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New Uses For Old Hardware/software A modular-upgrade strategy

#1 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 03 November 2012 - 12:39 PM

I stopped keeping up with computer changes after getting my first XP properly configured, in 2006. The hassle of choosing new hardware and software became too high, product descriptions and vendor 'help' was too vague, and what I had prior, actually worked well. So I didn't need to 'upgrade', to pigs in pokes. Besides, Windows was already eating three days a week with its glitches, so I wanted nothing more to do with Windows products. Back then, I used the XP for internetting, tax software and IRS coordination, email. I hated XP; but I had to have something current. Hint hint: that strategy underlies this topic, as you'll soon see.

I did the core business work on my DOS machines, and had some old Windows 98's with client files on them, including the original software which created those files: various accounting programs, Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, WordPerfect, MS Office, etc. For in my business, it's vital to keep the original records, which due to MS' insane policy of making the new OS incompatible with old programs, meant you had to keep the old computers, too. Not just one, but backups: as it would become harder and harder, to find parts.

My situation is by no means unique: every small business owner anywhere in the world, faces the same problem. Governments audit; business records have to be kept for decades; when you retire (and I soon will) -- someone will likely buy your business, and you have to pass all that past, onto the new owner. There are many other reasons why old stuff has to be kept operational.

So, this topic covers things I do with old computers, with a focus on business. Maybe what I do, will spawn ideas you find useful. If you have any ideas you care to share, I'd appreciate your input/feedback!

First, though, I need to list hardware, to demonstrate the interplay of hardware and software. Also, I won't network my machines, as I'm the sole operator of them all. As of this writing, I have 22 machines, going all the way back to 286 (still working). The DOS machines are many, so I'll leave them out. Of the Windows machines, two are XP Home, three are XP Pro, one Vista Business, one Windows 7 Pro, five are Win98. All are 32-bit OS, but three machines are 64-bit architecture: two Core 2 Duo, one Quad-core Intel Xeon. One XP Pro and the later machines' processors clock near or above, 3 GHz. The Win98's are kitted out with zip drives, CD but not RW. All Windows machines can read and write to zip, so I have some external zip drives, too. The 486's (DOS) can also read/write zip, so I use zip for interaction. The Win98 machines also have floppy drives, as does at least one of my XP+ machines. I have external 5.25" and 3.5" floppy drives which hook through parallel ports; the Windows machines can read and write to them. I have SuperDisk and Imation, which all my machines except the 286's, can read. USB ports are on all the Windows machines, so obviously all the external hard drives, work on them.

Now to Usage, Point 1: Keeping Up With The Times. Since Windows is becoming more and more tyrannical, I must migrate to Linux. At the same time, I have to keep some Windows functionality current, for the same reason as the XP was purchased for internetting, etc. So the Vista Optiplex which I just bought at Dell auction yesterday for $286, will be upgraded to Win 8. The Win7 Pro Optiplex, which I just bought at Dell auction today for $225, will stay as is. Neither machine will ever have client or personal data, not even email. They will eventually be configured to dual-boot with Linux (which in the case of Win8, has to be done before installing Win8 the first time, to its own partition). Anything sensitive will be on an external drive. Because, refresh, reset, restore with Windows, doesn't work well. So never mix your data and your programs on the same drive, and ideally never on an internal drive, for that's more hassle to fix. Easier to back up/clone one external drive to another. More secure, too; for you can just unplug the drive, when internetting. Or, when moving from one computer to the next.

Ergo Usage, Point 2: Cloning/Backup. That's a vital but time-consuming process, yet it can be automated. So if you keep your sensitive stuff externally, you can back it up onto some OTHER computer, or onto some other external drive VIA that computer (using the computer to clone/backup externaldrive1 to externaldrive2). This process does not require, state-of-the-art hardware and software. So, your 'main' machine for internetting, etc., remains mostly free. Here, the problem of backup for DOS machines, means you do one big backup, then transmute the format (i.e., from zip to external hard drive). After that, you copy files ad hoc as you create or modify them, and then transfer them to whatever folder you're using for the big backup. IMPORTANT: since older machines no longer receive updates, they don't crash and they don't change much. So only if you made a lot of program changes/installations post-backup, would you need to do another big backup using zip disks or Imation, etc. if you can't directly copy/back up to an external drive. (I use Retrospect 6.5 for my pre-XP machines, though it works in XP, as well. But I use Macrium Reflect 5 Pro for XP through Win8.)

Ergo Usage, Point 3: Maintaining Backwards-Compatibility. People not sufficiently familiar with Windows will claim backwards-compatibility based on their ignorance. For example, many claim that XP Mode in Windows 64-bit does everything XP does, or nearly. Not so. The 64-bit drivers to run it, seriously limit XP emulation. Older software makes more calls to hardware, and if that hardware can't emulate the old hardware the software is expecting, the program 'inside' the XP Mode won't work, won't work well, or won't work predictably. So programs you still need to use to read and write your old stuff, might not function. Glitches vary by machine, not merely by category, i.e., some DOS programs might work, but others won't. Some will work on one type of hardware configuration, but not on another one, even though Windows in XP Mode, is the same program. Lots of factors make for different results per machine, per user; worse still, some parts of that program might SEEM to work one day on the machine, but the next day, won't work. It's a nightmare. Alternatives to XP mode are several, and each has the same quirks: for 64-bit computing is still not mature, and not wholly standardized. So the safest bet is just to keep the old machine with its old programs intact.

