What Makes Something Obsolete?

I confess; I am a sinner. What is the face of my sin? There have been many, but the most recent is technology. Socially speaking (what sin isn’t?), my crimes are damn near capital offenses, with two being the most severe: I buy supposedly obsolete, out-of-style devices, and I don’t upgrade (in the commercial sense of the term) until it is absolutely necessary, sometimes never. I even own an old car: a 1991 Corvette. I bought an iPhone 4s when the current model was the iPhone5s with its dual-core 1.3 GHz CPU. When I finally decided to buy an iPad, I chose a 32 GB, 1st Generation iPad. I still use Windows XP, even after giving Windows 7 a good, long run and trying Windows 8 on an emulator. I am not totally alone on that one. International Business Times reports, somewhat critically, that the United States Navy is also still using Windows XP (as of 23 June 2015).

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I am not technologically uneducated. I repair and reformat computers, and I reset and repair cellphones and tablets part-time. I had computer training by friends who were certified technicians; however, what I know about cellphones and tablets, I learned through independent research and experimentation. In the past, I had almost always purchased computers and parts used, at least in part because of my computer training.

My economic conservatism and technological curiosity probably also led to my next sin, more or less grave depending on the company. Like any respectable citizen with a hidden cache of porn, I have a collection of classic—now known as Vintage, usually called obsolete—computers, including a Mac LCIII, the first model that I completely rebuilt myself.

To my technician friend’s surprise, I got an external DVD player to work in my pre-DVD era LCIII OS 7.6.1 by swapping out some OS 8.5 (or was it 8.4?) extensions. My most recent model is a beautiful Powermac G4, running OS 10.8.5, what I call the last pure Mac. I bought it used and refurbished (upgraded) it for little cost. I then put a Windows XP emulator on it, just for fun.

I have refused to buy a Macintosh with an Intel processor, another on my list of sinful offenses, perhaps worse than not buying a new computer every year or two. Again, I am not alone. A computer tech did my refurbishing one better by getting a very old Mac Plus computer to work on the Internet. Then, there is the guy who got a vintage Macintosh 7.5.5 operating system to run on a new Apple Watch, quite impressive, at least to us hobbyists. In addition, a blogger reported receiving a 1998 vintage iMac for repair. Most of the comments were at least a bit derisive of the client.

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The comments were not fair because the client may have been a hobbyist, like me; although hobbyists can usually fix their own machines. I fix mine and sometimes use them for regular activities: writing, games or whatnot. My wife is supportive, curious and amused. I don’t share my hobby with many people because most don’t understand why I am looking for an original Macintosh Classic and an iMac to add to my collection. Most people think that one computer is enough, and it should be the most recent, up-to-date model. I am also checking ebay for a new audio cassette player, sin of sins. Prices are going up for classic technology, but I still don’t spend much, relatively speaking, for my hobby.

Continuing my frugal habits—and sins—I bought my first iPhone 4s used here in Mexico after four years with a Nokia “dumb phone,” what a fellow “dumb phone” Nokia owner, who shares my situation, called a “candy bar phone.” The Nokia phone served my purposes. I could place and receive calls and text messages, the main purpose of a cell phone. It had a clock, calendar, calculator, and a couple of simple “Hangman” type games. My wife´s iPhone 3GS interested me, but I had no intention of paying for a new phone while mine still worked (at that time, my hobby was still focused on Macintosh computers), unless it had features that made the expense worthwhile for me. The web browser, movie player, iBooks, chess and Space Invaders did it.

During a trip to Mexico City, my wife and I decided to check out some of the used cell phones being sold downtown. I didn´t know much about smartphones, but the 32 GB nearly obsolete iPhone 4s looked clean and in good condition. We bought it. I later discovered that it was activation locked when I did not know exactly what an activation lock was. Finding the original owner proved impossible. Even the dealer had no idea, when I returned to ask. The dealer also had no idea of how to unlock it. Of course, Apple was of absolutely no help. According to them—and most everybody else—anyone who ends up, by any means, with a used, locked phone is a thief. After three months of internet research and experimentation, I bypassed the activation lock myself and activated my iPhone. Few people have managed that. My old/new iPhone 4s has been working fine for the last year or so. I am not computer illiterate. Neither am I a conformist.

Sometimes people look at my classic Macintosh collection with courtesy and no interest. “Why do you want those old computers?” they generally ask. I have been told that I know nothing of technology because I have an “old” cellphone and use Windows XP, an “obsolete” system.

Is Windows XP obsolete, really?

In the kindest terms, a machine, piece of software or handgun becomes obsolete—as cited in the video—when it no longer does what you need it to do. That, of course, relates more to current demand than to any design aspect of the machine. In less kind terms, the word “obsolete” becomes a manipulative device of a commercialistic society meant to push consumers to upgrade (i.e. buy something new) when it is not necessary.

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Windows XP and the 1st Generation iPad suffer from two potential problems related to obsolescence. First, the operating system and device are no longer supported by their producers. Second, both are incompatible with many newer programs or applications. If security updates and customer support are important considerations, then the two devices are obsolete. The YouTube video also mentions that Win XP may not run on some newer computers. I have a relatively new computer—dual-core, 3.0 GHz processor, 3 GB of DDR3 RAM— that runs Win XP just fine.

Programs are another matter, leading more specifically to the concept of consumer demand and commercialism. Consumers have been taught to want the new device or system, regardless of its relative merit. For the newest iPhoneX or Windows X operating system, we consumers are fed a list of “new” features of dubious value. Perhaps Apple and Microsoft, along with big business in general, are the real sinners.

