ISSUE 414: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Use your trusty but outdated computers
as Web workstations or charitable donations - Sept 30 1997
Last week, we wondered what could be done with
the many millions of older- model computers we bought just a few short
years ago --machines that in some cases are actually showing up in
landfills, or marked "free to a good home" in garage sales.
(Yes, I actually saw a 1986-era IBM XT-clone
in working order reduced to such a sorry state recently.)
It used to be that when businesses upgraded their
hardware, they could often sell their older inventory to employees.
Employees could then use the older machines at home for their own work,
or to pass on to their kids. No more. Most employees who have a use for
personal computers already have one, and kids want nothing less than
the newest hardware to play the latest games.
We saw last week that for a relatively modest cost,
some older computers could be upgraded with a faster processor chip
(CPU), perhaps squeezing another couple of years' use out of them. This
strategy will only work with some of the older models, however.
With others, the outlay needed to bring them within
reach of modern models is actually more than the cost of a new unit. If
you need to upgrade more than two of the components of your older
machine (CPU, motherboard, RAM, video, hard disk, CD-ROM, etc.), you're
probably better off getting a new machine.
But that doesn't mean the old machine is only fit for
the scrap yard.
In many cases, you may simply be able to leave well
enough alone, perhaps moving the older model to a less critical role.
That 386 or 486 will continue to run its several-year-old word
processor just as well as when it was new.
Even if you're upgrading to new versions of software
on your new purchases, you may be able to continue to use the old
hardware and software -- the Microsoft Office 97 CD, for
example, includes a converter to allow users of Word version 6.0 or
Office 95 to read and save in the new Office 97 file format. And the
new Word Perfect version 8 simply uses the same file format as older
versions. With this in mind, users of different generations of hardware
and software can easily work together.
If your business has an Intranet (an internal network
using standard Internet software such as Web browsers to share
information), those older machines can make perfectly adequate
terminals, perhaps finding a new use as a way for employees to get
company information in lounges or other non-office settings.
Workstation giant Sun Microsystems has discussed releasing
software to allow 486s running DOS to function as low-cost Java
terminals (connecting to a Sun server, of course).
Nevertheless, you may decide that the simplest thing
is to get rid of your old hardware, perhaps to minimize the range of
hardware and software that requires technical support. As we've said,
you probably won't be able to sell them to your employees.
Consider giving them away.
Old, and perhaps useless to you, these computers can
still find years of useful employment with a school, church group or
charity. In some cases, though, businesses are finding it difficult to
even give the things away (hence the landfill).
Parent groups in schools in Vancouver, for example,
are hosting more and more casino nights, and using the profits to
purchase new hardware able to offer multimedia and Internet access to
students. And many schools are starting to look upon donations of older
computers as a potential technical support nightmare; they,
justifiably, are afraid that a free gift could actually cost them money
they don't have.
For the last several years, the Science Council of
B.C. (438-2752; www.scbc.org) has sponsored a Computers for
School project. Working with volunteers from the BC Tel Phone
Pioneers and other groups, they've collected donated computers,
refurbished them and distributed guaranteed-working hardware to
schools. Consider them for donations of your 386s, 486s, and recent-
At the University of
B.C.'s Career Services office (www.careers.ubc.ca), manager Blair
Grabinsky hopes to be able to offer students access to the
Internet to help with job searches.
The federal National Graduate Registry offers a
resource for students to post their resumes for potential employers.
Grabinsky feels that the Internet is increasingly an important source
for job-search research, and is frustrated by his department's
inability to offer students Internet access on-site. They would welcome
donations of 386/486-era machines. (822-6473).
Quick change of subject: many of us are starting to
feel overwhelmed by e-mail. Mass mailings of junk mail (a.k.a. spam)
only add to the frustration.
Users of the popular Eudora mail program might want to
take a look at the 30-day free trial version of MailJail, an anti-spam