Friday, 19 August 2011

What's in your cupboard?

I've been doing some clearing out. I realised that over the years since we moved to ATSF Towers, and to some extent even before that, I have accumulated a lot of obsolete bits and pieces.

It started with an old Mac that I was keeping around as an emergency backup. Well, the power supply failed and so it had to go in the electronics skip at the local dump. No graceful retirement in central Africa for that old dear ... just crash and smash!

I realised that I actually had at least a whole shelf of software that would only run under older versions of the Mac OS (that is before OS X) and that even where I was into a long upgrade cycle (such as with Photoshop) I didn't need to keep all the old versions. It included boxes of software that installed from floppy discs for goodness sake! I was embarrassed by how long I'd kept this stuff hidden on a shelf and not even looked at it. (At least I'd thrown away my original copy of Netscape Navigator, which I paid for and which came in a box.) There were even a few old Windows things that wouldn't run under Vista they were so old, so this isn't just a Mac thing. The irony there is that an old DOS CD-ROM still works perfectly in my virtual PC ... so that can stay.

With the departing Mac went a SCSI card, although I had copied over what I needed from the remaining SCSI discs (huge capacities of one and four gigabytes) and security-wiped them before they too crashed into recycle limbo. I decided to 'Freecycle' my Jaz, DAT and DVD-RAM drives, and someone actually wanted them.

Why do we end up with obsolete software and hardware? Sometimes it's because it seems like a good idea at the time: the DVD-RAM drive was for backup and archiving but it turned out to be far too slow and then DVDs came down in price instead. I don't think anything I had backed up onto DAT tapes (and even some Exabytes) would run now so I don't regret binning those. Sometimes even the systems you made them for vanish (CD-I anyone?) and, of course, operating systems change over time.

Apple's move over to the Lion version of their OS is causing some grief, particularly because they have decided to drop support for programs that do not run directly on their current Intel processors (see this BBC story). Oddly, Apple did not give people any real notice of this and for most people the way they find out is a dialogue box saying that their application won't run. IMHO this intention should have been flagged with the launch of the previous version of the OS. Discussions on the excellent Mac-In-Touch web site have covered this problem in depth, even suggesting that there may be a way around it. It's unfortunate that a very cheap OS upgrade is likely to lead to a substantially larger bill for updating applications. Personally, I'm putting it off for the time being and whatever happens I'll be keeping an older OS version available for 'special occasions'.

But back to downsizing ...

It seems easier at the moment. DVDs for archiving (in duplicate and reburned every few years) and even hard discs since they are so cheap. The Mac backup system called Time Machine regularly backs me up to a separate internal disc (which is due for an upgrade) and even lets me dig back to previous versions if I really mess something up. Projects for the web using open source systems like PHP and MySQL don't require boxes of software, just the occasional O'Reilly book to help understand them. Even Word, Powerpoint and Excel are currently replaced by a version of Open Office. It just leaves dear old Photoshop and Dreamweaver among the regulars and even their boxes have got smaller.

So look under your desk, open those cupboards at the back of the room. What can you chuck out or recycle now? I just shout 'millstone' every time something goes out. It's a good feeling as long as I don't think about the money it cost at the time.

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