This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to Life

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Have an old laptop lying around? Find out how new software could make it as good as -- or better than -- a Chromebook.

Giving new life to old laptops without spending a dime might sound too good to be true.

But that’s exactly what techies like Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Joanna Stern report they’ve been able to do with CloudReady software from a company called Neverware.

Stern reports that she recently used the software to resurrect five laptops she had written off:

I didn’t spend money on new hardware, or take them to an overpriced computer repair store. I just installed free software called CloudReady that’s based on Google’s lightweight Web-centric Chrome operating system. I got some to work so well I’d actually use them full time.

How is this possible? Stern continues:

Here’s what the PC makers don’t want you to know: Many aged laptops have the horsepower to accomplish most Web-based tasks. In fact, many of them have more raw power than $200 Chromebooks. They’ve just been bogged down by bloated, gunked-up operating systems.

As Neverware explains it, CloudReady is “a lightweight operating system built on the same foundation as Google’s Chrome OS, but able to run on almost any hardware.”

The company designed it to help schools get more use out of aging technology. Neverware also charges schools for CloudReady, Stern reports, but provides it for free to individual users.

Last month, Neverware also launched a “dual-boot” version of CloudReady — meaning computers on which it is installed can be booted up with CloudReady or Windows operating systems.

So should you attempt to resurrect your old laptops? That might depend on your tech skills.

Computerworld writer J.R. Raphael reports that, while he installed CloudReady on an old Windows Vista laptop weeks back, he “also spent some time chatting with the company to get a full understanding of its efforts — because trust me: The surface-level summaries you’ll find in most articles about CloudReady don’t even come close to covering all the relevant bases.”

Stern also admits that using CloudReady “is dead simple but installing it isn’t. It can be a bit of a project.” She also points out, though, that the project can be fun, especially with a child interested in getting a computer and learning how they work.

If you’re up for it trying it, you can find step-by-step directions in articles like Stern’s and Raphael’s, as well as on Neverware’s website.

Before that, however, take note of some of the caveats. For example, CloudReady isn’t designed to resurrect ancient technology, with pre-2007 laptop models seldom certified for the Chrome-like software. So first check CloudReady’s “Models & System Requirements” list.

Are you familiar with CloudReady? Would you try using it to give new life to an old laptop? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

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