You need a hooptie

While I am not a huge rap fan, I found myself thinking about a song from the late 80s/early 90s one day when I was using my HP hybrid laptop. Sir Mix-a-Lot produced a song about a loaner car, an old beat-up automobile that didn’t work properly, called “My Hooptie“. This is probably my favorite rap song. I think it is hilarious.

My HP has a few missing keys and some others that don’t work, so it is a lot like the car in the song. The laptop is my hooptie.

Hoopties are necessary for anyone who wants to experiment with desktop Linux and open-source applications. (At least they are extremely useful.) They also have a number of other uses and have features that are left out of newer machines.

As someone who experiments with Linux distros and open-source applications, I have acquired several laptops over the years, and I actually have three that I consider to be hoopties:

  • Dell Latitude D830
  • HP Pro X 2 410 G1
  • Acer Aspire One ZG5

Dell

This beast of a laptop has four USB ports, a PCMCIA slot to insert cards that allow for more USB ports and other ports, an ethernet port, as well as a few other ports. The former standard-issue business laptop also has a 15.4 inch screen and a DVD-ROM drive.

The Duo Core 2 processor with 2 GB of RAM runs Linux Mint 19.3 Xfce fairly well. It has some difficulty when LibreOffice is open at the same time as a Web browser. The WiFi and hard drive lights on the computer flash, so the laptop might be slowly dying piece by piece.

However, one great thing about this laptop is it has a replaceable battery, and the hard drive is easy to upgrade. It can be removed through a slot on the side of the laptop, and the battery easily pops out.

The upgradable hard drive and battery are two of the reasons why I keep this laptop. With the DVD drive, I also can watch movies on it when I travel, particularly when I can’t get a great WiFi connection or I want to rent a movie from Redbox rather than renting it through Amazon or Google Play.

Of the several laptops I own, the Dell has the best keyboard and the largest screen, so it makes it the best for writing for long periods of time and the best for editing the pieces I am working on.

HP

The X2 is an older hybrid laptop/tablet. The screen detaches from the keyboard and base. A micro SD port, power connector, and headphone jack are part of the screen housing. These connections, USB ports, and an HDMI port are in the base.

As mentioned in the beginning of this blog, the laptop is a hooptie because the “F” key and the spacebar are missing. They still work if I press those switches hard, but the arrow keys don’t work at all.

This is the computer I use to try out different Linux distros. It has an i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM, so it has enough power to experiment with just about any distro.

Currently, it is running Fedora 31, with the standard Gnome 3 desktop environment. I also installed Cinnamon because it works better with some notification apps that I use, and I like the traditional Linux Mint environment a little better.

I am a Cinnamon man, though I love me some Gnome 3!

It also is small and portable. The HDMI port makes it easy to connect to a television for presentations to demonstrate open-source applications and different distros.

Acer

This computer is a small netbook with an 8.9 inch screen and only 1 GB or RAM. It is running LXLE, a very light distro that is based on Ubuntu and Lubuntu. There is nothing wrong with the computer. Everything works great.

However, it is difficult to surf the Web and play even simple games because it is low powered.

This is what makes the computer great for distraction-free writing. I type one handed, so it is important to have a small keyboard for free writing, and since the screen is so small, I don’t have to continually stare at it while I am typing.

While a modern tablet or large smart phone probably has more power and capabilities than this laptop, it allows me to focus on my drafts, and the ports make it easy to move those documents to another computer.

It also has a removable battery and a battery that can easily be replaced. This means it may have a longer lifespan than a tablet or phone.

Older laptops and Linux

Older laptops are not dead or obsolete when it has the right operating system. They still may provide years of usefulness when a Linux distro is installed. While not every distro will work well on one, there are many on the market that are designed to work on low to medium powered machines.

A lot of Linux distros are easy to install and don’t require adding drivers, applications, and other features to get it to work on a particular computer. The communities behind many of them keep older computers in mind when they release their latest versions of the distro, so users can still receive software and security updates on their older computers.

For example, the moto for the distro I use on the Acer is “Revive that old PC!” LXLE has 32-bit and 64-bit versions and it has been reported to work on computers that are 15 years old. Since it is based on Ubuntu, the installer application is very easy to use, and most people new to Linux will not have a problem installing it.

For those who have computers with DVD-ROM drives in them and don’t want to go through the process of installing codecs to watch movies, they can install Linux Mint 19. There are versions for three different desktop environments, and these come in 32-bit and 64-bit. When they are installed, there is no need to install codecs. Their video applications will be able to play movies out of the box. Most other distros require you to download packages before they can play DVDs.

All of Linux Mint’s user interfaces also are similar to Windows 7, so those switching from Windows will have an easier time making the transition.

These are just two examples of easy-to-use distros. This page lists several different distros.

Uses of old laptops

One of those advantages is that they are great for anyone interested in trying a Linux distro or for someone who experiments a lot with different distros. As mentioned in the previous section, several of these distros work well on older laptops. Most open-source applications are designed to work on most distros, and the same Terminal commands can be used on different operating systems. This means that Linux experimenters can use their old computers to try new applications and to try different features and settings in different distros.

While Linux users do not have to be tech-savvy, the distros allow users to change anything they want on them, so most Linux users are tinkerers, and the open-source nature of them tends to unlock the experimenting spirit in most users.

Many times these adventures lead to problems that require systems to be reinstalled, and many people are unwilling to start from scratch on a new computer. This is where owning a hooptie becomes valuable.

There are other uses for a hooptie:

Like with my Dell, old computers also can be used to backup data and information. Archived files can be stored on their hard drives, and their operating systems can connect with online storage and syncing services. This is a great use for old machines that are not used that often anymore.

Old laptops can be portable DVD players. They can be connected to speakers and play music using Rhythmbox, Clementine, and other music players and music-library organizers. They are also excellent writing tools, especially old business computers that have keys with decent travel on them.

Advantages of older computers

Old computers, whether they have missing parts or are in pristine condition, are not like your new laptop. They can’t run the latest games or run complex other applications, like video editing and programming applications. They probably are not as thin and as light. This means they may be harder to carry around.

However, they may last longer than you newer laptops because the computers made around 2010 have replaceable batteries, compartments to access RAM and hard drives, and other parts are easier to replace as well.

Users can maintain them and have them perform the tasks mentioned in the previous section for a long time. If the latest distro runs too slow on it, upgrading the RAM may help. If a hard drive is full of archived files, a larger one can probably be installed. Screens, ports, and other parts also can be purchased to replace failing ones.

This is not an option on many new laptops, even larger ones designed for power computing, which have their batteries and hard drives soldered to other components and sealed inside the laptop.

Many times older laptops also have more ports than newer powerhouse laptops, so more peripherals can be connected at the same time. This can be advantage when you need to move files to or from multiple external drives at the same time or have devices with older types of connectors that you still find useful.

The uses are endless for older laptops.

Conclusion

Older laptops are dinosaurs, but they are not the bones of a dinosaur. They are not dead, and many times they have unique features that are no longer included on newer machines, such as multiple ports and decent keyboards, that may give them advantages over the latest machines.

While speed and power may not be those advantages, they may be more comfortable to use and more flexible than the latest computers, even if they have a few broken or missing parts. They are also better machines to try new applications and operating systems on, in case you make a mistake and have to reinstall everything on your new computer.

Plus, like many older things, it may give you a sense of nostalgia, and you may find that you enjoy using an older computer more than a new one.

The message to anyone interested in learning more about desktop Linux and open-source software:

You need a hooptie laptop!

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