The following are just some thoughts on customer viability, both in the economical and ecological sense. In this case, viability for a computer user is equal to ecological sustainability, provided the user really uses the PC. A computer is worth the purchase when it continues to be of use as long as it is of use to the user. It is understood that certain new developments whet the appetite and as a possible consequence require either more hardware performance (more power!) or a completely different hardware connector, which itself may only be present on or may require newer hardware. Since you as a customer will then no longer have a use for your older computer, you will have to replace it. But until this happens, the computer shoudn’t be loosing usability due to economical reasons, like planned obsolescence.
One example I like to point out is iTunes. Newer versions of it in turn require newer version of Mac OS. This fact alone isn’t a great deal of annoyance by itself, but you require a new version of iTunes if you also happen to buy a newer iPod, iPad or iPhone. While I understand that some functions like videos may actually require a faster computer to run iTunes, it also locks out people who just want to backup their data from their iPad/iPod/iPhone devices. For that you wouldn’t really require a modern Core i-based Mac—actually, an over a decade old 350 MHz G3-based Mac will be sufficient to syncronize contacts and calendar data.
On usability: yes, watching videos in HD quality on a ’99 Power Macintosh G3 with a 350 MHz processor, 512 MB memory and an OpenGL 1.2 (Direct3D 6) graphics card with only 16 MB of VRAM will not work at all. In fact, watching YouTube videos of any resolution won’t work, because rich applications (Web 2.0) in general are too resource heavy and don’t run properly. But checking e-mails and writing texts will continue to work. And especially if you’ve also invested hard cash for a lot of software for this computer that you still like to use and have use for, it is viable to keep that computer as long as you can. That is, if you really continue to actively use it. And that is also how it should be!
In the years 2000 to 2010 the computer market experienced, what I call: “the decade of Windows XP”. PC people were getting used to having an operating system for a longer time period. And Apple made it possible for a lot of computer users to upgrade to their newest operating system. It has to be considered though that releases were not as frequently pushed as they are today.
So, here is something I would like to make the reader of my blog (you!) aware of:
Someone who bought an Apple Power Macintosh G3 “Blue and White” desktop computer in 1999 got it with Mac OS 8.51 pre-installed. They were then able to upgrade to (aside from the free Mac OS 8.6 update):
- Mac OS 9.0/9.1/9.2 (USD 99)
- Mac OS X 10.0 (USD 129)
- Mac OS X 10.1 (USD 19.95 if you had purchased 10.0, otherwise USD 129)
- Mac OS X 10.2 (USD 129)
- Mac OS X 10.3 (USD 129)
- Mac OS X 10.4 (USD 129)
Their purchase was supported by Apple directly through their operating system from 1999 to 2005. The last of the supported Apple operating systems, Mac OS X 10.4, was current until 2007. It continued to receive bug fixes until 2009.
In summary this computer was supported by Apple software for a decade. All you had to do was buy the software (the OS).
Someone who bought an Apple Power Mac G5 Dual-Core in 2005 got it with Mac OS X 10.4 pre-installed. They could then upgrade to:
- Mac OS X 10.5 (PowerPC) (USD 129)
Now, someone who thought “hey, Apple is going Intel!” and bought an Apple Mac Mini in 2006 got it with Mac OS X 10.4/Intel pre-installed. They could then upgrade it to:
- Mac OS X 10.5 (Intel) (USD 129)
So all in all their purchase was supported by Apple directly through the operating system from 2005/2006 to 2007. Mac OS X 10.5 was the current Apple operating system until 2009. It continued to receive bug fixes until 2011.
Last supported OS available so many years after purchase:
- Power Macintosh G3 “Blue and White”: 6 years
- Power Mac G5 “Late 2005”: 2 years
- Mac Mini “Late 2006”: 1 year
Fully supported through current operating system:
- Power Macintosh G3 “Blue and White”: 8 years
- Power Mac G5 “Late 2005”: 4 years
- Mac Mini “Late 2006”: 3 years
Extended bug fix support for the operating system and most of its software:
- Power Macintosh G3 “Blue and White”: 10 years
- Power Mac G5 “Late 2005”: 6 years
- Mac Mini “Late 2006”: 5 years
The Power Macintosh G3 “Blue and White”, ranging from USD 1599 up to USD 2999, had double the time being supported compared to the fist Intel Mac Mini Core Solo/Core Duo, ranging from USD 599 up to USD 799. Customers of the Power Mac G5 “Late 2005” model, ranging from USD 1999 up to USD 3299, had only one year longer than the first Intel Mac Mini.
How older hardware can still be of further use? The main problem seems to be the software. If someone used Linux on an Apple computer back in 1999, they could still use it today without real limitations other than the hardware and performance limits. Newest Linux kernels and open source software tend to run happily on once supported hardware. But if someone used Mac OS, they have to accept that the company behind it is in the position to dictate how long it’s going to be supported. And they have the means to execute this position. (No new iTunes for Mac OS X 10.4 means no iPad 2 and newer on a Mac that cannot upgrade to a newer Mac OS version.) That doesn’t mean that programs and products that are working right now suddenly stopped working. Using hardware devices and software versions of the time when it was supported is normally equally only restricted by the hardware and performance limits. But you just cannot count on it that newer devices will work with older operating system versions. Therefore you will have to check first and maybe stand back from buying the newest and the fanciest stuff.
No one said that sustainability was easy…