free windows operating system

7 Free Alternatives to Windows Operating Systems

Perhaps you’re looking for a new PC and perhaps it’s too expensive. The immediate consideration is switching away from Windows, but macOS also involves an expensive purchase. And here are the 7 free alternatives to window operating systems. Check them out, below.


1. Linux

This is, of course, the obvious choice. Linux is free, it is widely available, and has acres of online guidance. We publish our own Linux help guides here at MakeUseOf, and we’re also addicted to compact Linux-powered ARM hobbyist computer the Raspberry Pi.

And that is the beauty of Linux: it will literally run on anything. If you’re looking for a free alternative to Windows, you should look no further than Linux Mint, currently the most popular Linux operating system (and there is a lot of competition). Perhaps you have aspirations to own a Mac? If your Cupertino lust is all about the visual design of macOS, then you might prefer to look at Elementary OS. Or you could just restyle your chosen Linux version.

In short, Linux is the number one free alternative to Window for the simple reason that it is amazing. Here at MakeUseOf, we use various versions of Linux — but it’s not the only choice.


2. Chrome OS

In some ways this is another obvious choice. Chrome OS, from Google, is available on a number of low-cost and some high-end laptops, known as Chromebooks. It’s also available to download free, often for installing on aging hardware.

Comparatively lightweight and with a focus on cloud computing, Chrome OS is great for web browsing, social networking and word processing. It’s less impressive at media playback, and media editing and gaming are beyond its capabilities.

If Linux isn’t your cup of tea but you’re looking for something that feels familiar, then Chrome OS is a good free alternative to Windows.


3. FreeBSD

Often mentioned in the same breath as Linux, you could be forgiven for thinking that FreeBSD is just another Linux distribution. While it shares the Unix-like roots of Linux, FreeBSD is the modern-day, open source version of the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD).

While it can be considered a relative of Linux, its code can be found in many places, such as Apple’s macOS and Sony’s PlayStation 4 operating system.

Overall, FreeBSD is a reliable 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. FreeBSD is of particular interest to those with security and privacy concerns, offering enhancements developed by the TrustedBSD project, which has backing from McAfee, DARPA, Google, University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, Apple, and many more.


4. Syllable

Designed and optimized for desktop PCs and built using parts of the GNU project and Linux, Syllable is yet another free Windows alternative. Deisgned for home and small office users, Syllable is forked from AtheOS, and ships with a native WebKit-based browser — which promises slick, modern browsing — an email client, a media player and even a development environment for programming.

Various open source tools are available for Syllable, including Apache, the Vim text editor and Python scripting. Syllable also has a server version, which is based on the Linux kernel.

Suitable for regular desktop users, hobbyists, and developers alike, Syllable development takes a holistic view of the current state of the computer industry. As such, it will run on a 32-bit PC with 32 MB of RAM. Very few operating systems will run on software this old!


5. ReactOS

If all of this talk of Linux and Unix is upsetting you, but you still want to quit Windows for a free alternative, ReactOS might be the answer you’re looking for.

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.

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. One day, ReactOS might be a perfect, free alternative to Windows, but until then, it is available for your evaluation.


6. Haiku

A replacement for the now-discontinued BeOS project, Haiku is free and open source and was first released in 2001. Since then, the operating system has been in almost continuous development and now boasts the ability to run the multi-purpose VLC media player, as well as a couple of versions of Quake. The WebPositive browser is HTML5 compatible, and most BeOS applications can run on Haiku.

However, the operating system is in a strange place — sort of between alpha and beta — and this makes it perhaps the least attractive alternative in this list. Nevertheless, if you were a fan of BeOS way back when, and are looking for an escape from Windows, it’s certainly worth taking a look at Haiku.


7. MorphOS and AROS

Now this is an interesting one. MorphOS is an Amiga-like operating system, available for PowerPC and similar devices. Of course, the chances that your Windows PC has a PowerPC processor are zero… but your old iMac, Mac Mini, or Power Mac can all probably run MorphOS.

AROS, meanwhile, is an operating system with a similar heritage, but designed for x86 systems. This means that it should be able to run on your PC. This may mean that your desktop PC or laptop could be turned into a modern-day Amiga computer, capable of running old software as well as new.

In practice, however, you’ll typically be unable to read old Amiga discs on a modern PC, even with a 3.5-inch drive, due to differences in the read speed. As such, you’ll be limited to ROMs.