In these articles, we assume that you already own at least two machines, one been an older Macintosh that you’ve owned for a few years and got a lot of use out of, and then a new machine you purchased recently as the other one was getting a bit long in the tooth. Since the introduction of the iMac, this situation has been come quite common, people have finally taken the plunge and upgraded from their trusting PowerMac 6100, or even from an LCII, to a nice sexy looking iMac.
We do not expect you to spend a fortune on upgrading the old machine with things like Processor Upgrades or the like. In fact, we hope you find a use for it as it stands. The only upgrades we are likely to recommend you make on the old machine are the purchase of an ethernet card and maybe some more RAM, but if it is going to cost over $100, it won’t be worth it, as you can pick up fairly good fully-decked out second hand systems for around this price, or slightly more if you where to look.
So read on for our first suggestions to continue utilizing that old faithful work horse that has already served you well for the last few years.
The most obvious, yet often over looked, use for that extra Mac you have sitting in the garage is as a second workstation back insider the main house.
Think back to why you purchased that machine in the first place. For most home users it was to write a few letters, get on the net, play the occasional game. While it may not be able to run all the latest and greatest software, it will still run the same “old” versions it used too.
If you have children in the house, then extra computers are always useful, regardless of how old they are (computers or children, take your pick 🙂
If you have upgraded to a new machine and the kids are fighting over the fact that they “need” a computer to complete an assignment, or that one of their siblings has been hogging the computer for too long and they want to collect their email or chat with their friends on IRC, then a second computer can be a god-send.
Simply setup that “old” machine you have stored away as a second workstation. Sure it may be slower and may not have the latest version of the various software packages, but good versions are still available and it saves fighting. OK, so it changes the nature of the fight, but at least they can both be working and hopefully that avoids some fights from breaking out.
Many kids these days use web-based email services so that they can read and send mail from where ever they happen to be, wether that is a home, school or at a friends. All they need is a web browser and their User ID and Password. It couldn’t be simpler. The same applies for accessing IRC.
As for working on school assignments, any text editor will do for them to write initial drafts. SimpleText is you are really desperate, or an older version of ClarisWorks or Microsoft Word will do. They can then move the file across to the “main” machine when it free to do any “special” work like spell checking, adding graphics etc.
Also, depending on the grunt of the older machine, they may also be able to play networked games.
Even if you only have one child in the house, it can be useful to have two machines in the house. The parents may also want to get access to the internet or do some basic accounting functions. How many parents here are sick and tried of finding that they can’t use the main family machine because their lovely child decided to upgrade the operating system or to a new application and everything has moved about, or even worse the machine won’t boot after the last attempt to “fix or improve” something.
A second machine that the kids “wouldn’t dream of touching” because it’s old, slow, out of date or what ever excuse they use, is perfect for people who are happy with the way things are and as long as it works they don’t need, nor want, to change every five minutes.
A second work station can be useful for a “high-powered” user. They can use the “primary” machine for their main tasks, and use the second machine to download email or files from the internet, burn CD’s, play an Audio CD or MP3s.
In writing the first half of this article, I had a sense of Deja vu, thinking that I had written a similar article before, and going back through my archives of stuff I had written for AUSOM News, I discovered that I really had. Back in December 1995, just after one of the Swap Meets, I wrote about a family that wanted to know what to with their old SE after buying a “new” machine. I gave similar advice then, and it is amazing that even though we are now in a new millennium, and the machines I use myself have changed, much of the advise still stays valid. To read this article, please visit the following web page;
Primary workstation for someone else
Do you have a relative or friend who would like a simple computer to do the same things you originally bought your first Macintosh to do – Write a few letters, send email, play a simple game or two.
Well the trusty old machine of yours that is now probably sitting in the garage, whether it is a LCII or PowerMac 7200, may be the perfect present for your uncle, grandmother, or even your 5-year old sister.
All 68k based Macs, and many early PowerMacs, can run MacOS 7.5.5, which is now a free download from Apple website (you’ll need to get both the “full” 7.5.3 installer and then the updater to 7.5.5. For a complete listing of all the system updates you should have for MacOS 7.5.5 visit the following page on VersionTracker.
