ISSUE 567: The high-tech office- Sept
Older computers have
longer life span than industry lets on
Despite the widespread feeling that any
computer you purchase is obsolete as soon as you get it out of the box,
most of us want to get as much useful life as we can out of what
remains one of our more expensive purchases.
And that instant obsolescence idea is a myth. In fact,
with few moving parts, if your computer works when you take it out of
the box, in most cases, little mechanical will go wrong with it for
years. It will continue to run your software as well as ever.
What does become obsolete are our expectations. We
expect our computer purchase to be able to run the latest operating
system and applications, year after year, as fast as when it was new.
And that's where our hardware falls down. That
computer you bought in 1995 should continue to do a fine job running
the software that was current in 1995. But the newest programs want
more than that five-year-old computer delivers. You may not even have
enough space on your hard drive to install the latest applications.
That doesn't mean that you need to run out to buy a
new computer right now, much as that's what the industry wants you to
do. You can save a bundle with one of a couple of strategies. You might
simply leave well enough alone. While Windows 95 was a dramatic
improvement over the earlier Windows 3.1, to my mind, there are few
compelling reasons for many business users to upgrade to Windows 98,
Windows 2000, or the new on the retailer's shelf Windows ME.
You may be able to run any of these on your older
computer, but you'll be trading slower performance for few noticeable
And much as Microsoft's business model is
predicated on the idea of you upgrading your copy of Microsoft Office
every couple of years, an older version like Office 95 may actually do
everything you need.
You won't have the animated paper clip of newer
versions (which many will consider no loss), but you still get the much
more useful real time spell checking. Since much of the world will
insist on sending you documents in Word 97/2000 file format, if you're
using an older version be sure to get the free Word 97/2000 Converter.
(You can find it at www.officeupdate.microsoft.com. Click on the link
for Word, then the link for Downloads. Mac users of Word 5.1or 6.0 can
find their version of the converter at www.microsoft.com/mac/download.
Click on the Office 98 tab.)
If your older computer is feeling sluggish, a
cost-effective way to give it a boost is to increase its memory (RAM).
Luckily, RAM is relatively inexpensive, and is easy to install (though
it does require cracking open the computer's case). For typical
business users, I would recommend at least 32 MB if you're running
Windows 95, 64 MB if you're using Windows 98 or NT 4.0, and a whopping
128 MB for Windows 2000 users.
Mac users too may want to bulk up on memory. With
nothing else running, my relatively trim installation of Mac OS 9 is
using 29 MB, which would leave little RAM for anything else with the 32
MB base models that Apple was shipping up until recently.
Getting enough RAM can often provide better
performance than getting a faster processor. My main PC these days is a
several-year-old notebook with a 300 MHz Pentium processor, not a fancy
Pentium II or III model. Running Windows 98, the 64 MB that it was
shipped with was quite adequate. When I installed Windows 2000 it
started to feel sluggish, but adding an additional 64 MB for about $120
brought it back to life at far less cost than buying a new notebook.
Adding a new hard drive can also extend the life of
your older PC. Drive capacities have grown remarkably over the past few
years, while prices have dropped. Adding a second drive, rather than
replacing your existing one, is again easy to do by someone comfortable
in opening the case.