The Onward March Of Technology (and Open Source software)

Lisa and I had a meeting with somebody the other day. As we sat in her office, the lady nodded toward an ageing PC and bemoaned the fact that “once you buy a new computer these days, it’s almost immediately out of date”.

It wasn’t the time or place to argue, but of course I feel differently.

Sure, if you’re locked into a Microsoft based system, you’re going to find yourself in a viscious upgrade cycle. You’ll constantly be watching for the latest version of Microsoft Office or anxiously wondering what their forthcoming Operating System will mean for you and your business.

Now, my main machine in the house is easily 4 years old. It was a highly specced Dell Dimension XPS system back then. Probably not as wonderful by today’s standards, but still a fine system. Its only upgrade has been an additional 2Gb of RAM, and it’s still a star performer. So, in my opinion, the hardware platform has stabilised.

The Windows World

In the world of software, things are much different. On Windows XP, I’m mostly committed to Free or Open Source applications: Aptana for web development instead of Dreamweaver, Notepad++ for quick text editing, OpenOffice forword processing and spreadsheet style stuff. Comodo for firewalling and antivirus.

I’m still using a fairly old version of Adobe Photoshop, but it does the job for my needs, even if it is missing some of the features of the newest version. GIMP’s an acceptable replacement…I suppose. The only thing that’s really tying me to Windows right now is the amazing Windows Live Writer.

Ubuntu Love

Now, in the dual-boot universe that takes me to Ubuntu (a version of the Linux operating system). What a wonderful system: all is free – upgrades, software, and not a subscription fee in sight. Much the same applications are available for Ubuntu as I’m using in Windows, so it’s a familiar environment. The same FireFox plugins I use in Windows are fully compatible with Ubutnu, so yet again, I’m up and running in no time.

Better still, the world of Ubuntu melds beautifully with the web servers I host my sites on, so it’s easy to connect to them and back them up remotely using Rsync (which I’ll write a tutorial on shortly). I can even live edit files on my websiteto make quick tweaks. It’s a fantastically flexible environment.

I’m not trying to ‘sell’ Open Source to people who don’t want or need it. But if you’re labouring under the misconception that Windows is your only option, you might want to consider experimenting with some form of open source.

Recycling old hardware

I made a lot of trips to our local dump over Christmas, and was shocked to see a huge number of cages with old PCs being left to rust outdoors. My feeling is that there may have been enough decent components within to either rebuild a good Windows machine or even a fantastic Ubuntu PC.

Is it still fair to say that Linux and Ubuntu use far less resources than Windows, even today? Probably.

What would it take for someone to run around the local dumps and salvage these machines, recondition them and send them back out into the world? If only more people were familiar with Linux, they’d be able to extend the life of their computers easily and free themselves from the upgrade cycle.

Someone needs to start this business! Just remember who gave you the idea!

…And My Point Is?

My point is that the old argument about computers being obselete 15 minutes after you buy them really doesn’t stand for much anymore.

It is possible to become free of the cash cow that is big-budget software. Once you’ve got a decent computer base, you’re pretty much set.Since we’re running a small business, running on 95% Open Source software means that we’re using legitimate software. We don’t have to worry about license management or anything like that, and we don’t have to fret about the BSA or FAST coming knowcking on the door. Conscience clear.

And most of all, we don’t have to pay for using 10% of the features of a Microsoft product like Office. We get those for free with OpenOffice.

All I can say is – it works for us.

3 comments

  1. Constant upgrading is certianly a mindset egged on by marketing. With the increasing popularity of netbooks and ‘the cloud’ we may see less emphasis on constantly ‘needing’ to up the processor power and memory requirements year on year (in fact system requirements may increasingly reduce). I worked in a computer recycler for a while and it annoyed me that much of our surplus equipment just went to third world countries (the first world is better placed to deal with eventual end of life costs than the third.It’s a kind of pass the parcel that leaves third world countries with the burden of dumping dead IT equipment) when so much could be redeployed here  where via open source or thin client models.When we started experimenting with shipping comps with open source software Microsoft were on the doorstep faster than a speeding bullet offering cheap deployment of older outdated operating systems. The replacement and upgrade rate in some large companies was impressivley shocking (18 months in many cases) . I hope the current economic situation prompts many more people to consider a more sustainable deployment of personal and business IT.

  2. Good call Gerard. Additionally if you keep up to date on the updates, you can make a computer last a long, long time. My laptop is an old Dell work station from 2004 that still works perfectly. All though I do admit I do have to do a lot of updates, and deleting of old extraneous files.

    • Just wanted to point this out…sometimes a hasty upgrade can cost you. I have an old Dell Optiplex that I run Ubuntu on. When the latest version came out, I allowed it to automatically upgrade.Guess what, the graphics driver is non-existent and I ended up being unable to run it in a higher resolution than 800×600. Oops!

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