The Operating System: Windows is a very expensive operating system, and is obviously not something you want to start purchasing for a nonprofit project. Here are a few pointers for what to do about this.
1. Restore the old one. Usually if you receive a computer with windows 7, windows vista, or windows 8, an option for a full system recovery is available to you. This allows the system to restore itself to its factory original, while retaining the license that it was given originally.
2. If retaining a license is not an option, there are a few things you can do.
– Download Windows XP: Microsoft has discontinued support for Windows XP, and therefore has also stopped supporting active licensing for the software. This means that most licenses for Windows XP are now valid, even if they were already used once. All you have to do is find an image of the operating system online, and a license key. Yes this is legal (mostly)..although Microsoft still owns the copyright on windows XP (until 2087), there is nothing they can really do to stop you from installing the operating system since they made a conscious choice to discontinue support for the operating system.
– Download a version of Linux: Linux OS is the only free and open source operating system on the market today. There are a million different versions of Linux that you can download that all operate under the same core code. The two versions that I recommend are Ubuntu, and Fedora. Both vaguely resemble the Macintosh OS, and therefore provide enough familiarity for the standard user to get around. ALSO, because this operating system is open source, it has its quirks. It is incompatible with all Microsoft programs without proper software (google WINE if you want to investigate this) and installing programs on it can be somewhat of a pain. Linux has one of the largest user based support groups of any operating system because of the fact that it is open source, and thus most of your problems can be easily solved by a quick google search. Thankfully, because Linux has a fairly decent sized chunk of the computer market, most developers make a version of their software that is compatible with the Linux kernel so it is not a completely alienated system.
– “But what if the computer I have is a Mac?” Mac operating systems are very difficult to restore, however the nice thing about them is that they are fairly resilient and timeless. Usually there isn’t a need to restore the operating system unless there is no way for you to access the old user to create a new one. First try hitting the option key as soon as you push the power button, this brings up the boot menu which usually contains a recovery partition in which you can restore the operating system without the need of a disk…if the partition is NOT there, then you need to get a disk. In this case, you have to burn a copy of Mac OSX onto a disk, which can be very difficult. I have done this before, but I would recommend simply purchasing an old Mac OSX disk on ebay. An OSX Tiger (10.4) disk on ebay runs about $5-20 dollars and works for the life of the disk. Once you have 10.4 on the computer, you can upgrade for free to the latest OS.
Here are some links for a few free operating systems. These are all downloaded as a .iso file format, which you will need to burn to a disk. Usually windows has a program already built in that does, this, but if it doesn’t, Power ISO will do the job (www.poweriso.com). It’s technically a paid program, but the trial allows you to mount and burn ISO images to a disk.