$0 to recycle millions of computers, protect environments and bring Internet to America's poor

Whenever we “retire” an old computer, I immediately think, “Great! I can throw Linux on that!” Compared with Windows, Linux consumes far less memory and disk space to accomplish equivalent tasks.

But I hadn’t realized WHY Windows is so crappy. The more resource-wasting, user-unfriendly, and bug-infested Windows is, the more profit Microsoft and its hardware friends earn! This article cites many examples, including:

The Registry and product activation technologies lock a Windows install to a particular computer, and further, to the specific hardware configuration of that computer when the OS is installed. This restricts in-place hardware upgrades. It also ensures you can not move a Windows boot drive and still use the product. These artificial constraints limit product flexibility and lifespan to drive sales. In contrast, Linux allows in-place hardware upgrades without constraint. You can move a boot drive to either drive position on the install computer or a different computer and still boot the system….

Many PC’s today ship without an operating system CD. Instead they have a hidden disk partition with a backup image of the operating system or a recovery CD. I don’t know whether this “innovation” is due to Microsoft’s efforts or that of many major computer manufacturers. What I do know is that this limits the lifespan of the computer to the lifespan of its most vulnerable hardware component, the hard disk. Disk failure forces the user to buy a new retail copy of Windows, which probably costs more than the computer is worth at the time of the failure….

Windows' famous vulnerability to malware presents an insurmountable problem when it comes to keeping mature machines in service. Microsoft has terminated updates for many Windows XP and earlier systems. This effectively kills those computers because Windows requires security fixes. Moreover, the anti-malware overhead required to protect Windows computers compromises performance on processors operating at less than about a gigahertz.

As a software firm, Microsoft is pretty lousy. But as a profit-maximizing business, I marvel at its ability to squeeze every dollar out of its customers and keep so many of them hooked for decades.

The author notes that installing Linux — at no cost — on millions of dead Windows machines could create millions of excellent devices for Web surfing, social networking, email, etc.:

Linux is not only green in that it saves money, it’s also environmentally green. Open source software extends the useful life of computers and reduces e-waste. It provides a crucial alternative to Microsoft’s planned obsolescence business model. Linux enables mature computers to support education and computer access for those who need it when coupled with a good reuse model like that of Free Geek.

At zero cost, we could extend the useful lives of tens of millions of computers, spare China and Africa mountains of deadly toxins, and spread the Internet to the 25% of Americans who don’t own computers! It’s a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win! It’s such a great idea I don’t know why government isn’t encouraging this with tax breaks for computer donations to refurbishers. Ha! Only joking! Government’s not doing this because Microsoft and Apple and Dell and Intel want to sell more computers and chips and expensive operating systems. Washington, DC cares only about corporate profit, not protecting other countries' environments from our crap or the ability of America’s poor to access information. Capitalism rules.

Posted by James on Thursday, July 08, 2010