Computers and Humanity to Others

Humanity towards others via an old PC - with Ubuntu.Most of us use a computer these days and, like everything technical, they evolve. They also tend to get slower over time. Eventually, it’s time to upgrade. If you are savvy, your old PC will be responsibly recycled. The Blind Center of Nevada has a fantastic program to handle that. It is part of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Reducing and reusing products take priority over recycling though, since they have the greatest beneficial impact.

Is it possible to reduce the need for upgrading by reusing a computer? Absolutely! There is a very green solution that can extend the useful life of any PC. It can result in less frequent purchases of new hardware and software, or breathe new life into a computer that can then be reused by someone else who could benefit from it. It’s called Ubuntu.

From the South African Bantu language, Ubuntu means simply “Humanity toward others.” It is an appropriate term for a wonderful software package that lives up to its unique name. It not only works really well, but is completely free. Ubuntu is an open source operating system based on GNU/Linux. You can learn more and download it at I don’t want to get too technical but in basic terms, Ubuntu runs on your computer instead of Windows or the Mac operating system. It can also be installed along with or even inside Windows for those who want both options.

Although versatile and full-featured, Ubuntu makes fewer demands on the machine, thus when installed on an older PC or laptop, it can breathe new life into an aging candidate for the recycling bin. Even though it is completely free, it is well-supported and there are regular updates to keep it current. Installing it is fairly easy but I understand that many computer users are not technically oriented. That is why this is a perfect solution. It can be fun to experiment with an old machine since it really doesn’t matter what happens to it. The anxiety of “making a mistake” is eliminated and you get to simply enjoy the experience. If you’ve never installed a new operating system on a computer before, you may find it very rewarding. No matter what your level of computer skills are, you can’t lose so why not try? It’s not as hard as you might think.

Do you have an old laptop that just doesn’t quite cut it anymore? Before you toss it, try installing Ubuntu and see what you think. I did exactly that and the entire process has been a great learning experience. I had already installed Windows 7 and it was working OK, so I chose to install Ubuntu as a second operating system. This is called a dual boot option. When the computer starts, I can choose to run either Windows or Ubuntu.

I always choose the latter, since it works so well and I’m enjoying the process of exploring new programs. In practice, using programs in Ubuntu is very much the same as on my Windows PC. The commands and interface are similar, intuitive and easy to use.

In the world of open source software, there are thousands of applications and most of those are free too. You will find everything from excellent contact management and email applications to professional-quality productivity suites like Libre Office. It installs Firefox (my personal favorite) as the default web browser, which is my favorite. You can play music and videos or view and edit photos. There is even an open source image manipulation program that rivals the best out there.

By the way, there is an educational version called Edubuntu. Imagine how much money our schools might save by switching to a system based on free, open source software! Just a thought…

The bottom line is that there are options to extend the life of thousands of computers that are currently being discarded prematurely. By taking a greener approach we can learn new things, save lots of money and provide the benefits of computer access to even more people that need it. What better way to express the concept of “humanity to others?” It’s almost as if Ubuntu could be another word for Green Living.