12 Free Alternatives to Windows Operating Systems
Need a new operating system that doesn’t cost a penny? You might have heard about Linux, the free and open-source alternative to Windows. However, there are many other free operating systems for laptops and desktop PCs.
Capable of performing standard computing tasks, these free operating systems are strong alternatives to Windows.
1. Linux: The Best Windows Alternative
Linux is free, widely available, and has acres of online guidance, making it the best free OS around and an obvious choice.
If you’re looking for a free alternative to Windows, you can try any of the top versions of Linux.
The open-source nature of Linux means that many alternative versions have been released. You’ve probably heard of Ubuntu which can be ideal for newcomers, or its functional alternative, Linux Mint. Both are among the most popular options.
In short, Linux is the number one free alternative to Windows for the simple reason that it is amazing.
2. Chromium OS
In some ways, this is another obvious choice. Chromium OS is the operating system that Google’s ChromeOS is based on and is available to download for free. It’s also suitable for installation on aging hardware.
Lightweight and with a focus on cloud computing, ChromeOS is one of the most well-known alternatives to Windows. Chromium OS has everything you would find on a Chromebook, making it great for web browsing, social networking, and word processing. However, it is less accomplished at media playback, and meaningful media editing is beyond its capabilities.
If you’re looking for something easy to use, Chromium OS is a good free OS for PCs. It is available to build from the source or as a ready-to-install disk image from ArnoldTheBat.
A similar option is to try ChromeOS Flex which is a free OS from Google and a stripped-down version of the actual ChromeOS. Here is how you can try ChromeOS Flex using your USB drive.
Download: Chromium OS (Source | Disk Image)
3. FreeBSD: The Free Operating System That Isn’t Linux
Many think that FreeBSD is just another Linux distribution. While sharing the Unix-like roots of Linux, FreeBSD is the modern, open-source version of the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). You can consider FreeBSD as a relative of Linux and find its code in many places. These include Apple’s macOS and Sony’s PlayStation 4 operating systems.
Overall, FreeBSD is a reliable alternative operating system for servers and desktops alike. While it doesn’t ship with a desktop environment by default, there is support for GNOME, KDE, and XFCE desktops. Here are some of the best BSD-based OSes of all time.
FreeBSD is of interest to those with security and privacy concerns, offering enhancements developed by the TrustedBSD project. This has the support of McAfee, DARPA, Google, the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, Apple, and many more.
4. FreeDOS: Free Disk Operating System Based on MS-DOS
Most modern operating systems are built around the concept of multitasking. FreeDOS is different. This DOS-compatible OS is as different from Windows as it’s possible to get—FreeDOS is based on Windows’ predecessor, MS-DOS.
A free operating system with support for older games and applications, FreeDOS can be easily connected to your network. In addition, you can install various software packages, from tools to enhance the classic DOS experience to apps and games.
FreeDOS is as useful for productivity as it is for recovering old data.
It doesn’t matter if you own a modern desktop, an older rig, or you’re running it in a virtual machine. FreeDOS is a great option if you’re looking for a more traditional experience reminiscent of the 80s/90s computing.
5. illumos: A Free OS for Your PC
Another UNIX-based free Windows alternative OS, illumos, is based on OpenSolaris, an operating system abandoned by Oracle in 2009. Based on BSD and System V Release 4 (SVR4), the illumos core is the heart of many OpenSolaris forks.
This is not unlike how the Linux kernel is found in every Linux distribution. As a result, many illumos distributions are available. The most popular is probably OpenIndiana, which features in the accompanying video.
6. ReactOS: The Free Windows Clone Operating System
If talk of the alternatives being Linux and UNIX is leaving you on edge, consider ReactOS as your Windows alternative.
Originally launched in 1996 as a Windows 95 clone project, the official website states that “the ultimate goal of ReactOS is to allow you to remove Windows and install ReactOS without the end user noticing the change.”
In short, the aim is that you should be able to continue using your PC as you did before. ReactOS features over 9 million lines of code and is open source.
