Toys in the attic

While the rest of the world awaits Google’s $200 pc, Technology Rescue has produced and is offering a free way to get some more–very useful–miles out of your old PC’s.

At work or at home, we now have plenty of old computer lying around. EPA estimates roughly 60 million computers in the US turn obsolete each year. In the Wintel world, these machines become pretty useless fast–unable to run the latest versions of Windows or Office Suite.

But times have changed. We spend most of our time on the web now anyway, and doing that requires very little processing power. Technology Rescue–my brother’s company and the ones who initiated the disaster-relief CD produced by (see my earlier post), has produced a downloadable CD-ROM program, EZWebPC. Download it, burn it to a CD, and use it to boot your old PC:

You can download EZWebPC for free. While the .iso image is approximately 170MB, once downloaded it can be copied and used on an unlimited number of computers.

Once EZWebPC is loaded, the program opens up just a Firefox web browser window from which you can browse the web. Obviously, the computer needs an Internet-ready network, but that’s pretty much it. The individual user data is deleted when the window is closed, which then reopens to Firefox again.

What can you do with these? We put an old computer in our kitchen, and it’s surprising how often we turn to it to get directions with googlemaps, to resolve trivia debates, to check movie listings or sports, and to watch the occasional movie trailer (and now google video) during dinner. But wait, there’s more:

Otherwise unused computers can be re-used as extra “WebStations” on home networks or in small-business waiting rooms, or as a public-access information terminals in libraries, cafes, town halls, civic centers, or trade shows.

2 thoughts on “Toys in the attic

  1. I can’t believe you’d shamelessly promote your own brother…
    I’m typing this on an eight-year old computer running EZWebPC, and the experience is significantly faster than any other computer I use. Simply because all that is running is the Firefox browser.
    The browser becomes the OS, so to speak. I check my email with Gmail, I write documents in Writely or Zoho, and I log into my web-based CRM. That’s 90% of my day, and it can be done anywhere.
    It’s a pretty cool vision of the future. We call it “Web Everywhere.” Not only handy for the geek, it could really help to bridge the digital divide. Every homeless shelter. Every food kitchen. Every boys and girls club. Unlimited access to computing for almost next to nothing.

  2. Similar things are happening in network attached storage. FreeNAS is software that repurposes older PCs for backup purposes…boots from a CD just like EZWebPC.
    Most of the Linux distributions have also created “live” CD and USB key versions that allow for portable desktops.
    I think the difficulty here is going to be maintenance and setup costs (even if they are small). The population of older machines is pretty heterogeneous and it still takes time and knowledge in a lot of cases to get a configuration working that is stable. Unfortunately, time and expertise is something the poor generally lack.
    Still, its a really cool idea and just needs some good nonprofits and volunteers to provide a bit of tech support.

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