Windows

Can you still be productive with old technology?

Do you always have to have the latest hardware and software to be productive? I don't think so. Here's why I don't think so and what I plan to do to prove it.

Do you always have to have the latest hardware and software to be productive? I don't think so. Here's why I don't think so and what I plan to do to prove it. 

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A guy down at the end of our street has an old Ford Model T. Every once in a while when the weather's nice, you'll see him running up and down the side roads in it. Even more rarely, he'll be out on the main highway with it. However, I doubt he's suicidal enough to dare to take it out on the interstate.

The analogy between automobiles and computers is beyond cliched, but at the same time it's very apt here. I talk all the time about old equipment in Classics Rock and you get to see the insides and outs of them in our Dinosaur Sightings and Cracking Open photo galleries.  The question is, can you really do any work with old equipment?  Just as you wouldn't dare drive a Model T out on the interstate, would you also not dare to try to do day to day work with something equally antiquated like a Tandy 1000?

Why would you want to in the first place?

Admittedly, there's no reason to even consider ripping out new equipment and replacing it with 15 or 20 year old PCs. No matter how bad the economy is, there's always enough money in the budget to keep current equipment running. So why even conceive of such an exercise as trying to do real work with an old computer?

One main reason is to reinforce the concept that you don't always have to have the latest and greatest thing in order to be productive. The vast majority of users don't use but a fraction of the features found in most modern applications such as Microsoft Office. This is one of the reasons why stripped down applications like Google Docs are getting attention.

Also, consider the fact that for most users whether you give them a computer with a quad-core processor or an old Pentium, most of the time the CPU will be sitting idle waiting for the next keystroke. Hardware isn't as much a factor in productivity as it used to be. Things have gotten so fast that in Windows XP at least you often can't tell that great of a difference between say a 2.8Ghz P4 with sufficient RAM and an equally configured dual-core machine.

What it takes to be productive in the 21st Century

As IT professionals, ideally we're in business to make sure that our end users get their jobs done more efficiently. That means we need to be able to cover all of the bases when it comes to the basic needs of the end user.

At the dawn of the PC era, many of the functions that we take for granted today like full motion video, email and IM were either in their infancy or didn't exist. Computers did simple things like replace typewriters with word processing and calculators with spreadsheets. Today, PCs are complete communication tools and users do multiple things at the same time.

The bare bone minimum things a computer has to do today include:

  • Email
  • Word Processing
  • Spreadsheets
  • Databases
  • Web surfing
  • Audio/video playback
  • IM

That means you can rule out any of the 8 bit machines of the first microcomputer era. Apple IIs and TRS-80's might be able to do a few of the things on the list, but they're too antiquated to do much more than be tasked with simple single things. Even if you move into the early 16-bit PC era, anything DOS based is also pretty much useless today. Again, you might be able to use it to do half the things on the list, but that's about it.

That pretty much rules out all machines made before 1992 when Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1. Yes, Microsoft first introduced Windows 3.0 in 1990 which could push the date back 2 years.  And Yes, businesses ran quite well for 15 years that preceded it on old DOS and 8-bit machines.

With the first objection, Windows 3.0 was so bad that it made Vista look like Perfection. It was extremely buggy and only the truly masochistic would want to try to run it on a daily basis.

As for software and machines between 1977 and 1992, the problem is that work changed radically after Windows 3.1that user expectations are completely different. Users access multiple data formats with different applications running simultaneously. Add to the fact that there is no practical software in some cases for DOS, Apple IIs or TRS-80's that fit the minimum standards. Sure you can get a DOS web browser, but being a single tasking OS, even with the help of something like Desqview, it would be torture to get anything done on a DOS machine today.

Making your bed and lying in it

Over the course of the next couple of weeks and months I'm going to try to configure up some older equipment with some old software and see if I can actually do anything with it. I'm planning to start with Windows For Workgroups 1.1 along with Office 4.2 and go from there to OS/2, Windows 95 and Windows 98.  I don't think there's any reason to try out Windows 2000 Professional because I've argued before that I think it was probably the best OS Microsoft made and is still useful.

If you have any suggestions about what to try, let me know in comments, and I'll post the results of my experiments as time goes by.

13 comments
genghis7777
genghis7777

As a challenge, I reckon you should try getting a DOS PC to be productive. Here are a few software candidates for you to try. Most are all available as free downloads from the net: Email: Pegasus or Arachne Word Processing: MS Word v5.5 Spreadsheets: Lotus 123 or Quattro Databases: Lotus Symphony; Paradox Web surfing: Arachne Audio/video playback: Quickview IM: DOSMICQ I'd add one application to your list: PDF: Acrobat reader for DOS Genghis

