Making the Most of Planned Obsolescence.

I’m currently upgrading the OS on my Mac Mini to Mavericks, which is funny because out of the three computers I own, I use the Mini the least.

My other two Macs are PowerPCs; although they’re considered dreadfully obsolete, I do all my important creative work on them. The hoary old eMac is my go-to for scanning negatives, cleaning images and preparing uploads to my online portfolio, while my PowerBook G4 is where all the writing gets done. I use the Mini…um, for surfing the web, syncing the phone, and stating on my resume that I have experience with the latest Mac OS.

I’ve had the eMac for over 13 years, and not once has it ever crapped out on me or needed repair. On the other hand, the Mini had me going back and forth to Tekserve four times in the first year I bought it! Thank fuck all the repairs were covered by warranty—otherwise I’d currently be in possession of a useless, expensive (if cute!) paperweight. It works well enough these days…but I still don’t trust it. That’s a serious downgrade in consumer confidence from the ‘90s, when my Quadra 700 outlasted six of my Mum’s PCs, and Macintosh really seemed worth both the hype and the dosh.

Even back then the idea of upgrading to a whole new computer setup every year felt like an incredibly expensive proposition, and wasteful to boot. Promoting a product as sturdy and long-lasting, then coming out with a “bigger and better” option on an annual basis, made no sense to me. The design studio I worked for switched up a whole suite of Macs whenever the newest version came out; our old gear either got donated or Craigslisted. It go to the point where we were giving our clients Quark 6 files that they couldn’t read, because they were still using Macs that only went up to Quark 4. Cutting edge!

More recently (in the late 2000s), my Mum bought an Intel-based iMac; she uses it as often as I use my Mini. She checks email, surfs the web, does a bit of monthly Excel for money management, and types out the occasional poem. Scratch that—she gets way more use out of her new Mac than I do mine! That being said, we chose a Mac for her because after blowing through so many Dells, Gateway 2000s and Sony VAIOs she’s less likely to download a virus by clicking a CUTE KITTENS HERE link on a rogue email.

We then considered switching my eMac for her iMac but…oh HELL no!!! I couldn’t part with it. My beloved eMac does take up space, and the fan whirs a bit loudly at times, but it’s solid as a rock and does exactly what I need it to do. There’s a distinctive look to the desktop and tactile sensation to the keyboard that got lost when Mac disowned PowerPC technology. While the Intel-based iMac is thin and shiny, it seems as if it could be interchanged with any other computer and the experience would be similar. So she kept it, and she loves it, and I’m still chugging away on the eMac.

When Apple stopped sending software updates for PowerPC —and various browsers followed suit—I took my eMac offline and bought the aforementioned Mini. A couple of years later I lucked into a secondhand PowerBook; a total success story, and a pleasure to use. It’s 100% compatible with my eMac, I can access the web safely via TenFourFox (YouTube is admittedly a pain, but TFF uses Quicktime to open video URLs), I found a simple, effective and FREE writing program, and the laptop plays both CDs and DVDs (unlike the Mini). Admittedly the battery isn’t long-lasting, but I usually keep it plugged in anyway. It’s fast, powerful and has enough memory for my needs.

At times I contemplate selling the Mini; other times I chide myself for not using it more often and giving it a chance to redeem itself to prove its worth. Today I’m in the latter mood, hence the Mavericks upgrade—still percolating as I type. It’s very important in times of economic precarity to keep one’s skills current, and that includes familiarity with the most recent versions of programs and operating systems. There are times, however, when one walks into the job interview and is confronted by a dusty old PC with Windows XP and a version of Quickbooks not seen in a decade. (Note to old-skool PC peeps: After April 8th Microsoft will no longer provide security patches for XP, so be sure to sort out your options re: safe web browsing & such.) Keeping tabs on older programs and systems can perhaps be just as useful in the long run, both in terms of finding a job that doesn’t have the newest, shiniest setup or simply by making the most of what’s already at hand.

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