Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Other things an old imac showed me

Since my first reboot since 2009 of various of my stable of old machines I've been prgressively powering them up and playing with them,

Of the intel based ATX pc's one has a dodgy disk and the other - the old self built $83 machine complains about dodgy RAM and doesn't have quite enough to install a recent version of Ubuntu, and while one can run old versions of the operating system they are singularly useless - since 2008/9 we've all become more dependent on browser based applications and old browsers simply don't cope with modern sites such as google docs.

Both are, I fear, destined for the great network in the sky. That left the two crt based imacs. The older of them is limited to 192 MB memory and not sensibly upgradeable - so while it works it's come to the end of the road.

The newer one though had some promise of being upgradable to a more recent operating system.

PowerPC distributions of ubuntu are now very much a minority sport. While they are out there most of them have various problems - for example Xubuntu doesn't actually fit on a cd, which is a problem when you're trying to install it on a non-USB boot cd only machine.

I finally settled on Lubuntu 12.04 - lightweight and the distribution fitted on a cd. Installing it on the old iMac was fairly straight forward - the main problem was that the cd drive was sticky and it took a couple of go's until the mac could mount and install from it.

Other than that installation just worked - except it installed in text only mode - no window manager and almost certainly due to there not being enough RAM in the machine.

Well I'm scrapping the old ATX Pc's and pulling the memory from the one with a dodgy disk might be a solution, or if I really want to get the machine working, ebay provides a solution for the cost of couple of beers.

However, while dealing with sticky drives and old machines was fun, what it showed me was important.

I've always been an advocate of using Linux to extend the life of old hardware, and I've used these older machines to do some fairly reasonable work in my time. However what we need to recognise is that there are limits - as the average specs of five year old machines improve - and if we're using linux to extend the life of old machines that's probably the age we're going for as parts and spares are probably still obtainable - linux distributions will tend to reflect this and be targeted - whether consciously on unconsciously on that spec (1 or 2GB RAM, reasonable cpu,  say 80GB HDD).

Older machines may work - as I showed with a 12yr old PPC imac, but they will be limited simply because modern kernels and window managers simply expect more.

So when planning to reuse old machines you need to (a) test them with your preferred environment (b) ensure that the operating system chosen will be supported for a reasonable period of time, say something like the two years  you would expect with a LTS version of Ubuntu, and (c) plan your migration/exit strategy - the thing about re using old hardware is that it will fail and it will become unsupported ...

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