Opinion: Kids Make Perfect Low End Mac Users

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Dave at Newton Poetry makes a good point in his post One Used Mac Per Child about the culture of throw-it-away that pervades our society. We throw away so many old computers and monitors – still functional, most of them, but no longer fashionable – that we end up “poisoning another country and its people.”

What happened to the “make do and mend” attitude? It got swept away by cheap deals in malls, deals that made making do seem dumb.

Dave makes a point of doing something about this waste, by ensuring that some of it gets re-used and recycled:

“Rescuing Macs from the trash heap is a hobby for me. Besides all the fun I have with these “obsolete” machines, in a way I’m saving them from being stripped, buried, or burned. Luckily the recycler we deal with is dedicated to keeping e-waste out of third-world countries. But my small effort saves the energy and resources it takes to either (a) recycle the computers or (b) create new ones. I haven’t bought a brand-new Mac since 2005; my iMac G4 works just fine, thanks.”

I particularly admire Dave’s proposal for a One Used Mac Per Child programme. Let’s round up those old machines, the ones that we sometimes see sitting abandoned, but still usable, on street corners. Round them up, re-install whatever version of whatever operating system they are capable of running, and get those things in use. Give them to kids. Set them up in family rooms and kitchens. Plug them into routers or install new wireless cards where possible. Find a browser that’ll work (we hear that Netscape 2.0 is pretty good and send them flying on to the web.

OK, some of them might be so old that flying might be a little difficult. But you get the gist.

Truth to tell, this is not such a new idea; there have been organized groups gathering, refurbishing and redistributing old computers for years now. What is new is Dave’s enthusiasm for recycling old Macs in particular.

Imagine what Dave and friends might do in response to a post like this one that appeared on the Mac UK mailing list a few days ago.

Poster Brian Harding had “half a Transit” of old Macs and Mac-related stuff that had to be got rid of after he had a clearout during some building work on his home. The list includes four Mac Pluses, five LCs, some beige G3s, even a Quicktake 100 camera. You don’t see many of those around. The point is: here’s half a van-load of old kit for the asking, free to anyone with half a van with which to carry it away. How much of it, I wonder, could be revived into kid-friendly Mac machinery?

My son, now six, has just started asking about computers. I’ve set him up with the creaky old G3 iBook that grinds its way through most tasks and can’t really survive long on its battery, but that still works well enough for him to be enthralled by it. The simplest of things – creating a folder, moving it around the Desktop, and dragging pictures into it from web pages – makes him smile and say: “Wow! Cool!”

As we went upstairs for his bedtime story last night, we got on to the subject of operating systems, and I tried to explain the difference between the Windows machines he uses at school, and the OS X machines he uses at home.

My attempt at a simple explanation was fruitless, but he chipped in with his view on it all: “The ones at school are green and blue,” he said, making a gesture to represent the default XP desktop. “And our ones at home are grey,” he continued, referring to the plain grey desktop background I use on all my machines.

I nodded. For now, that much difference is plenty.

18 responses to “Opinion: Kids Make Perfect Low End Mac Users”

  1. iDave says:

    Isn’t that great? Maybe your son’s experience will leave as lasting of an impression as my first encounter with Macs back in middle school did with me. Let’s just hope he sticks with the “gray” one!

    Thanks for the post. Just so everyone knows, Dan Knight from Low End Mac set up a Google Group for anyone that wants to help in the efforts. My idea was just that: an idea. But Dan has taken that ball and run with it. We’re getting folks in from all over the country willing to help, but we still need help with details.

    If you have an old Mac lying around (and really, you shouldn’t – you should be putting it to good use), let’s see if we can’t get it to someone who could really benefit it.

  2. csbmonkney says:

    While I certainly appreciate this, as I will probably be participating in it myself, I also weigh the cost of storage space about these types of things. The much older stuff that can only run Classic in its various flavors can introduce some basics, but its the kind of thing that makes me think “Isn’t my kid going to be smarter than me? Shouldn’t I provide the kid with something to really dig into?” And I don’t feel that way with Classic (as much as I loved it). In that Ubuntu provides Edubuntu and that it runs on so many old computers of any flavor, I suspect my gal will be getting one of those as a first machine in a few years while I obsessively try to clean and restore the old Macs I have as living examples of the things that made me fall in love with the Mac. She’ll certainly get a Mac to play with, eventually, but I want her having a Mac OS X machine and I don’t want it taking up a big footprint in my house in the future.

