Much as I'd love one, I just can't afford a new computer right now. I've got a three year old Macbook and a two year old Asus Eee netbook, and then of course The Wife has that workhorse of a Dell desktop (also three years old) which she's been pounding her blog and website out on. So the fleet of tech is aging a bit, but that's no excuse to just up and buy more of it.
One thing I can afford to do is download the latest iteration of the Ubuntu operating system. It turns out that Ubuntu 9.10, "Karmic Koala," runs great on both my computers, which is a surprise. I thought the netbooks's screen was going to be too small to display properly, and Macs have always been notoriously tricky to get Linux running on, since the whole point of a Mac is to run that shiny, expensive operating system.
But the community of open-source developers have been working together on this problem long enough now that an installation of Ubuntu automatically detects the Mac's wireless card, speakers, touchpad, etc, etc, right out of the box. It installs in about half the time it would take to restore the Mac's original operating system, and as an added bonus takes up about a tenth of the space on the hard drive that Mac's OS X used, too.
The "Open Source" software community is a great example of a functional, modern-day community, pulling together to manufacture something for the greater good and the pure fun of it. Alas, I lack the skills to participate as a designer, programmer, or debugger. But it's been great watching Ubuntu and a few other flavors of Linux (Puppy Linux, Damn Small Linux, Xubuntu, Eeebuntu, Linux Mint) get improved upon over the last few years, to the point that this install seems to do everything I need, for free, and with more grace and elegance than the old Mac could muster on its own. (Granted, Apple's come out with a new iteration of their operating system, but if I wanted to play with that I'd have to shell out a couple hundred bucks. But I'm done paying for this computer.)
If you haven't tried out Ubuntu Linux, and you've got a computer that's a couple or eight years old, see if you can't get it up and running. Honestly, the install's super simple at this point, with the help of a couple of tutorials and the forums over at http://ubuntuforums.org/.
Once it's installed, this edition even has a link at the bottom of its "Applications" menu: Ubuntu Software Center. Open source applications have always been free, but now the installation of any office, graphics, internet, or video software is just a matter of reading through the menu and clicking what you want.
It's a great way to make more out of less and get a few more years out of that old machine. (Or to make your new one look exceptionally shiny!) Plus you'll soon discover how liberating it is not to worry about antivirus scans, firewall settings, and the other assorted prophylactics that are such a regular part of our online experience.
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