An old friend asks you to bring their old Windows 98 PC back to life. Here's what you need to do. Look them squarely in the eyes, put a hand on their shoulder, and say, it's time to die.
COMMENT | A friend recently asked me to set up her old PC so that another member of the family could use it. "Righto," I thought... "probably won't run Vista, but it'll surely run XP."
When I saw the box, I knew that I would have no such good fortune. It was a 1998-vintage box, sans USB ports, ethernet, WiFi or any of those sorts of conveniences we take for granted. In fact, the only semi-modern convenience it had was a CD-ROM drive.
I could have suggested that my friend simply put the box out to pasture and buy a cheap Dell, but the fact was, she only wanted to do the most basic of tasks on it -- word processing, email and web browsing. Why should that justify a $700 expenditure?
I dutifully set about reformatting and setting it up, installing the most recent versions of Windows and Office that would run acceptably on the very old hardware -- Windows 98 and Office 2000 -- and then discovered that it's nearly impossible to get free or cheap anti-virus software that runs on Windows 98 any more. I did track down one eventually, after an hour of Googling, however.
But then we bought an HP printer (the only one in Officeworks that still had a parallel port), and discovered that Windows 98 drivers were no longer available. Turns out that when Microsoft discontinues support for a version of Windows, so does everybody else.
I could see that this computer was going to come back and haunt me time and time again, and I was musing over this conundrum at lunch with my friend (and contributor to APCMag.com) Danny Gorog. When he's not writing for APC or the Herald Sun, Danny's main business is a chain of stores that sells stuff on eBay on anyone's behalf. He makes his money by taking a cut of the sale, so he's intimately familiar with the cost of different sorts of goods in online auctions. His suggested course of action? Check out the prices of iMacs on eBay.
|iMac on eBay: runs the latest Mac OS X 10.4, costs peanuts
Lo and behold, I discovered you can buy one of the original "fruity flavoured" all-in-one iMacs for about $50-$100 on eBay. These models are not speed demons in today's terms, but they're perfectly capable of running the latest version of Mac OS X, Microsoft Office and Firefox if you add a bit of extra RAM.
I ended up getting a Bondi Blue iMac for my friend's family member -- 400MHz G3, 10GB hard drive, 128MB RAM and a CD-ROM. I had a spare 512MB PC133 RAM DIMM lying around from an old computer, so I slotted that in and installed OS X 10.3 on it (it runs a little quicker than Tiger, because it doesn't have the Spotlight disk indexing or Dashboard widgets).
It runs smoothly and at an acceptable clip (this family member is not going to be using it for much more than word processing, email, browsing the web and downloading small batches of digital camera pictures). It's interesting to note that this computer I bought on eBay is of a close vintage as the PC I was trying to resurrect -- the iMac was a year 2000 model, while the PC was a 1998 model. It's interesting that you can run the latest Mac OS on a seven year-old Mac, but it's fairly impossible to run anything other than Windows 98 on a 1998 vintage PC.
More importantly, though, I know I'm not going to have to do weekend and late night tech support for the rest of the natural life of the Windows PC.
The simple fact is I'm sick of doing friends' and family tech support for problems that are really Microsoft's fault, not mine. It's not that I begrudge helping people, it's that I begrudge the fact that I wouldn't need to be helping them with most of the problems if they had a Mac.
Spyware, viruses, irritating alerts advising you to clean up desktop icons, dogs with wagging tails -- they're problems that just don't exist on a Mac. They might one day, but for now, they're just not an issue Mac users have to deal with.
So from now on, when anyone asks me to help them resurrect an old piece of rubbish computer that's past its used by date, I'm just going to buy them an iMac on eBay. $50 out of my pocket won't cause a ripple in my finances, but it will save me hours of tech support time in the future.
John C. Dvorak, who has made a career out of writing opinion pieces that deliberately provoke the ire of the Mac userbase, has now reached the same conclusion.
"As someone who does recommend gear to people, I have to think to myself, "Should I recommend something that will come back to haunt me, or recommend a Mac with its higher price but lower hassle factor?" The answer is simple. I hate the idea of having to do customer service for people who cannot keep their systems clean, and that's most people.
"I hate to say it, but the PC community talks a big game when it comes to security and protection. The reality is that they'll never really get a handle on the problem as long as the PC is the never-ending target of hackers. I'm certain the Mac will eventually be targeted, but when? It doesn't seem like it will be anytime soon."
For the first time ever, I couldn't agree more with Dvorak.