  3. Fraser says:

    Until recently, I worked specifying, deploying and supporting Macs in high schools. Kids are anything but low-end Mac users. If anything, they’re power users compared to many of the staff. It’s the media richness of contemporary computing and the Mac in particular that kids engage with – they record music, they shoot and manipulate photos, they edit video, they burn DVDs to take home and show their parents. Just like the hipster guy in the Get A Mac ads. So a shonky old Mac Plus just isn’t going to cut it.

    For email and word processing perhaps, an old Mac will do just fine. Let the kids have the high-end kit and give journalsts the old stuff!

  4. Andrew DK says:

    “referring to the plain grey desktop background I use on all my machines”
    Sick. Get some colorful wallpaper already!
    Or get this.

  5. Alex says:

    I agree with the comment by Fraser. Once young kids have been provided access to a High-End Mac, there is no turning back. They embrace it’s abilities, and it becomes the standard they expect.

    I let my two kids use my 24″ Intel iMac, (ages 7 and 9). They create videos with their Vidsters that they download, manipulate , edit and burn to DVD on the iMac. They started with KidPix, but quickly and comfortably migrated to all of the iLife software that comes with the machine.

    My neighbor gave me a 350Mhz Blue G3 iMac. I figured that it would work for the kids to use the internet, so that I can use my machine when I came home from work! Nah…. that didn’t work!! The old machine is just too slow. And it’s web browser in System 9 simply cannot support Flash for “Club Penguin” or YouTube!

    I support if you introduce a very young child to an old and slow Mac, and it’s their first contact with a computer, they won’t know any better. But as soon as they come into contact with a comuter with any capability whatsoever, they WILL embrace it!

  6. gilest says:

    Church of Apple: we shall have to disagree. I just don’t want a colourful desktop, nor an animated one, nor one festooned with widgets and gadgets and Stuff. I like my computing plain and minimalist, it helps me get on with my work. You can keep your colourful desktops. Euw.

  7. Neil Anderson says:

    Kids are definitely powerusers. You’ve got maybe a year before your kid is requesting a new MacBook. :)

  8. Guest says:

    If it can’t run Mac OS X 10.3 Panther at a decent speed then it’s too low end in my opinion.

    A 350Mhz Blue G3 iMac with 512 MB of RAM and Panther should be fine for surfing, email etc.

  9. G.D. Warner says:

    Hi, Giles.

    Good article.

    On the subject of kids and Macs, ten years ago, when I got out of the Navy, I moved in with my grandmother and (I guess) a great niece. She was 14 at the time, and getting rather poor grades in school.

    I bought her an old LC 520, taught her how to use MS Word, how to spell check, how to use a template (the MacTech template they use for their articles), and print her papers on an old Color StyleWriter 2400 — which I still have today, and use with my MacBook Pro.

    Her grades went up immediately! In fact, she made class valedictorian a few years later.

    Not bad, considering she went from having all Ds.

    Since then, I have purchased for this same niece a Strawberry G3 iMac 400, and gave her nephews the old 520 she had … and recently I upgraded that same machine with more RAM and a larger hard drive, and gave her an Iomega Zip 650 (she has an impressive bunch of .mp3s, and sells mix CDs to her friends).

    While I was upgrading her machine, I found a good deal on another iMac (I think it was white) for her nephews. They’re older now, but still use the iMac primarily for games (I installed Myth: The Fallen Lords and Virtual GameStation, among others).

    My niece was also the recipient of an old G4 iBook running OS X a couple years ago, but she foolishly left it in the back of a friend’s car. Said car was stolen, and when it was eventually found, the laptop was gone … so she’s going to be stuck in OS 9-ville for now.

    My ex-wife, my daughter, and my granddaughter also have been similarly gifted with my old laptops and Newtons. Alas, the last two laptops had Panther on them. After using Tiger for a while, using Panther is just … painful!

    Still need to find an upgrade DVD to fix that.

    Finally, the desktop pictures thing.

    It can’t hurt to teach your son how to download pictures from places like http://www.macdesktops.com and put them on his desktop. You gave him the computer; you should let him customize it as he sees fit, IMO.

    Besides … it’s just one more thing he’ll learn how to do on a computer. Can’t go wrong there!

    –gdw