PJTIPS-22358776250307586412157057903266
PJTIPS-22358776250307586412157057903266

Hi John, This will be interesting to see how you go? There is something about the whole issue of productivity using old systems. I am sure you may agree that when you look at what is available for the end user on the average home desktop that hardware is definitely an issue. Look at the cost of software and the availability of new sophisticated softwares there not only cheaper now and more accessible but there now shipped with pre-installed systems. most manufacturers will build there machines with the minimum spec to cover the pre-installs needs and to save cost but never the less even the novice or beginner can now find themselves using complex softwares that automate most of what there looking to do. With this in mind, the hardware and its capabilities are a critical factor. most old machines with tusks and scales will not even handle the standard of hardware we have now but there again it comes down to the question how do we say what is the norm for the end user. Productivity depends on what we are going to base an average machine on and what is the norm or setup we to test for? The article on the PCjr was interesting because in todays market I feel we are heading back in that direction again. Look how small and compact new pc-packages are becoming in fact there are already developments and to look for the ultimate all in one package thats a PC, TV, Digital Player you name it. This technology is definitely the future of home, business needs in respect to this kind of technology, and I do not think it is that far away from being the norm in homes all over the world. So really why are we even worried about old systems and if they can be productive? This subject seems to raise the blood pressure of some; I learned that in a blog about Linux. One thing for sure it is going to have some people kicking and screaming even right up to the till of the computer store, to part with tradition. You got some pretty good articles and subjects been enjoying them.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I've an old Panasonic CF27 that is only limited by my not yet replacing the RAM with a larger stick. It still runs just fine with win98 or most any low resource non Microsoft platform. I've also heard tell of old Dos machines still running along perfectly performing there business function. I've also installed a few old Dos machines when I was working for a value added reseller; how much machine do you realy need for a point of sale? At some point, hardware does stop supporting modern functions but it's much older than most people realize. If your willing to put down the Windows pasifier and bottle, older hardware will run just fine for most people's uses. New hardware is only required for truly resource intensive tasks such as gaming, autocad and the like. The needs that finally pushed me to upgrade where modern video games, running more than three VM at a time without slowing the machine and a personal need to learn and explore the limits of newer hardware. In a business, I wouldn't toss hardware if there is still any possition it will support.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Only the lack of an SAP client for W9x forced the elimination of these machines. They did everything the users needed - intranet, access shared domain resources, Office 97, AV. Instead of replacing both the OS and the hardware (PII 600mhz, 516mb RAM, 10gb HD), we upgraded the OS to 2K and XP, installed the SAP client, and the systems still ran satisfactorily for what we did with them. That said, I'm replacing those machines this summer with new XP systems. I won't hesitate to leave an operational system in place well beyond what the industry considers it's 'useful life', but these are now dying at the rate of about one every six weeks. I certainly wouldn't install one as replacement for a newer system, or drag one off the shelf for a new user. That said, I wouldn't attempt to use an XP

Jaqui
Jaqui

and keeping some of that old hardware around for testing new software is something I do. I make sure my apps run on old hardware effectively, before I say they are reaady. No-one is forced to spend money on hardware just to use my apps.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I still have all but two of the previous nine systems I've built in use. Each year I put together a new machine but it is just to keep myself up to date on the latest and greatest hardware, part of my job security. The older units are kept running and on the network as they were built for a reason and that need hasn't gone away. I could build a unit to do it all, but that's a lot of hardware to put in one case and expect all the software to play nice together. At present I have a P3 unit that has a sound studio card and CD burner, a P4 unit that has video capture/edit and DVD burner with a 19 inch widescreen display, a simple Duo Core for web surfing/online purchase and banking and my newest is a Quad core with a 768MB video card, gaming keyboard and 22 inch widescreen for games. I also have a P4 that sits on the network with two 500GB drives, attached printer and scanner for each unit to share and store video, photos and music to. My daughter has a P4 for her surfing and the son has a Duo core that he uses for games. Nothing goes to waste and the bulding experience has given me great insite into manufacturer selection for drives, and cards and what software plays best with what hardware. The two units that were scrapped(E-waste) had bad motherboards, one with an IDE controller failure and the other with a CMOS/BIOS fault and serious underrated power supplies for subsequent builds.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Well I was productive with it when it was new, so what's changed? The tools for cookie cutters have one less step in the wizard??? It's all relative anyway. You give me an MV3100, a couple of terminal servers and VMS 5.5 ,at certainly classes of task, I'll make any windows system look stupid. New is not always better.

dawgit
dawgit

Yes. Look inside something, Business equipment, Manufacturing, PIII's, VIA's, the list is too long Win3.x no, I doubt it, but DOS is still kicking. So is a lot of bear 'C' code. Old tech? No such animal. It's all tech. -d

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Classics Rock is all about old hardware and software. With more advanced hardware and software coming out all the time, it might seem like you can't do anything with old equipment. I mentioned in Classics Rock that I that anything before 1992 is probably completely useless in today's work environment. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/classic-tech/?p=146 That said, I think that you can still be very productive with a Windows 2000 Pro workstation and if you *had* to could go as far back as Windows 3.1 and be productive. Is that too far or could you go further back in time?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There's a difference between continuing to use a configured and operational system beyond scheduled 'end of support' dates, and going out of your way to locate the OS and apps to build one. Incidentally, while the apps you list may be available for download, many of them are proprietary apps that cannot be legally run without purchasing a license. MS Word, Lotus 1-2-3 and Symphony (which is a suite that includes a database app, not solely a database app in itself), and Paradox are all proprietary apps and legally require a license.

MarkGyver
MarkGyver

Even if you can still access the Internet with Windows 3.1, it's not a good idea. To me, the number one criteria in selecting an OS to browse online with is probably if it's still maintained with security updates, etc. I'm not saying that you must use newer hardware; I'm saying you must use either Windows 2000 or later, or use a completely different OS such as Damn Small Linux which claims to be able to run on a "486DX with 16MB of Ram". Even with old technology on the hardware side, it's still possible to run new software if you choose well.

jdclyde
jdclyde

are there still any viruses that would effect win3.11? As far as usability, your browser would be so limited, it would almost not be worth the effort. Ram is what I see as the biggest factor. Well, that and a CDrom.... which wasn't in most older systems.... because you didn't NEED one until win95 came along.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Win3.11 being more obscure than winXP these days doesn't make it safer to use. WinXP is still getting hit by viruses that effect Dos. As soon as someone realizes the target is a Dos/Win3.1 box they can pick and choose hot to hit it from a very large and known menu. I'd hesitate to even consider win2k with it now being unpached for almost a year. If it has a network connection, someone is going to take a look eventually. Though, with win3.1, your also dealing with the issue of a browser that is usable in our Flash loving brave new frontier.

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