Technology is crazy. New computers cost about £1000. They always have and always will. The thing is that the computers that cost £1000 this year used to cost £2000 a year ago. Or £4000. Or more. But the computers that used to cost £1000 don't cost £500. You can't buy them. Unless you look hard.
It all started when my Imac died. Its been a wonderful bit of kit the most basic Imac Blueberry edition that I bought when I was skint. I stuffed as much memory in it as I could afford which made an appreciable difference to the speed of the thing, and its all I use, day-to-day, when Im writing and uploading and editing stuff on BIKEmagic. Ive got friends who have G4s and 600Mhz things for recreational use, but this little blue box does me fine. Except when it keels over and dies.
With my Imac in the menders, I was stuck. We had a big week on at the site, and I couldnt be offline. How could I upload articles, collect my email and keep in touch without my Mac? Should I bite the bullet and lay £1500 out on a nice Ibook. Should I entrench myself in the local cybercafe? I went for a ride, and after some nice singletrack found myself down the road in Hebden Bridge, outside The Skills Gap, a shop which promised Internet Ready PCs for £99.
This couldnt be true. Surely? What degnerate DOS based monster would I get for £100? Some behemoth with a black and white screen and a 30Meg hard drive running some antiquated text-based system? Er no.
For £89 (I had a monitor of my own in the attic) I got an honest to goodness 16Meg of Ram, 500Meg Hard Drive, 56K Modem, keyboard, mouse, all preloaded with Mr Gates Windows 98.
That wasnt all. There was Internet Explorer 5.0, Outlook Express 5.0 better packages than I have on my Mac, a word processor and a Millionserve free internet access account.
And it was true Plug and play as well. Come home, connect it up, fire it up and Im away. Online, collecting my BIKEmagic email and posting articles within 10mins.
It really worked. I downloaded a few plug-ins, and I could view all the sites that I ever could on the Mac, some that I couldnt as well!
Skillsgap take corporate PCs, recycle them with new memory and processors, wipe the cases down and stuff them full of software. Theyre probably not the only people in the country doing it, so theyre worth looking out for. I taught me several things. Firstly, dont overestimate the power of the machine you need to get online. The PC was painfully slow to start with, but once youre used to the speed, it all seems the same. The Mac felt blisteringly fast when I got it back, but it all feels the same now.
Secondly, dont overestimate the amount of money you need to get online. Free internet accounts are far and wide, and if youre prepared to pay a tenner, you can get free access at offpeak times too. You could have a years surfing from scratch for a shade of two hundred quid.
My recycled PC wasnt fast, it wasnt elegant, but it worked, and worked fine for a fortnight until my Mac came back happy and mended from Mac hospital. And its sat there if anything happens again.