPoint is lacking and the GUI is about 7 years out of date» To be precise, compatibility with office files is pretty good especially for casual users. The GUI works perfectly and presents useful, neatly organized menus. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 16 '16 at 16:14
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Sure, it's acceptable but images move around, animations are missing and text changes size and position - especially with paragraph spacing etc. And the gui is not lacking and it works - but its old which is what I said. I like to see all the options there in a tab style - like word is today. – Tim Aug 16 '16 at 20:42
  • "text changes size and position" If your system does not have the fonts that were used to write a document and the fonts are not embedded inside it, I would argue it's not LibreOffice's fault. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 16 '16 at 21:14
  • @AndreaLazzarotto No, fonts changed size and position - mostly in text boxes but also when I adjusted paragraph indent and line spacing. Look, I'm not saying it's terrible. But I have found that WPS reproduces much more accurately, and I prefer the GUI - it's like Word. I'd also argue that the LO GUI is a little busy - it has the dropdowns with a lot of options, and it can be hard to find what you want. imgur.com/a/nNQaa – Tim Aug 16 '16 at 21:55
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There are, as @Arronical said, two main distributions that are good for old computers: Lubuntu and Xubuntu. I personally prefer Lubuntu, as it is lighter on resources, but most of this answer should apply to both.

First, you have to pick which one you want and download it. Be sure to download the latest 32 bit, or x86, LTS version; older computers are not compatible with the 64-bit version, and LTS versions are released every two years, as opposed to regular versions which are released every six months, and are supported for five years instead of nine months. The latest LTS version is currently 16.04. You will then have to burn the file you downloaded to a DVD or USB drive (you can't just copy the file itself) and boot from it; there are countless guides on how to do that. Once you have Lubuntu booted, a menu should pop up; select "Try Lubuntu" to check if everything (wifi, speakers, etc) works.

Once you've verified that everything works, double-click on the "Install Lubuntu" icon on the desktop. The installation process should be pretty straightforward. It will ask you to create an account; this will be your "Administrator" account.

Once Lubuntu has been installed, shut down, remove your DVD/USB stick, and reboot. If all has gone well, your new Lubuntu installation should boot up. You should now create your "User" account. To do this, click on the application menu (it's in the bottom left corner in Lubuntu and in the top left corner in Xubuntu) and look under "System" or "System Tools" for "Users and Groups". Open it, click on "Add", and type in the new user's name and password. The new user will not have root access, and therefore will not be able to effect any changes to the system. The new account will have its own "home directory" which it can write to, though.

As for software:

Web browser: Lubuntu and Xubuntu come preinstalled with Firefox.

Video player: Lubuntu comes with MPlayer. If you want a more feature-rich media player, you can install VLC by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T to open a terminal and typing:

sudo apt-get install vlc

and then pressing Enter. (The "User" account will not, of course, be able to do this). However, whichever media player you use, you will not be able to play most DVDs; to fix this, open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install libdvdread4
sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh

(again, press Enter after you are done typing each command), then reboot.

Image viewer: Lubuntu comes with a basic image viewer (called simply "Image viewer", available under Accessories), as well as the mtPaint image editor, (available under Graphics).

Office suite: Lubuntu and Xubuntu come with Abiword for word processing and Gnumeric for spreadsheets; if you want a more complete suite, you can install LibreOffice, which includes a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet program (Calc), a presentation program (Impress), a database manager (Base), and a graphics drawing program (Draw), by opening a terminal and typing:

sudo apt-get install libreoffice

(and pressing Enter), but be aware that it is bigger and less lightweight than Abiword/Gnumeric.

Hope this helps :)

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I'd probably reccomend Zorin as it's designed to be as similar as possible to windows and so you can change it to look more like windows XP, windows 7 or and the lite version seems be faster than ubuntu. It comes with firefox preinstalled along with libreoffice (I wouldn't reccommend the free version of WPS as it makes you pay for the full version to save .docx files). Vlc is easily downloadable from the store and it comes with a generic photo viewer. Wine, a program that allows you to use windows programs, is installed meaning that it's probably the best OS for coming off windows.

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I would recommend checking out BunsenLabs Linux. In my experience, it has some of the lowest out-of-the-box system requirements of any lightweight distro and it comes with each of your required software utilities already installed:

  • Web browser: Iceweasel (Firefox)
  • Video Player: VLC
  • Photo Viewer: ViewNior
  • Office Suite: abiWord, gnumeric (also easy to install LibreOffice)

There's a fairly-detailed review of BL Linux available here: http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20160613#bunsen. It includes a detailed overview of the install process, which might aid you in making your decision.

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I know that you are looking for an Ubuntu derivative but I wanted to suggest considering ChromeOS as another option. The only downside to it is that Google Docs is not as powerful as other office suites on the market but from what I've seen, it does the job for most people.

If a more powerful office suite is necessary, I would certainly go with (X/L)ubuntu as others have suggested.

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    Where can you install it from? – Tim Aug 15 '16 at 15:51

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