What I’ve been doing and thinking about lately hasn’t had much to do with the generally accepted topics, not to mention blogish vibes, of those two forums, so I’ve started This Old Mac and This Old PC, which have a whole lot to do with my recent activities.
It’s all part of my quest over the past couple of months to rehabilitate and make useful two 10-year-old computers, one a generic PC with a Pentium II-MMX 333 mHz processor that’s currently running Windows 2000, the other an Apple Macintosh Powerbook 1400cs/117 mHz now running OS 7.6.1.
Through about a hundred Web sites and online forums, as well as the expertise of my friend Bruce — computer guru and junk purveyor extraordinaire — I’ve been able to make these two ancient hunks of metal, silicon and plastic into usable computers that don’t have to be thrown out or recycled. Part of it is the expense of getting new hardware (and the new software that inevitably goes with it), part is the environmental factor and the desire to not be wasteful. And part is just the “fun” that goes along with the tinkering, tuning and prodding to get this junk up and running. And don’t forget the “free” factor. When stuff is this old, you can often get all the parts and software you need for little or no money. Once people know you’re doing this kind of thing, they’re practically begging you to come over and look through their junk, hoping you’ll take some of it away. Really though, all you usually have to do is ask, and you’ll soon be receiving free stuff.
Part of the urgency for those who will gift you with freebies is that it’s ILLEGAL to dump computers in the trash, and most charitable collection agencies like Goodwill and the Salvation Army WON’T TAKE IT. You either have to haul it to the city refuse collection site in Sun Valley … or find someone who wants it.
How many of you are using a decade-old computer? If your crazy-nuts about technology, you might get a new computer every two or three years. Regular people? I’d say the average PC (or Mac, for that matter) probably has a five-year shelf life, seven years if you stretch it. But after that, there’s usually some kind of software you can’t run, add-on gadgets that won’t add on (like digital cameras and all the crap that comes with them). One of the sorest points of all this is that the No. 1 use for computers by far is Web browsing, and the people and companies that create Web sites are constantly packing new technologies into their Web pages that increasingly can’t be handled by older computers (or any kind of Mac — even the newest ones — in many cases). Flash, Java, and a host of other add-ons muddy the HTML waters, and the new browsers that can handle the increasing complexity often run slow as mud on older computers, or not at all. On my Powerbook, for example, I can’t — and never will — be able to run OS X, and since Firefox won’t run on the “classic Macintosh” OS, and Microsoft infamously ceased support for the Mac version of Internet Explorer (for both OS X and classic Macs), there’s not much to turn to. The best I’ve found is IE 5.0, believe it or not — thanks to Dan Palka of System 7 Today for that and so much more.
My bottom line: Something that costs $1,000 shouldn’t have a three-year shelf life. That’ s just wrong. These things should be more easily upgradable, or a lot cheaper out of the door. The fact that you can get a bare-bones PC for $200 or less at Fry’s goes a long way toward pacifying me, but it’s just crazy that this industry has lulled us into a constant upgrade path.
In closing, a lot of this was borne out of my frustration at the old Daily News computers, which we just got rid of a few months ago. They were mostly Celerons that ran at about 400 mHz with 32 MB RAM and Windows 98. Crashing … every … five … minutes. For the editorial software system, there was adequate resources, but to run that AND an IE5 browser window? Forget it. We were rebooting between five and 20 times a day. For our new Unisys system, we all got new Dell Optiplex GX520 computers running Windows XP, and I must say, these are really sweet. If you are in the market for a new PC, you won’t go wrong with one of these Dells. IE7 still crashes about six times a day, but you don’t have to reboot the whole machine. It’s just that IE happens to suck, although it’s does feel like a well-worn glove. (Say it: Smell the glove.)