In the past, I have used my December column to dictate my “wish list” of cool Mac-related things I wish I could afford. This year, I’ve decided to keep with a holiday-related theme, but instead focus on the real spirit of Christmas: giving.
This has been said before by people that are far more important and more eloquent than I am, but nevertheless I’d like to take this opportunity to endorse what is often an overlooked possible use for an old Macintosh: donating it to an organization who can use it.
I had heard this mantra before, but it has just been in the past few months that I have been able to witness its effectiveness. Longtime readers of My Mac may recall that I have used three different Macs in my life: my family’s first ever personal computer, a 68020-class machine; my family’s replacement for that computer, which had a 68LC040 in its guts; and my current Mac, the first computer I have ever personally owned, a PowerPC-based laptop. You may also remember that last year, when I was a freshman in college, I dug that old ‘020 out of a dark closet and took it to school with me. Although it did word processing, email, and very basic web surfing capably (and, at times, admirably), I found myself wanting (and, in some cases, since I am a computer science major, needing) more power. So, I bought myself my beloved PowerBook, and left that old machine at home this past fall.
However, that seven-and-a-half-year-old Mac wasn’t destined for the back of the closet again. My father, who is a mathematics and computer teacher in a small high school, thought that the old thing would make a perfect addition to his school district. Unlike many schools across the country, this school has ample computer facilities: the computer labs are outfitted with fairly speedy 603-based all-in-one Macs that have direct Internet connections and are all connected via Ethernet. Additionally, a carload of eMates are available for in-classroom use.
The one drawback to the school’s computer facilities is that some of the teachers, my dad being one, do not have a private computer for their own use. It is rather obvious that there must be a degree of privacy involved when teachers use the computers in the lab, especially with things such as grade keeping and faculty-specific email messages. This has always been accomplished by using a security program with separate passwords for student and faculty use. But this could sometimes be a pain: the teachers had to wait to use a computer until one became available that was away from the eyes of curious students, some obnoxious student always seemed able to crack the faculty password or get a teacher to leak it, and the teachers never had a continuous connection to the school’s email system.
My old ‘020 Mac was perfect for filling this niche. It now sits in the school’s computer lab, apart from all of the other Macs that are available for student use. Teachers can use it in privacy, without worrying about the prying eyes of students. It is always connected to the school’s LAN, so any faculty email that gets sent is available to be read immediately. And for grade keeping purposes, it handles basic spreadsheets quite nicely. Of course, if a teacher ever needs to something a little more complicated, they can still choose to log on to any of the other, more powerful computers in the lab, but for what its intended use is, the old Wallinga family Mac is a perfect fit.
It is quite impressive to note that my old Mac could still be useful in a setting such as that one, where the computer facilities are, for the most part, outstanding. Many schools can’t boast such an impressive computer setup, and to them, an old 68020 or 68030 Mac might be a nice addition to a needy computer lab. A donated 68040 with a double-speed CD-ROM drive and 8-16 megs of RAM could suddenly become a school’s primary computer for accessing the Internet or using reference and edutainment CD-ROM titles. The chances are that a school will be able to find an old computer useful in some way, no matter what their existing setup is.
Also, we shouldn’t forget other possible recipients when we decide to donate a computer that we have replaced or is no longer useful to us. A local church could probably use an old computer to type up a newsletter or worship liturgy–I know my home church still accomplishes these tasks using an old typewriter. Other nonprofit organizations and charities might find a computer useful for basic record keeping and announcement printing.
One final benefit of donating a seldom-used or outdated Mac is that it is great PR for Apple. Consider some of the tasks that I have just mentioned: could an old 386-based PC do these jobs half as well? Many of those PCs can’t even run Windows! Thanks to the availability of older system software (such as 6.0.7 and 7.0, both of which are freely downloadable from Apple’s ftp sites) and wonderful applications such as ClarisWorks, even older Macs can allow people to get things done faster and easier than a PC. When the beneficiaries of your donation realize how much they can get done with an old Mac, there’s a good chance that they’ll choose to get a new Mac when they are ready and able to purchase a new, more powerful computer.
Oh, and of course, any computer donation that you make to a nonprofit organization is tax-deductable, so if that old Performa is just gathering dust, you could save some money by getting rid of it!!!
So, if you have an old Mac that you don’t use any more, or that is so seldom-used that you could easily part with it, consider getting into the spirit of giving this Christmas. It could be a very smart choice for everyone involved.
BONUS: Wall Writings gets into the spirit of giving, too!!!
With some of the problems that have been discovered in updating to Mac OS 8.5, a good backup of your important data has never been more crucial. Some people, and most large companies, use devices such as CD-R burners and DAT tape drives to back up gigabyte after gigabyte of info. But you can also back up using external hard drives, removable devices (such as Zip or Jaz drives), or even (shudder!) floppy disks. Plus, maybe you don’t have gigabytes of data you need to protect. In that case, an effective and less expensive backup solution is to use Retrospect Express from Dantz. It’s tailored to fit the needs of the average user, and is optimized to use removable cartridges for backups.
Before this sounds too much like a commercial, I’ll cut to the chase: I’m announcing the first-ever Wall Writings contest!!! You’ll notice that when I described the three Macs that I have used in my life in this month’s column, I discreetly left out what models they were. This information can be gleaned from back issues of My Mac. So, the first reader to write in and give me the proper models (both name and number, such as PowerBook 520c, Quadra 650, etc.) of all three of my Macs wins a copy of Retrospect Express. Simple, eh?