Although I surprised myself over the last year or so by taking to Windows, I’m never without at least one machine running Ubuntu Linux – including my oldest laptop, which up until today was running 12.04, the last long term support release from Ubuntu.
(If you don’t know what Linux is, take a break and read up on it here.)
This machine, a 2005 Dell Inspiron 6000, is old and wasn’t much to start with – a 1.5 GHz Celeron processor and low end graphics. I upgraded the memory and hard drive over the years, had the hinges repaired a couple of times, bought batteries every couple of years. I think I paid around $450 for the machine refurb’ed from Dell, and probably put another $100 in parts into it, plus another hundred in repairs. Call it $650 all told.
You can argue that repairing the laptop once it was six or seven years old was not a good investment, but from my point of view it was incremental money, no more than $50 or so at a time. It didn’t feel like I was spending a lot.
Of course, Ubuntu was the reason why it made sense to me to keep the laptop going. The economics of owning a computer change once you’re not paying for the software – look at older used laptops on ebay and note the price differential between identical units with and without legitimate Windows software installed. The price of the software can easily equal that of the computer. At a minimum, upgrading the Inspiron from XP to Vista to Windows 7 to 8 would have cost me $250 (I’m doing this from memory but I think the pricing would have been $99 + $99 +$49, assuming I stayed with the home version). And that’s assuming the Inspiron would have run the later versions of Windows adequately, which is unlikely.
Ubuntu changed all that; it’s free, and the Inspiron has run long term support releases since 10.04. (Formally, “long term support” refers to how long the company backing Ubuntu, Canonical, will provide support; in this case, six years. Informally, long term support releases have a reputation for being the most stable, bullet-proof releases of Ubuntu – I can vouch for that.) From the start, Ubuntu was lighter in its resource demands than Windows, and the folks behind Ubuntu have been careful to not let it grow bloated. 14.04, the new long term support release I upgraded to today, runs just as fast as 12.04 did.
What can’t Ubuntu do? Well, no iTunes, nor Word (though LibreOffice, the free office suite in Ubuntu does a fine job with most Word documents) and a lot of high end productivity tools aren’t available for Ubuntu – no Adobe Creative Suite, for instance.
That still leaves about 98 percent of what you need in a desktop or laptop computer – and there are workarounds for those things you don’t have direct access to. For instance, there’s the aforementioned LibreOffice and a number of programs that can play your iTunes (aac) files.
Most of all, as the computer gets older my relationship with it changes. I now have something that’s hard to have with electronics these days; I’m invested in the damn thing, which means that as long as it can do useful work for me – and I see no reason for that to change any time soon – I have no reason to recycle it, which is probably good for both the planet (repair is better than recycling) and my wallet, which requires no further explanation. With the new Long Term Support release, the software is good to go until 2020, and the computer really can’t get much more obsolete. Barring some catastrophe, the Inspiron could see 15.