Ergo Usage, Point 4: Maintaining Procedural Efficiency. The added bonus here, is that you don't ONLY have to use the latest-and-worst technology to keep doing what you're able to do well, prior. Instead, you keep on using your old machines as before, reserving the new machines, for what they do better. The added hassle of going to different machines is offset by the fact you don't have to IMMEDIATELY learn entirely new procedures imposed on you by the new OS or software. Moreover, you've essentially dedicated machine usage, without having to install, reinstall, etc. Additionally, you have a kind of innate backup, as the machine you're used to using, still has all the same structures, backup automation, etc., and you can easily put it all on a hard drive and connect, when you're finally ready to use the old stuff ON the new machine. So you avoid all that hassle with the overrated and always-dysfunctional Windows Transfer: whether using Windows' own methods or some third-party software, the dang thing only works on Sunday when the Moon is under Virgo or some other arcane circumstance that never applies when YOU transfer.

Thus you have incremental deployment of the new, which is not disruptive. There are distinct added benefits, too. Once MS stops supporting an OS or its Office products, its stuff becomes stable. The updates never properly coordinated with what you had; drivers or whatever added updates you need to 'fit', come out later or are otherwise problematic. BSODs diminish, therefore, when the updates cease. (I've not had a BSOD on any pre-XP machine, since the updates stopped. Same, for the XP machines I don't update.) Another benefit applies to peripherals. Not only will outdated peripherals still function with their tandem machines, but time-consuming things they do, are now dedicated: scanning, printing, backing up, searching. Thirdly, if your 'main' machine has to be repaired, you've others to keep getting the job done. Fourth: deemed obsolescence is not functional obsolescence. So the older stuff is suddenly cheaper, yet just as useful as before. This phenomenon applies to software, peripherals, computers. At very worst, you can still use older computers to store files, play games, organize personal stuff, watch videos or play music.

In short, since there is a general trend for new software to delete useful features in the old -- not only MS is guilty here -- efficiency means preserving the old stuff. After all, to the young, it's more efficient to go online to order a pizza, than to pick up the telephone. So efficiency relates to what is easier for YOU, not what some distant 'god' in Redmond or the Silicon Valley, claims is better. One size never fits all. So an OS by nature, needs a wardrobe of sizes, and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, more than one style of wearing the same types of clothes: which the USER, not the 'god', determines.

These latter two Points could have been addressed by Microsoft and it could have made a LOT more money than it will, had MS just incorporated their existing code -- for Windows has always been a hybridized OS -- into Windows 7 and 8. If, they had not insisted on childish changes to the interface, or at least allowed the user to keep the 'old' interface, as they had always done, since Windows XP (which lets you use 'classic' desktop, for example). MS has always flunked backup software, and always flunked Keeping Up with the Times, but it could have remedied those first two points, as well. If it had, we the business community would be happy to pay a lot more for the OS each time, and would jump on the upgrades, as soon as they came out. But we've been burned by what MS had DISABLED, that worked prior. So we're leery.

Meanwhile, the show must go on. I use my DOS machines still, and XP enables DOS window, so anything I must do on the XP but in DOS, I can do. Still need to test Vista and Win7, to know how much worse they are, for my own machines. Still need to test 64-bit problems, and of course Win8. But with this modular method of only changing ONE machine to the 'latest' at a time, the path of deployment is not disruptive. For again, what works on Joe's Win7 or 8 won't necessarily work on yours, even if the same program. Especially, if it's an MS program.

Small business can afford to do it this way. Once you have more than five employees, it becomes much harder, but then a network becomes necessary. If the network is managed well, it will be configured to handle a wider variety of machines. If configured poorly, it can't even handle machines less than three years prior to its current status. So that's a hidden Point 5. Which I can't address, as I don't know and don't need to learn, networks. So maybe you want to contribute point 5?

There are many other uses for older machines: this was a strategic introduction. Hopefully more specific deployments will be contributed by readers, below. I'll try to add stuff as it seems relevant, too.
Willfully Insane Now Dangerous Or Wildly Stupid. :)
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#2 User is offline   Szczecinianin 

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 02:58 AM

I tell you what I used my really old PC, 200 MHz MMX CPU, bought in 1997 for. This was mainly internet , word processing with Word 2000, coding with Notepad++ and the charging of my MP4 as it had USB 1.0/1.1. It was old enough to have ISA bus, its 2,38 GB of HD space didn't quite allow efficient backing up and I  had to say goodbye to it which I eventually did. The point is that you can't use your old PCs forever as with time i.a. hardware gets broken and the new one refuses to work with them and they have to go. Software, too, evolves and some of its features are  not available for old OSs or you have too little RAM to use them and so on. As we say, you didn't discover America with your post.      

This post has been edited by Szczecinianin: 06 November 2012 - 03:13 AM

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