The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

CRAIGSLIST GOT ME A FREE COMPUTER!
Yup, it did. Although perhaps the exclamation point is a bit much. Come to think of it, perhaps the "computer" part is a tad too much.

Only a couple of weeks after noting that Craigslist has a Tampa Bay category, I've been checking in on the site with alarming frequency (actually only about once a day--far less than most of the other sites I obsessively visit). It's not exactly bustling with activity, at least not on the areas I check. But yesterday, I caught wind of this listing under Computers For Sale:
FREE Century City computer with pentium processor, monitor, and keyboard. Moving next week! Would love to donate computer to any needy person/cause.

this is in or around Land O Lakes
Century City? Nope, I never heard of it either. A quick check on the Web yielded information on AST Computers, which produced the Century City line and, as you can see, is no longer in business. AST's business plan was along the lines of the company that rolled out the ill-conceived iToaster: Dumbed-down, dead simple computing that would appeal to mass market consumers. It's actually a great idea; I'm not sure why such a concept, which made industries like automotive and consumer electronics such successes, has yet to take off for personal computers.

I emailed back to see if the thing had at least a CD drive and ran Windows. I got back an answer in the affirmative (although the CD drive was read-only, not writable). I figured, what the heck, Land 'O Lakes isn't that far off, it was something to do on a Saturday morning, and if the computer turned out to be junk, I could always just trash it. So I got directions and set off.

When I got there, I asked the lady why she didn't try to sell it. Long story short, the computer belonged to her sister, who (I think) lives somewhere around the Space Coast, and after months of trying to get her to retrieve it, she was finally given the okay to just get rid of it however she wanted. So I benefit. (I'm half-expecting to get an email back in a couple of days, asking for the thing back because her sister suddenly wants it... if that happens, she's out of luck!)

I plugged the thing in when I got home and let it boot up. I was mostly pleasantly surprised by what I found:

THE POSITIVES
- It's got a Pentium III processor--not the current top-of-the-line, but not bad.
- It's got a 14-gig hard drive (or thereabouts, it shows 12.7-gigs of available space; again, a lot better than I was expecting).
- It's running Windows ME, which is generally a crappy OS, but better than Win95 or some proprietary system.
- The monitor is a 17-inch CRT, a beauty and probably as valuable as the CPU.
- It's got four USB slots, including two in the front of the unit (two are taken up by the keyboard and mouse).
- It's very compact, measuring only 12 x 8 x 6 inches.
- It seems to be in good operating order.

THE NEGATIVES
- It's got piddling RAM, only 64MB.
- It's got only a 56K modem.
- By design, the thing is built from proprietary components, so that means it's effectively non-upgradable for hardware, and probably iffy for a lot of newer software.

It's hard to argue with free, especially when it meant just a bearable drive up to Pasco County. The question is, what do I do with it?

I'm cleaning up the hard drive, and likely will wipe it completely clean (note to those who sell/give away old computers: Take a half-hour and thoroughly delete all the personal files off the drives... Just from casual poking around, I've already found enough stuff--old credit reports, resumes, etc.--to do some major identity theft damage, if I were that kind of person). I don't know if I'd rather try to install Windows 2000 on it, or try to turn it into a Linux box. The lack of an ethernet port for high-speed Internet connectivity is a drag, although I wonder if I can find some sort of port device that'll work through the USB ports...

Anyway, it's a toy that's in better shape than I had hoped. It'll be fun to mess with it. If anyone has any suggestions for it, I'm open.