Today I had to repair my sister’s PC. After more than 5 years, its internal clock battery ran out and needed to be replaced. Looking at it now, it made me consider: why do most people would want (or need) a computer better than that?
From observation and interview, I found that this how my sister uses her computer: chatting in MSN Messenger, reading emails, web-browsing, social-networking, viewing photos, watching You Tube videos, storing photos from her camera, listening to music, video-chatting with Skype, reading and writing USB sticks and occasionally doing some homework with OpenOffice. To complement that, she could also sporadically use it to watch a DVD.
In the interview, I asked what she thinks about the speed of her computer. She said there is nothing remarkable about it. Compared to my laptop (not one year old), she says it is a little slower. I asked how much, in numbers, and she said: “about 10%”. When I was leaving, she gave me a bonus info: “the slowest is my father’s laptop on Windows”. That is the only computer in house with Windows, it has 1 GB of RAM and a dual processor AMD Turion X2, the first 64 bits in the house, bought in 2007.
Her computer is an AMD Sempron 2200+, with the bizarre RAM count of 640 MB. It dates from 2004 and until today suits all her needs. Some parts were replaced later, and it has an 80GB SATA hard disk, and a 15” LCD wide-screen monitor, but the main internal parts are the same. The cooling fan is hang on green yarn because the old fan was destroyed by dust and the new one is too big to match the screw holes.
As you can see, it can not be considered to be in its best conditions, but it is working very well. Also, I can not say its average failure rate is greater than a new computer, after all, fans are often the first part to be replaced. Fact is, most computers do not get old enough to have its internal parts replaced. These parts do not age fast enough so to age faster than the software they run, what demands the whole computer to be replaced.
This old computer had Microsoft Windows XP installed until 2 years ago, and no new Microsoft product could fit comfortably in it, due its low amount of memory for those days standards. One day it stopped working due to natural Windows worn out, a fact Windows users are familiar with, and believes to be normal, that requires periodical system reinstall. That time I did not reinstall Windows. Instead, I installed Ubuntu 8.04. Since that time, it had no more viruses and the performance did not start to decrease with time. It got through 3 on-line system wide upgrades and is now running Ubuntu 9.10.
As many already knows, Ubuntu is a zero-cost free-as-in-freedom open source and easy to use flavor of GNU/Linux operating system. It came by default with all the software my sister needed to perform the aforementioned tasks, and much more is available on-line. Everything free as in beer, most of them free as in freedom. She can click on every virus and bad site links she wants without getting infected. As long as she does not type her personal info in the bad sites, she is safe.
Then I had, inside home, the best illustration on how Windows and many proprietary software contribute to early obsolescence of computer hardware. None of newer versions of Windows can run in my sister’s computer. Newer Windows uses at least 15 GB of disk, while Ubuntu fits into a CD and installed uses no more than 5 GB, counting the default applications, that includes an office package. This size can increase if install too many programs, but you do not count applications as part of the system, do you?
There are some tasks, like gaming and playing HD movies that do require newer hardware, but that old hardware is perfectly capable of performing any task most of the people need. The only need for a bigger hardware is to run new Windows and its accompanying must-have anti-virus. The tasks people actually perform in their computers are irrelevant to the hardware, compared to the bogus operating systems over it. See, it is not the nature of computers to slowdown over time. They should keep the same speed while the usage pattern of the user is the same. Also, for a set of functionality available in a software, it’s newer versions must perform at least as well for this same set. This means that there is no acceptable reason for newer Excel to need more resources than the older Excel if you will use them in the same way.
The practice to make things seems older without they actually being old is called planned obsolescence, and it is a disgusting practice in view of sustainability, not to mention human quality of life. My sister’s keyboard is horribly dirty. It would take me about 2 hours to clean in completely. Considering a new keyboard costs less than 10 dollars and my specialised work hour may cost more than that, it is more worthy to buy a new keyboard. But I will not do that. I prefer to clean my keyboard, as new ones are only cheap because there are semi-slave workers in China building them for less than 10 dollars a month.