Having been trained for decades by a constant media onslaught of new model cars, seasonal clothing styles, new music, summer blockbuster movies and a programmed “keep-up-with-the-Jonses” mentality, we receive product news of Apple, Microsoft, Ford, Toyota, Nike and others with a ready-made desire for anything new . . . many of us, anyway. We think, “I want a new iPhone.” “I need a new computer.” Others of us take a step back, draw a breath, and ask, “What do I need in a computer?” “Does the new iPhone have a feature that my current phone lacks and that I really need or want and that is worth the price of upgrading?” “Is the new computer or iPhone really that much better?”

Durability of the device is important to me, and the latest versions of the iPhone and iPad have been shown to be more fragile than older versions. Updates and customer support, based at least in part on fear, are of little concern to me. In the last ten years, I have had no problem with either. If the occasion arises, I just fix the thing myself. The US Navy is actually paying Microsoft a lot of money to continue security updates for them.

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Program considerations should relate to what you actually need or want the device or computer to do, and not be based on the list of new features that a company pushes on us.

I am not advocating a universal “older is better” mindset. I simply think differently about any product that I consider buying. For example, I am a writer and teacher, so I need some brand of Office, specifically Word and Paint, in a version that allows me to submit work to publishers and post grades. I like to surf the net, download stuff, watch videos, send and receive email, and play low processor, graphics and RAM demanding games.

Technically, I can use my Mac G4 or a Windows 2000 system to do most, if not all, of what I want in a computer. I even have free converters that handle the .docx format and other annoying little glitches. My workhorse computer running Windows XP does everything fine, so I have no need to buy a new one. Sure, I have come across the occasional program that won´t run on Windows XP, but I also have text editors, desktop visuals, screensavers and other programs which I use and like that are not compatible with Windows 7 or 8. In addition, Windows XP is easier to navigate and customize. I feel no pressing need to upgrade. When I really need something only compatible with systems above XP, I run the Win 7 emulator, no problem. My 3GB of installed RAM handle both systems easily.

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I found myself using different criteria to judge cellphones. Smartphones quickly proved to be a step above “dumb phones” that I wanted to take. I prefer the design and functionality of iPhones and iPads over Android phones and tablets, but that is a squabble of which I have become rather tired. My main concerns in choosing an iPhone and iPad relate more to price and company management than to the features or applications of the devices themselves.

In utilizing the “step back and take a breath” approach, I have seen no significant or important difference in stock apps and day-to-day performance from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 6, except that the iPhone 6 (as well as the newest iPad) breaks easier if dropped, and provides a new, easier, faster system of handing your money over to Apple through iTunes. Jailbreak potential changed things and influenced my choices. A couple of tweaks have made my iPhone 4s faster than a stock iPhone 6, and there are some lockscreen and springboard tweaks that require iOS 7.0 or above to work, eliminating everything below the iPhone 4, if visuals are your thing.

Jailbreaking also leads to my main criterion (price aside) in deciding on an iPhone and iPad: control over the product by Apple management. Nevertheless, I did consider features of the devices as well. For instance, I wanted an iPad primarily for reading ebooks, and for watching movies while traveling. I decided on a 1st Generation, 32 GB iPad. Before the howlings of dismay commence, consider my reasoning. The larger screen of the 1st Gen iPad suites me better for reading and watching movies than any of the minis. The 1st Gen does not have a camera. I don´t care. My iPhone has a camera, and I don’t take that many photos anyway. The 1st Gen is cheaper and more durable than later models, good.

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The main attraction, ironically, is that Apple no longer supports the 1st Generation iPad. Many see that kind of corporate abandonment as a sort of crime or sin. I see it as an advantage: less company control. Apple still signs iOS 5.1.1, the highest system that works on the 1st Gen iPad, but does not (cannot) force system updates to an iOS that takes up too much disk space, is incompatible with apps that I want, and is currently impossible to jailbreak. Finally, I have no problem with securing apps. For every app that I wanted—iBooks, Kindle, several games for my wife, etcetera—I was able to download an older, fully functional version compatible with my 1st Gen iPad in every aspect, including RAM. I have had no problems.

I have seen no new, iOS 8 only apps that I need. I have internet access. I can print from my iPhone by Wi-Fi. I control lights and music in my home with Bluetooth, as does my wife with her iPhone 3GS, a “new” feature supposedly only available with iOS 8 on the iPhone 6. The 128 GB of space available in the new, expensive iPhone 6 is not even a feature worth considering in view of available options for gaining unlimited space on older model iPhones and iPads. Oh, yes—I can even place and receive phone calls and text messages on my old iPhone 4s, most in conjunction with my wife and her old, “obsolete” iPhone 3GS. For my purposes, therefore, the iPhone 3GS, 4s and 1st Generation iPad are not obsolete. They are viable options. Incidentally, I purchased both my iPhone and iPad together for half the price of a new iPhone 6 alone. Maybe I haven’t sinned so badly, after all.

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Does that mean that the older iPhones, iPads, computers and operating systems, and cars are better for everyone? Of course not. The latest models, such as Windows 10, may fit the needs of some customers perfectly, including those who simply enjoy the status of having the newest thing. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, if one can afford it. I use a dual-boot Windows XP and Windows 10 system at home, hardly obsolete by any measure. Does “obsolete” now simply mean “out of style” rather than truly economically or functionally inefficient? In any event, for practical use, showing off or a hobby, consumers should make an informed, personal choice, instead of letting Microsoft, Apple, Chevrolet, their friends and neighbors, or the media make the choice for them.