Recycling,  Simplicity

When Older is Better

I took the opportunity to visit the computing section of a major store yesterday. Reader John had posted on Facebook about how laptops have gotten to the point where not even the keyboards are easily replaceable so I wanted to confirm his complaint. To my dismay, every single laptop offered for sale was designed in a way to make replacing the keyboards on modern laptops difficult to impossible. The entire machine would have to be dismantled just to get to that one failure-prone component. Thank you for bringing that to my attention, John!

In the past, laptops were designed so that someone skilled in computer hardware could replace a number of components. Keyboards, hard drives, RAM, and other components could be swapped out–not necessarily with ease, but it could be done. That is no longer the case today; computer manufacturers don’t want us to hold on to our machines so they’ve designed them to be almost impossible to repair. Given the prices I noted during my visit to the store yesterday, it wouldn’t even pay to have a tech replace the components.

Software has reached a similar point in evolution. If you want the “latest and greatest” version of Microsoft Office, you have to pay a monthly fee for the priviledge. The same goes for Adobe and a number of other programs. You can’t even enjoy a simple game of Solitaire without either paying for a subscription or being barraged with ads.

One of the saddest aspects of this reality is that it has gotten to the point where those who possess an older computer have an advantage. With the exception of the Front-side Bus (FSB) and a few other areas, older systems are actually faster and more powerful than the new ones being pushed upon us. The software that came bundled with those older computers didn’t require the payment of a monthly fee just to have access to the programs, either. Even better, you didn’t have to deal with hateful advertising whenever you wanted to relax and play the simplest game.

Software companies realized this. That is why they’ve eliminated the ability for these older computers to go online. It is nigh on impossible to get Windows XP to even go online these days; the last time I reinstalled XP I had to fight just to get it to activate. One of the last safe-havens in Microsoft, Windows 7, will soon face that fate as well.

I refuse to participate in this nonsense. Forcing people to view ads or pay for subscriptions only serves to line the coffers of multi-million dollar corporations. Forcing people to discard computers because they have been designed to be irreparable contributes to the destruction of our environment and only serves to rob the average person of money that they could better use elsewhere.

I started my personal rebellion by deciding to keep my ancient Windows XP laptop in service. It was the only operating system that could support the expensive multi-meter software I purchased for my computer repair business, as well as being the only operating system that could play some very old games I liked to play from the days of Windows 95/98. I’d also invested in an old copy of Microsoft Office and some other programs that I didn’t want to have to purchase again so instead of discarding that old laptop I kept it around. The speakers are shot on it now but I just connect an external speaker when I need sound.

I will use that laptop until it dies. If I have to I will dig up an older XP desktop so that I can avoid having to spend $$$$ on replacing that software because no damn tech company is going to force me to buy their damned subscriptions.

When I decided to purchase a desktop computer, I purchased a refurbished business machine. For under $400 I bought a desktop that blows away the specs on modern desktop computers. It came with Windows 10, which allows me to go online in relative safety when the need arises. I’ve already went through a couple of keyboards since I purchased it so the decision to go with a desktop was obviously a good one.

Thanks to Reader John, I will aim for older refurbished systems should I ever decide to purchase another laptop. I want to be able to repair my systems at least to a degree. I refuse to contribute to the madness by making the tech companies richer than I have to. Even better, it will keep those older systems out of a landfill for a few more years.

If you find yourself in the market for a new system I urge you to consider the purchase of a refurbished business-class desktop or laptop. Those systems are designed to be somewhat repairable. You can locate videos online if you want to do it yourself. If you happen to have an older system already (and have no need for the software it currently contains) you may want to consider installing Linux in it instead of purchasing new. Linux has grown to the point where they even offer it on new laptops these days (the OS in Chromebooks is Linux), so it is easy to install and use now.

Whatever you do, do not encourage the hardware and software companies to continue this madness. Don’t let them bully you into paying for a subscription or buying a new computer. If enough of us boycott them, hopefully they will end this madness. If not, at least we will be hitting them where it hurts–right in their wallets.

5 Comments

  • Deirdre

    Had to replace the keyboard on my 3 year old laptop this year. You’re right I had to take it apart from the back to reach the keyboard at the front but it was do-able. Hey, maybe I can repair computers after all. A little bit anyway.

    • Annie

      Great job, Deirdre! I am SO proud of you! I’ve got an older laptop around here that I can easily replace the keyboard from the top so I’m just going to keep it in service as long as possible. May end up doing that if I open my repair service to new clients though. I’m starting to consider doing just that.

  • Joshua Cogliati

    I completely agree that easily replaceable parts are a major feature for me in computers. I have either had to replace the hard drive when it dies, or pull the hard drive to get the data off an otherwise dead computer at least half a dozen times on my own computers.

    • Annie

      Exactly, Joshua! When I use laptops, I tend to replace the keyboard more than once during the lifetime of the system, and it’s cheaper if you upgrade the RAM and hard drives yourself rather than buy computers with them. This has really made me start to rethink things. How do we navigate this trend without bowing to the desires of tech companies to take as much of our money as they can? And how to help poorer people who cannot afford to replace systems on a regular basis? Not everyone can afford a new computer every year or so. That gets expensive!

  • John Grebe

    I am glad to have inspired this and I am joining you in the rebellion as I am now determined to keep my few year old laptop with the keyboard issues for as long as possible as my way of getting even. I am now using an external keyboard that is much nicer than the one that came with the laptop. I am trying to pinpoint when it happened but sometime within the last decade or so computers have been slowly transformed from tools for getting work done to more of media consumption devices to generate steady steams of income. Of course there is always Linux and while a Chromebook may be limited out of the box, given the Linux based nature of Chrome OS, it is Linux friendly hardware and open source projects like Crouton make it effortless to install a more powerful version of Linux on your Chromebook which will actually allow you to download a Solitary game and other software that does not bug you with ads or make you pay money every month to keep on using it.