Free software gives new life to old computers
Last year, I had to get a new laptop computer because my old IBM Thinkpad with Windows 95 was basically obsolete. The computer had only one USB port and it needed an Ethernet card to connect with my desktop computer through my local area network hub. With Windows 95, the system would sometimes pause as I was typing a document, and it would stay in a state of limbo for about 30 to 40 seconds before resuming. This would interrupt the flow of ideas that I was trying to type, and during this time I could think of nothing but the top row of keyboard: #$%%*!, %$&^%$!, and @$%*!
I started using the old Thinkpad as a perch for my new laptop because I hated the idea of using it as doorstop, as a mean-spirited geek had suggested. At the time that I bought my new laptop, I also bought a copy of Linspire, a Linux-based operating system, with the idea that one day I would convert the IBM Thinkpad to Linux. Several months later, when I finally installed the new operating system, I found out that the old Thinkpad had regained some of its spark. Linux had fixed the intermittent pausing problem.
You can buy Linux systems very inexpensively, but you can also download them free from the Internet if you have a broadband connection and you can create a 700 megabyte CD. The three most common Linux versions are Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, and Freespire, a free version of Linspire. Ubuntu has gained wide popularity because it provides online support through a large community of users. All three operating systems come with free web browsers (Mozilla Firefox), e-mail, and a free office suite (OpenOffice) compatible with Microsoft Office to handle spreadsheets, documents, and slide presentations. A wide array of Linux applications can be downloaded from the Internet.
I downloaded GCC, the GNU Compiler Collection, and now, I use my old IBM Thinkpad as a platform for testing the Linux 32-bit versions of my linguistic programs. This has become important now that many of the systems that I previously used for development have been replaced with machines that use 64-bit architecture.
The moral of this story is that you can recycle your old computer and make it useful again with a minimal investment.