Making computers more accessible and sustainable with Linux |

Making computers more accessible and sustainable with Linux

Free Geek is a nonprofit organization that helps decrease the digital divide by providing Linux computers to people and groups in need.

Working from home at a laptop
Image by :


Subscribe now

Get the highlights in your inbox every week.

There are many reasons to choose Linux for your desktop operating system. In Why everyone should choose Linux,'s Seth Kenlon highlighted many of the best reasons to select Linux and provided lots of ways for people to get started with the operating system.

This also got me thinking about how I usually introduce folks to Linux. The pandemic has increased the need for people to go online for shopping, doing remote education, and connecting with family and friends over video conferencing.

I work with a lot of retirees who have fixed incomes and are not particularly tech-savvy. For most of these folks, buying a computer is a major investment fraught with concern. Some of my friends and clients are uncomfortable going to a retail store during a pandemic, and they're completely unfamiliar with what to look for in a computer, whether it's a desktop or laptop, even in non-pandemic times. They come to me with questions about where to buy one and what to look for.

I'm always eager to see them get a Linux computer. Many of them cannot afford the Linux units sold by name-brand vendors. Until recently, I've been purchasing refurbished units for them and refitting them with Linux.

But that all changed when I discovered Free Geek, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore., with the mission "to sustainably reuse technology, enable digital access, and provide education to create a community that empowers people to realize their potential."

Free Geek has an eBay store where I have purchased several refurbished laptops at affordable prices. Their computers come with Linux Mint installed. The fact that a computer comes ready-to-use makes it easy to introduce new users to Linux and help them quickly experience the operating system's power.

Keeping computers in service and out of landfills

Oso Martin launched Free Geek on Earth Day 2000. The organization provides classes and work programs to its volunteers, who are trained to refurbish and rebuild donated computers. Volunteers also receive a donated computer after 24 hours of service.

The computers are sold in Free Geek's brick-and-mortar store in Portland and online. The organization also provides computers to people and entities in need through its programs Plug Into Portland, Gift a Geekbox, and organizational and community grants.

The organization says it has "diverted over 2 million items from landfills, granted over 75,000 technology devices to nonprofits, schools, community change organizations, and individuals, and plugged over 5,000 classroom hours from Free Geek learners."

Get involved

Since its inception, Free Geek has grown from a staff of three to almost 50 and has been recognized around the world. It is a member of the City of Portland's Digital Inclusion Network.

You can connect with Free Geek on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram. You can also subscribe to its newsletter. Purchasing items from Free Geek's shop directly supports its work and reduces the digital divide.

Open source helps bridge the digital divide for families in need of computers for distance learning during the pandemic.
Person typing on a 1980's computer

Refurbish an old machine with these step-by-step instructions.


About the author

Don Watkins - Educator, education technology specialist,  entrepreneur, open source advocate. M.A. in Educational Psychology, MSED in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator, CCNA, virtualization using Virtual Box. Follow me at @Don_Watkins .