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Old Computers Rule

There seems to be a trend outside of very well funded corparations that people are keeping their computers longer. An out-of-date computer, people are realizing, can do everything that needs to be done - albeit slightly slower. The real bottleneck is the software and tools a user chooses to use and the speed of your internet access.

One exception to this situation is probably the design business where processor speed and memory are still key but your software choices might still be able to trade this off marginally. In software development a powerful computer might also be important if you want to use the most sophisticated integrated-design-environment (IDE) or if you want to run a complete server stack on your own machine.

The advantages to using an old machine are almost to many to mention:

  1. PRICE. You can buy a used, relatively powerful, full-featured machine for $100 off Craigslist if you spend a few days looking. This will let you run the lattest version of Ubuntu Linux.
  2. ENVIRONMENTAL. Instead of driving to a store (ignore this if you bike!) and buying a machine wrapped in packaging you'll just be getting what you need: the computer, locally. That old machine won't be discarded and never used; it'll receive a new purpose and an extended life.
  3. SCALABILITY. Should you need more power - all you need to do is buy a slightly more powerful machine - maybe a $250 used laptop! Then the less powerful machine can be used for some other task, or passed off to your grandmother - who might only need websurfing and email.
  4. PEACE OF MIND. You won't be always worried about your fancy new laptop being ripped off because it just won't be a target. This might also save money on insurance and/or even eliminate the need for insurance in your office space.
  5. FLEXIBILITY. Using cheap older machines let you buy an extra machine to do a dedicated, always-on, task: such as running a PBX/asterix server. It lets you set up an old computer to act as a simple cash register for your store. Or it lets you set up a file server / backup file server on a redundant machine - possible with a backup power supply.

Now, it's not just about the cheap hardware - it's mostly about the free software you choose to put on your computer. I would recomend loading up Ubuntu onto the machine - since it makes it super easy to install good free software - and it provides a fun, easy, clean, user interface.

What's really cool to me about all is that, with a relatively cheap server hosting service, you can drive innovation just as well on an old laptop as you can with a fancy new powerbook. It's the quality of the software you create that matters and there is nothing stopping you from writing high quality software on a cheap linux box.

Also see this similar article explaining how to fix up an old laptop so it works like new.

Here's another interesting piece about why it's not your computer that matters anymore.. The article talks about making due with a smaller screen - such as on an asus eee and a slower processor - because your mostly just using web apps anyways.