There are plenty of Web Browers to choose from and even more choice for Email clients. Depending on the actual machine you are going to use, look at v3.x or greater, preferably v4.x, of Netscape or Internet Explorer as a web browser and Outlook Express or Eudora make great email clients. Again try for v3.x or greater and preferably v4.x.
Eudora Light for non-PowerMacs can be downloaded from;
While for PowerMac’s you should look at the more powerful Eudora Pro 5, which can be downloaded from;
If you need to include a Word Processor, you may have received a copy of ClarisWorks bundled with you original machine, so obviously that should still run it. You’ll need to double check the license agreement and ensure that you aren’t breaking it, but if you haven’t used the serial number to upgrade to another later version, and you include the original disks and manuals, I think you are covered.
If you can’t get hold of a legal copy, there are plenty of free or cheap alternatives. For a free word processor, a good option is Corel’s Word Perfect. While a little long in the tooth these days, it has minimal system requirements and still does the basic job of writing letters and documents and does have some good features like Tables and a spell checker. To download, use the following link;
Another good choice is Nisus Writer, which is available in as a free or shareware version.
If you have the occasional need to read Microsoft Word files, you can’t go past the shareware application, icWord. While it doesn’t allow you edit the files, you can display and print them.
Where can they go for Help?
OK, so you decide to setup your old machine for someone, and you know that they have no previous computer skills or experience and while you are happy to assist them a couple of times to get them up and running, you may not be in a position to be on call all the time, or they are interested in a area that you are not, say using the internet to research the family history aka Genealogy , so where can you direct them for additional help.
Again, like the original question asked in this article – “What can use a old Macintosh for?”, there is a fairly obvious, yet often over looked, answer to this question.
Where do you go to help and information? Where did you find out about the possibility of alternative uses of that old Mac in the first place?
That’s right, your local user group! In this case most probably AUSOM, Australia’s Largest Apple Macintosh User Group.
Seeing as the machine probably hasn’t cost you anything except time to setup, and if you are giving the machine as a “present” then you could look at purchasing a year’s membership to AUSOM for them, and perhaps even include a subscription to AUSOM’s online discussion forum, FirstClass, for them. It gives them a easy to use interface, an internet email address and an excellent forum to ask all their questions and get lots of different answers. At they very least, include a membership brochure in the box and maybe one or two of your old issues of AUSOM News.
Bringing the family together
Writing this article reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago. It started off when a 15 year old girl, Mary, was visiting her grandparents and they were talking about the holiday Mary and her family were about to go on, travelling up the eastern coast of Queensland for six weeks.
Mary was so excited about everything they had planned, including trips of Dreamworld, Seaworld, visiting the Daintree forest and so. While talking about everything, Mary’s Grandma said something along the lines of “You’ll have to write to us while you’re away and tell what you’ve been doing so you don’t forget everything by the time you get back.”
Mary’s response was a sign of the times, “What’s your email address, Grandma?”
Well, guess what Grandma’s response was :-). That’s right, “I don’t have one, dear.”
Normally that would be the end of such a story, apart from Mary thinking that Grandma should keep up with the times! But not in this case – Mary had a better idea! She went home and went searching through the junk cupboard under the stairs and dragged out the old IIvx they had put there to make room on her desk when she got the new Windows laptop for use with school. Prior to the laptop arriving the Mac was used to type up school assignments, send email to friends and chat away on ICQ and there wasn’t any point in keeping around when the laptop did it “better and quicker”. So it wasn’t all that hard for her to wipe some of the old junk of it, and re-configure slightly for her Grandparents. Mary also came across one of the many “50-Hours Free Internet Access” CDs from Ozemail or AOL you see on just about every magazine these days and signed up her Grandparents.
