Can IT break its obsession with the new?

Sensemaking / Can IT break its obsession with the new?

Maverick server developers are on a mission to keep old computers up and running.

24 Jul 2012

Maverick server developers are on a mission to keep old computers up and running.

Seen those ‘unboxing’ videos on YouTube? Where a wide-eyed geek breathlessly unwraps the very latest laptop with unconcealed excitement? Now imagine the wrapping coming off to reveal something as insipid as a 2006 desktop PC in unfashionable matt grey. Cue massive disappointment?

Not if Jonathan Hefter has his way. He’s one of a number of IT developers who’s unimpressed with the industry’s neophilia, and is keen to keep older, low-spec machines up and running.

“It really is wasteful to have to replace a whole computer just to upgrade performance”, says Hefter, founder of Neverware, a New York-based start-up that builds servers (under the brand name, ‘Juicebox’) specifically designed to keep older networked machines purring at a speed today’s users have come to expect. As far as whoever is using the machines is concerned, they will behave like shiny new ones – even if their looks aren’t exactly up to date.

Another project with a complementary goal is Lubuntu, a free alternative to the Macintosh and Windows operating systems that’s been tweaked to work well on older machines.

Schemes such as these can make at least a small dent in the 50 million tonnes of e-waste – including toxic metals such as cadmium – which is churned out each year. And they could also cut down on the IT sector’s chunky energy footprint. This is often underestimated. According to some calculations, the amount of energy used in making a handful of computer chips is the same as in making a car.

“I’ve thought for a while that if people can develop a business model that extends the life [of computers], then it’s certainly a good thing”, comments Ted Smith, chair of Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an industry group that promotes responsible recycling. Whether enough people will share his enthusiasm in an industry that remains resolutely obsessed with the latest model remains to be seen. But for cash-strapped IT departments looking to cut their capital spend, making the old last is sure to have some appeal. – John Eischeid

Photo: wavebreakmedia/thinkstock

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