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Old computers seldom die; they just get passed on.

Upgrading or giving away your old computer

My general rule of thumb: if both of the following statements are true, you should consider an upgrade.

When you give away your machine, be legal about the software — check your licensing agreements. If you have been using sensitive material, erase it and then optimize your drive or even reformat it with a read-write check or surface test. There are utility programs which will blank things out thoroughly without reformatting the disk: Norton, PC-tools etc.

If you don’t have a ready recipient for your old computer you can sell it or give it to a 501c charity and take the tax write off. If you don’t have a charity in mind, call the Computer Bank Charity at 206-365-4657; they even take working parts. Selling old equipment through the want ads, NW Computer Exchange or RE-PC and the like isn’t usually going to net you much. After all, a brand new 133mHz Pentium with 16 mb RAM, keyboard, monitor, Windows 95 and a 3 year warranty is only $729.

Getting an old computer

How do you know if you need a new machine or if the one your brother is offering you will do? Note that we are talking gift not purchase. Computers depreciate faster than cars. A complete new Pentium system is priced under $800 so used equipment of previous vintages shouldn’t cost even half that for a DOS or Windows Machine. Apple Macs hold their value slightly better.

First make a list of everything you might want to do with a computer in the next three years. Software, hardware and people change often enough that three years seems to be the average “contentment” with a computer.

Also consider whether you have anyone around to answer your questions. Having software and equipment with which your advisor is familiar makes things easier. If you need to exchange files with anyone you need to be running software compatible with theirs. Some equipment won’t run some software: check the software documentation carefully or even call the company’s “pre-sales” line rather than tech support.

Think about what printed output you need. To work with a printer, the software must have a “driver” — a program enabling the two to talk to each other. Older software for DOS, Windows 3.1 or Mac system 6 may not have a driver to print to newer printers. You may be able to save your file in a compatible format and take it to a service bureau like Kinko’s or Lazerquick for output but sometimes your fonts or formatting will change in the process.

In most cases it is not legal for someone to give you their old software while they continue to use the newer version. Some of Microsoft’s programs are an exception: check the license agreement or call the company. You can buy older software from Half Price Books and Software (see phone book for the nearest branch). Support for older software may be difficult to find: it isn’t profitable to teach organized classes and market books about older programs (I do training for older software as custom classes). Even the phone support people at the company are not generally trained in the older versions.

The following software runs on the listed machines and seems easier than others for most people to learn and use.

For a 286: operating system: DOS 3.3, 5 or 6.22 Word processors: Microsoft Works (ver. 2-4) for DOS Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS, PCWrite (shareware) Adding a mouse will speed your work. If it has an older modem and software you can do limited Internet stuff — contact Seattle Community Network.

For a 386: operating system: DOS 6.22 Windows 3.11 (with 4 MB RAM or more) Microsoft Works, Wordperfect 5.1 for Dos, Word for Windows 2 , Windows is needed for graphical Internet browsers like Netscape Navigator.

For a 486: Windows 3.1; Windows 95 will be faster than 3.1 but only if you have 8 MB RAM and a large hard drive Microsoft Works for Windows (v. 2-4) Word for Windows 6 or 7

For a Mac 512k: They make nice fish tanks. If it works and prints, try it but don’t spend money on the project.

For a Mac SE, SE 30, LC, II, IIcx, IIci, Classic etc. : system 6.x, Microsoft Word 4 or 5.1, Microsoft Works 3 or Claris Works 3, try Mosaic as an Internet browser

For a Mac Centris or Quadra: These are quite powerful systems if you go one version back on fancy software like PageMaker or Photoshop. system 7.1 to 7.5, Microsoft Word 5.1, Microsoft Works 4 or Claris Works 4, Netscape Navigator as a browser

Give us a call at 206-523-0872 if you have further questions.

copyright 1997 Karen Seymour

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