e upgraded an ancient Dell laptop (333 MHz Pentium, 256MB RAM, 4.7 GB disk) from its original Windows 98 to Xubuntu 8.04 in May 2009. (Resurrect old hardware with Linux) It worked well, for such a wimpy piece of hardware. It was destined for use by a lady who’s over 80 years old and non-technical. Initial reports were positive.
This weekend I learned that she has replaced this feeble laptop with a new Apple iPad 2. Seems like a smart move to me.
A new smartphone app highlights societal and environmental impact of smartphones.
Phone Story, an unusual app that was added and then almost immediately deleted from Apple’s App Store today, attempts, in the form of a game, to educate smartphone users about the environmental and societal impacts of their high-tech toys and their planned obsolescence.
Apple uses Foxconn, a very large and controversial China-based consumer electronics assembler, to assemble its iPhone and other Apple products. Foxconn has been accused of near- slave labor practices. Worker suicides are so frequent that the company erected nets around its worker dormitories to arrest suicidal jumping workers. In March, the article Apple’s Foxconn Predicament by Justin Rohrlich described other serious problems with Foxconn.
“You were looking for something that could signal your status, your dynamic lifestyle, your unique personality. Just like everyone else.”
Fritz Lang, in his 1926 silent film masterpiece Metropolis, had his vision of the future almost right. We do have the idle yuppies frittering away their time in garden spots, and we do have the masses of subjugated workers, but the workers aren’t underground (yet), and they’re not shoveling coal. They’re in China, assembling our toys.
Phone Story also illuminates raw materials mining and toxic waste disposal problems that are caused by mass fabrication of consumer electronic gadgets.
In the hilarious 1979 movie The In-Laws, Peter Falk’s character, absent-mindedly watching The Price Is Right TV game show, asks, “Do you mean that they do this just so that they can win all that crap?” I share his amazement.
The New York Times has reported that as a result of a North Carolina lawsuit, Dell Computer revealed that it hid a serious problem with faulty components and replaced faulty components with known faulty components. The components were capacitors — used to filter AC ripple and noise from DC (Direct Current) supply lines on motherboards. This was an industry-wide problem when a capacitor manufacturer produced millions of faulty capacitors throughout the early 2000’s. I wrote about it in 2008, when I was asked to repair a failed PC. (The computer wouldn’t boot — no display at all. Examination revealed bulging capacitors. I replaced the bad caps with capacitors that I bought from Radio Shack: physically, they were a sloppy fit, but they worked electrically and got the customer back on line by day’s end.) Bad capacitors were a problem with many motherboards — but the capacitors would look and function fine when new; they’d start to bulge, leak, and fail only after months or years.
I can see how these bad capacitors slipped by traditional quality control source inspection and incoming inspection: I’m sure that they passed physical inspection and electrical tests . . . when they were new. I can’t fault Dell for installing the faulty capacitors in new product. I do fault Dell for replacing bad capacitors with known bad capacitors. This strikes me as a cynical business decision:
“This failed motherboard is already xx months old . . . it’s likely to be scrapped before the replacement capacitors fail, so let’s just replace them with more bad capacitors (which we should have scrapped). Most of our customers will never know the difference, since they’ll probably scrap their computer before these capacitors fail.”
Say goodbye to virus, malware, and license problems.
A customer came to me with a low-mileage 1999 vintage laptop which she wished to use for occasional web browsing. (specs: Dell Inspiron 3500. 333 MHz CPU, 64 MB Ram, 4.7 GB disk. Every spec was about one-tenth of today’s PCs!). It was running Windows 98 Second Edition. Microsoft stopped providing Windows 98 updates years ago, and Windows 98 is now very vulnerable to attack. Worse, today’s anti-virus and anti-spyware programs won’t run on it. Shouldn’t she just scrap the laptop?
A very limited resource laptop, but Xubuntu runs fine
Since the laptop was in like-new condition, we decided to extend its life by injecting some 21st century blood into it. We topped up its memory slots with the maximum RAM (a mere 256 MB!) and replaced Windows 98 with Xubuntu 8.10. It’s not Microsoft Windows, but to a user it appears similar, and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics / photo editor, and Mozilla Firefox web browser. I’ve not been able to get its onboard soundcard to work, but everything else works.
There are three big upsides to any Linux-based desktop operating system when compared to MS Windows:
It frees the user from constantly worrying about Windows Updates to patch vulnerabilties
No anti-virus or anti-spyware programs are needed (Yay! )
There are no Windows licensing headaches.
A potential downside is that Windows applications won’t run on Linux without the assistance of either Wine or running a copy of Windows XP within a virtual machine.
If you have a tired desktop or laptop PC — especially one without a legitimate Windows license — consider breathing new life into it with some form of Linux. Most are available for free, such as http://www.xubuntu.org/ I tried Damn Small Linux (too minimal for this case), Puppy Linux (it was okay, but just barely), and Xubuntu 8.04, 8.10, and 9.04. Xubuntu 9.04 added some features but did something to slow response to user inputs. I settled on Xubuntu 8.10. (Xubuntu imposes a lighter load on the hardware than Ubuntu because it has a leaner desktop.)
Try it before you install it
You can first just boot with the Xubuntu (or Ubuntu) Live CD, to see whether it’s acceptable and runs okay on your hardware. (Of course it’ll be slow when booting off the CD-ROM drive.) If so, you can install it on your hard drive from the same CD-ROM.
Oh — one caveat: Xubuntu and its siblings may not install without problems on all hardware. I’m now fighting to get it to install on a 1.1 GHz AMD Athlon desktop PC — I have no idea why it won’t install on this system, yet it installed with almost no problems on the old laptop. Let me know of your Linux adventures, please.
Dell announced an expansion of their recycling program yesterday. They’ve partnered with Goodwill Industries (but apparently not yet in Florida), and expanded other aspects of their recycling effort. Read their announcement here.
Here’s one quote from the announcement: “In November 2008, Dell and Staples made history by announcing a free in-store recycling program for Dell’s customers. Customers can responsibly recycle any amount of Dell branded computers, printers, monitors or peripheral items for free at Staples’ 1,500 U.S. store locations, without having to make a purchase.”
Please let us know if you try to dispose of Dell equipment at a Staples store.
It’s good to see Dell behave responsibly. Disposal of electronic scrap is a serious environmental and health problem.
Court Rules that Dell Engaged in Fraud, False Advertising, and Deceptive Business Practices. Companies to Pay Restitution and Forfeit Unlawfully Earned Profits.
Justice Joseph C. Teresi said in his decision, “Dell has engaged in repeated misleading, deceptive and unlawful business conduct, including false and deceptive advertising of financing promotions and the terms of warranties, fraudulent, misleading and deceptive practices in credit financing and failure to provide warranty service and rebates.”
If you’ve dealt with Dell’s consumer support or consumer financing divisions, this court ruling won’t be a surprise. The surprise is that Dell got away with these practices for so long. Dell’s corporate accounts division, by the way, offers good support if you are a Large Corporate Account. The poor individual, though, has received terrible support. Click to read lawsuit details.