The problem is all inside your head, she said to me

I wrote a quick post to the Ubuntu Forums about a week ago, in reply to a thread that asked about underestimating the abilities of hardware and Linux.

The point of my reply was masked a little in the geek details, which was a shame because I have a feeling the essence of almost everything I’ve learned over the past few years is encapsulated there.

The problem isn’t old hardware. The problem is how people look at old hardware.

If you can realign your viewpoint to see how things work best, and learn to adapt your requirements to fit that angle, an old-old-old machine is every bit as functional as a new one.

In essence, the problem isn’t the computer, it’s you.

And chances are, you just proved my point. If your initial reaction was, “Yeah, well, your 133Mhz Pentium can’t show 1024p flash videos, so into the dustbin with it” … I thank you.

I don’t expect it to run Crysis in wine, or show 1024p flash video, or recompile gcc in under an hour. It can’t. It was never meant to.

But I do expect it to double as a slideshow picture frame, while playing streaming audio and holding my meager ogg audio collection with Debian Lenny.

I do expect a 120Mhz machine to handle my instant messenger, mail reader, file manager, system profile, appointment calendar, web browser, blog client, personal wiki and to-do list, maybe improve my typing skills and possibly throw in a game or two.

Anything beyond those points is relegated to the domain of faster, heavier machines.

But the fun part of this adventure has been realizing how much can be done without a heavier, faster machine. Yes, I use a 2.5Ghz Celeron for movie playback.

But I’ve used a 550Mhz Celeron for that in the past, and the only real difference between the two was the size of the screen.

You have to make the mental switch that allows you to use a machine beyond what the corporations and advertising executives want.Nobody can do that for you.

But you have the tools, even if you don’t feel you have the experience or the know-how. Give yourself the time and the patience, and maybe you’ll start putting your leftovers back to work. Maybe even on the front line. 🙂

6 thoughts on “The problem is all inside your head, she said to me

  1. anon

    but a 500 mhz pentium 3 people say is only useful as a boat anchor is damn fast. I can play 720p fine even with X handicapping me, with no HW accel.

    However, push your hardware to the limits, try new things on it, and you can exceed your expectations 🙂

    1. Luca


      I have a 4 year old machine with a decent graphics card that struggles to play x264 720p in VLC. I need to do some more tweaking…

  2. Thumos

    It all boils down to education, knowledge, responsibility and curiosity.

    I think your statement “the point of my reply was masked a little in the geek details” explains the bigger issue. That issue is a vast majority of people do not care how most of the everyday things they rely on work. They just expect them to work and replace them when they don’t or think they may not in the future.

    This ties into the fact we have become a disposable society and accelerated planned obsolesces is perfectly acceptable to most if not encouraged.

    I think we would be much better off if everyone has a look at the “History of Stuff” and read Shop Class as Soulcraft.

    Philosopher hat off Nerd hat back on,

  3. David

    ” The problem is how people look at old hardware ”

    That is not a problem – I get to scoop it up by the carload dirt cheap !

  4. Robert Little

    I have quite a few older computers that see regular usage.
    A ThinkPad 760xd (Pentium MMX, 116 MHz, 64MB RAM) that runs stripped down Dapper install is used for field work. My comparatively ancient ThinkPad 500 (486slc, 50MHz, 12 MB RAM) runs BasicLinux and can even run X; lightweight writing machine. Then there are the two Tandy 100 derivatives (a 102 and a 200) that don’t have operating systems per se but work darn fine.
    Obsolescence is a state of mind…


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