So a few days later, when Grandma and Grandpa visited to collect the pet Budgie they were going to “bird-sit” while the family were on holidays, Mary had the IIvx setup in the lounge room, with a big bow wrapped around it! She took great delight at showing it to them and explaining to them that it was a present from her so they could stay in touch. She showed them the basics of how to turn it on, how to dial-in to get email and then how to read it.
With Mary taking her laptop away with her and now Grandma and Grandpa had an email address they could stay in touch. And believe it or not they did, well sort of. Grandpa and Grandma were able setup the machine (with the help of Mary’s cousin) and they were able to read the email, but weren’t able to send any email to Mary. It later turned out that they had Mary’s address written down wrong, but anyway they received a “letter” from Mary every 4 or 5 days while she was away and really enjoyed knowing what their family were doing on the holiday.
When Mary got back, she went around with her Mum to collect the Budgie, and to find out if Grandma and Grandpa had gotten her emails and why they hadn’t written back. Once they explained they tried, but couldn’t, Mary quickly realised that they were typing a hyphen (-) in her email address, rather than a underscore (_). Once this was fixed, they sent the emails they had written off to the correct address and this time they did arrive.
Now while Mary and her grandparents still saw a lot of each, as they were a close family and only lived over in the next suburb, they continued to email each a lot. Grandma even got all her grandchildren’s and her own son and two daughters’ email addresses and started writing to all of them. In fact, when it came to birthdays and Christmas, Grandma no longer did she just give a card with a $20 note in it, she also sent an electronic greeting card from one of the many online card services, with a birthday or holiday wish.
Over time, both of Mary’s Grandparents learnt more about the internet, in particular, the web and soon Grandma learnt how to use the web to find information about plants and fish as her own hobbies were gardening and raising topical fish. Grandpa was an avid chess player and soon learnt about various chess clubs on the internet and thus became involved with many online chess tournaments.
So within a year or so, both Grandparents became reasonable frequent and competent computer users.
So much so in fact, that when it came close to Grandma’s 70th birthday, Grandpa decided to arrange a surprise party to celebrate this important celebration. In order to avoid arousing his wife’s suspicion, he decided that rather than constantly been on the telephone or visiting his eldest daughter (as it turns out this was Mary’s Mum), who was helping him organise the party, he would conduct the arrangements as much as possible by email, because he already used the internet for hours at a time to play his chess matches.
What is even more interesting in this part of the story, is how he kept even this part of the communication secret from his wife. Up until this point both Grandma and Grandpa had shared a single email address. There had been no need to separate mail, as 99% of the email they got where from family members (OK, so it was about 80% from family and 20% junk, spam mail). One of their grandchildren had a Hotmail address, which as most of us would know is accessed by a web browser, not an email client like ClarisEmailer, which is what Grandpa and Grandma where using up until that point. So quite simply Grandpa setup a Hotmail address and wrote to all his family using that address and they secretly wrote back to him there, while also sending “innocent” messages to the normal address that Grandma also had access it.
The big day came along and Grandma was pleasantly surprised that so much had been organised without her knowledge and she normally knew everything that happened in her family.
Last I heard, Grandma and Grandpa where heading on an extended trip themselves, which they would catch up with old friends and family around Australia and in New Zealand. They were looking at picking up a laptop themselves, or at worst, using Grandpa’s “secret” hotmail account to stay in touch with the family while they were around.
So, the old saying, The Wheel Turns Full Circle, came true for Mary’s Family. Perhaps, this story could help bring your family closer together as well.
Use of VersionTracker
As you have probably noticed, when ever I listed a URL to download an application, rather than listing the original download site, I have listed the Versiontracker link.
Why, I hear you ask?
Basically, when searching for appropriate applications to recommend, I used the search function on VersionTracker, either for a specific application like “Eudora”, or for a general phrase like “Word Processor”. VersionTracker also gives a brief run down on the system requirements for each application and a brief description. There are also reviews and comments by actual users as well.
Also, sometimes it can be quite hard to find the older versions of software on the original web site. Most have a habit of only promoting the latest and greatest version of their software.
A copy of this article, with colour images, is available from my website, https://www.nicholaspyers.com.
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