However, ReactOS has been in the alpha stage for quite some time now. While some apps, such as Adobe Reader, will run on ReactOS, many won’t. It’s lightweight, though, requiring just 500MB of hard disk space and 96MB of RAM to run.
One day, ReactOS might be a perfect, free alternative to Windows, but until then, it is available for your evaluation. Install it from the boot CD or run the LiveCD on your existing operating system.
7. Long-Running Free OS Haiku
Haiku is free and open source and was first released in 2001. Since then, this free operating system has been in continuous development and runs various apps. Haiku will also run many apps from the abandoned BeOS operating system, like VLC Media Player and Quake.
If you’re looking for a free alternative to Windows, it’s certainly worth looking at Haiku.
8. MorphOS: An Alternative OS for Old Macs
MorphOS is an Amiga-like operating system based on the 80s/90s home computer and is available for PowerPC and similar devices. While the chances of an old Windows PC having a PowerPC processor are small, old Macs will run MorphOS.
However, if your Mac experience ended with Apple’s adoption of x86 CPUs, a Windows alternative might be useful. Time to dig out that old iMac, Mac Mini, or Power Mac!
9. A Free Alternative Operating System: AROS
AROS is a free operating system with a similar heritage to MorphOS but designed for x86 systems. This means that it should be able to run on your PC. In some ways, your PC or laptop turns into a modern-day Amiga computer, capable of running old and new software.
Do note that you’ll be unable to read old Amiga discs on a modern PC, even with a 3.5-inch drive. As such, you’ll be limited to ROMs.
Even so, this makes for an interesting alternative to Windows. Try the Live CD version of AROS to get a good flavor of this free operating system for PCs.
Available for 32-bit and 64-bit hardware, MenuetOS is a free operating system that you can install from a single floppy disk. Just to clarify, that’s a single floppy disk of 1.4MB.
Incredibly, it includes a full GUI desktop, a browser, a media player, and a spreadsheet editor pre-installed. Built with Assembly language, MenuetOS also features support for USB webcams and handles resolutions up to 1920×1080 (16 million colors).
Some recognizable games are also built-in, along with an email client, FTP, and HTTP server. No floppy drive? You can also boot MenuetOS from CD or USB.
11. PrimeOS: A Free Android OS for PC
Google has been developing Android and ChromeOS towards a convergence of operating systems in recent years. Thanks to the addition of mouse and keyboard support, Android is becoming increasingly useful as a desktop operating system.
And thanks to some independent developers, Android is available as a free download for 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems.
The benefits of using Android as your free Windows alternative are clear. After Windows, it is the most-used operating system on the planet. Apps for Android are everywhere, and you’re probably already using at least one.
Android offers support for standard PC applications, like word processing and email/web, along with good media editing tools.
Android can also be used for media streaming and has a massive library of games. In short, Android could be the ultimate free alternative to Windows. It really depends on what you’re looking for in an operating system.
Various Android versions are available for desktop and laptop PCs. PrimeOS provides an Android gaming platform on PC; you should also consider PrimeOS as a free alternative OS for laptops.
12. One of the Oldest Alternatives to Windows: RISC OS
Finally, for ARM-based computers (everything from Raspberry Pi to BeagleBoard), there is RISC OS.
While a little basic in some regards, RISC OS provides the user with a functional desktop experience. All the apps you need to be productive are available, from word processors to image editors. It’s an unusual operating system, as different from Windows as Linux is, but worth trying if you need a free operating system.
RISC OS is developed by RISCOS Ltd and the RISC OS Open Community.
A new version of RISC OS, Cloverleaf, is in development.
Download: RISC OS
Which OS Is Freely Available to Install Today?
All these operating systems are free, easy-to-find, and straightforward-to-install alternatives to Windows. To recap:
- Linux (the best free OS)
- Android (PrimeOS)
- RISC OS
Not all will suit your specific requirements, but we’re certain you’ll find a new OS you can grow to like.
If you’re finding an alternative to Windows, you’d also like to learn more about Linux alternatives to some popular Windows software.