Discover more from RetroEdge.Tech Newsletter
What's "Retro Edge" anyway?
Taking back your tech life
What’s in a name? For RetroEdge.tech, the name does stand for something. It stands for a personal challenge that I want to share.
In our “progressive” culture physical computers and software seem to have such a limited useful life. Things have gotten better in some ways and worse in others. Windows 10 will run fine on a computer with a fifteen year old Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3Ghz processor (as long as it has a Solid State Drive and at least 4GB memory).
In the 80s and 90s, a fifteen year lifespan for a consumer computer seemed unimaginable. There were frequent complaints of “our computer was obsolete almost as soon as we brought it home from the store”. Now, people expect their computers to last at least five years and they can last up to fifteen years with strategic planning and upgrades.
But most technology is seen as disposable, especially when the newer thing comes out that is supposed to supplant what you have.
Sometimes this is cultural, but often it is planned obsolescence by companies who want you to not be able to use their product after so many years so that you are forced to buy their new products.
An example of that is the machine that I am typing this on now. It is a Dell Chromebook 11 3120. Google has designed their Chromebook program in such a way that the hardware “expires”, not being eligible for ChromeOS updates from Google after a certain date. For this Dell 3120 Chromebook, that expiration date already passed in September 2021.
This Chromebook is no longer eligible for software or security updates from Google, which means you cannot expect ChromeOS to work correctly or even at all after a certain point.
My goal with RetroEdge.Tech is to show how older hardware can remain useful with physical upgrades or by using different software, and sometimes both. A sub-goal of that is to show that older “retro” software and ways of doing things can be just as good as, or even superior to, what’s dominant in the tech market today.
Sometimes this means taking significant action to “rescue” a device from planned obsolescence.
For this Chromebook, I removed ChromeOS and the Google BIOS and replaced it with a more open BIOS called Coreboot that allows the Chromebook to run other operating systems besides Google’s ChromeOS.
Once freed from Google with Coreboot, loaded with a lightweight operating system (Void Linux with bspwm as the graphical environment), this laptop is a lot of fun to use.
I rescued a device from planned obsolescence. It feels good and I want to share that experience.
Linux and BSD Unix are exciting for me because I can use them with limited or old computers, making them useful again. Not everyone would be happy doing this, but I find much satisfaction in it.
Of course, you can use Linux and BSD Unix, and the software that runs on them on brand new hardware, too. You don’t have to want to use old hardware to get value out of what I write about… but you definitely will like what I have to share if you do want to extend the useful life of electronics that you already own or that are being thrown out by others.
“Retro” is a nostalgia for software, hardware and processes from an earlier time while “Edge” takes those very things into our own time, with a focus on what is relevant and useful now. I have a vision for curating a Retro Edge Tech Stack, that features this technology with a solid footing in the past while being a satisfying part of our present and future. I invite you to join me on that journey!
I’ll be giving away one of these Dell Chromebook 11 3120 laptops freed with Coreboot, which I have dubbed “#corebootbook”. After I reach 50 subscribers on Substack, I’ll draw a winning at random from the subscriber list. I’ll do another giveaway after I reach 100 subscribers, with more giveaways to follow after that.
You can be from anywhere to win, but have to give me an address in the United States to ship the laptop to. So you can be living in India, but if you win I could have it shipped to a friend or relative in the United States.
Of course, you can still get value from my tech writing no matter where you live or if you win the laptop giveaway or not.
I appreciate you reading, your subscribing and your questions and comments.
— Matthew from RetroEdge.tech