Disposable Cash, Disposable Tech

Today’s theme during my day of work, tending to a variety of client’s variety of computer issues seemed to be along the lines of a “should I / do I need to upgrade?” kind of question.

My first port of call was to a client whose computer I recently had to reinstall. Prior to that they had replaced their printer due to their old one no longer printing clearly (blocked nozzles of which I couldn’t rectify). It turned out, with the reinstall, that they were missing some software associated with their printer. It was actually related to the old printer, but the new one, still being an Epson, had seemingly dispensed with it. Luckily they still had the old printer installation disc to hand so I was able to reinstall the software they wanted, and it worked fine with the new printer (and with the up-to-date system; more on this in a moment).

My next client was a regular one who had taken it upon themselves to replace their computer with a new one. The original computer was one I had supplied many years ago, and now since the years had passed, they had increasingly complained about how slow it was. I’d told them a few times that an upgrade was the way forward and likely thrown some figures at them. But alas they chose the new computer route, which is fine, except I’m always a little disappointed when people do this, largely because, had they gone down the upgrade route through me, it would have cost less and ended up quicker… also, they wouldn’t then be calling me out today to iron out the setup issues that had arisen.

My third visit of the day (I was having a busy one!) was to a lady who I’d sold a tablet computer to over five years ago. They’d recently bought a new printer and we having problems setting it up and getting their tablet to talk to it. Eventually, after trying to install the required “app” from HP, it turned out their Android (5.1) tablet could not support the app. This was disappointing for a number of reasons but largely pertaining to the fact the tablet was in full working order otherwise and in pristine condition. Sadly it couldn’t* be updated.

*I recently had Android issues with a device of my own when I came to set up my Fitbit; this required at least Android 7 and the phone I first tried to use was again Android 5. I’d found instructions online to upgrade it, but I ended up ditching that plan in favour of using a compatible tablet I had spare, since all of the instructions I tried to follow lead me down dead-ends.

That third client also had an Android phone, and I got as far as downloading the HP Smart app onto it and suggesting that she could email things from her tablet that she wanted to print and print them from the phone… but then I hit another hurdle… the phone lacked sufficient memory, even though she had very little installed, and nothing that could be removed to provide the necessary space. The way forward is to order a new tablet, all to replace one that otherwise works fine.

My next client was having email issues. He was still using Windows Live Mail (WLM) with Windows 10 and it seemed a Windows Update had finally broken the email client. I had long-since learned that WLM would no longer work on a fresh install of Windows 10, and the only way it was still working for people was because it was there either prior to the upgrade to Windows 10 or prior to whatever update breaks it. This client, it seemed, had found that limitation. The solution here was to ditch WLM; I opted for the Windows 10 Mail app, not out of preference (because I don’t much like it) but out of simplicity (the icon was there ready and waiting). Sadly his contacts in WLM couldn’t be transferred over but WLM was still functioning enough to access those.

This client then got talking to me about replacing his entire laptop, with a desktop computer. I tried to ascertain why it was he thought he either wanted or needed a desktop computer. A larger screen perhaps? A better keyboard? (various letters had worn off his over the years of being subjected to his heavy typing). He was already using a separate mouse from the trackpad, so there was nothing to gain there. No was the answer to all, so I politely informed him that I couldn’t see me being able to supply him with a desktop computer that would serve him any better for what he would be using it for (checking emails and general browsing).

His wife then asked me an all too familiar question; “How long do laptops last?” They’d heard this familiar claim that laptops usually only last a few years (of which their laptop has exceeded). I always try and put this into some perspective and relay my experience, which is that, if your laptop stays on your desk (as theirs generally does) then it’s not likely to suffer the same abuse many a laptop that gets from being lugged about or broken in various ways that bring down the “typical life expectancy of laptops”.

My client yesterday was using a desktop. It was still on Windows 8.1 but otherwise up to date hardware-wise. All that was really wrong with it was the CMOS battery inside that keeps all the basic details like the date and time when it’s switched off had expired. He was somewhat keen for a new computer (“I’m happy to pay!” he exclaimed) and I politely pointed out that I couldn’t see him benefiting from that, not while everything was still working fine for him. In fact, a brand new off the shelf computer from somewhere could have been of a lower spec., hardware-wise, than what he already had.

More often than not, I think I prefer the simple jobs of keeping things running, and I like not needlessly replacing things for the sake of it, even if I could potentially earn more money doing the latter. It kind of bugs me when people have money to essentially throw away.

As for companies, like the manufacturers of peripherals, they clearly need more incentive to keep our existing tech supported. That “your device is no longer supported” should not be an excuse, especially when it seems little do with fundamentals of hardware but merely a software limitation. For the case of some devices, backwards compatibility could be maintains simply through a limitation of features, perhaps.


  1. I’ve tended to keep laptops for 6 or 7 years (my present one is 5 years) and then upgraded to newer OS and more power, but now that Windows 10 updates itself it doesn’t seem worth it, especially because a few years ago you would get a lot more speed and memory for the same price as paid 5-6 years earlier, which is no longer true. My wife’s touchscreen laptop would be more like £1000 now than the £450 she paid for it.

    • I’ve had a few cases where people have bought a new computer and assumed that it would automatically be faster than their old one, even by spending less money than they did originally (because “prices have come down [for the cheapest ones]”), only for it to not be so. It’s awkward when I’m asked what I think of their new purchase!

  2. The more power and space we have the more software expands to consume it. The 2020 Thinkpad and the 2020 Macbook Pro I use (both plugged into monitors, keyboards and mice), don’t seem to run any faster than those I had 20 years ago. I’m sure it’s because the apps I run (Visual Studio, IntelliJ, Docker) all suck up gigs of memory. I could have a terrabyte of RAM and things would still run slowly.

    Maybe if I ran DOS apps on these machines…

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