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May 12, 1996

Your old clunker can
reach the Internet, too

By Timothy C. Barmann

If you think you need a fancy, expensive computer to join the information revolution, you're probably missing out on all the fun.

That old clunker you bought 10 years ago, the likes of which can be found in a museum, is still quite useful.

"A lot of these machines are being unnecessarily trashed," says Glendon Gross, a Los Angeles computer consultant.

Gross, who is a proponent of recycling "obsolete" computers, spreads his message on a World Wide Web page (http://www.clones.com) devoted to the topic.

There, he answers questions about how to make use of outdated computers, including how to connect them to the Internet.

"The reality is that connectivity has been built right into PCs since they were built in the early '80s," he said.

George Boase of Providence uses such a machine to link to the Internet.

"This is, in fact, being written on an IBM XT that is like an old friend to me," Boase wrote in an e-mail message. The XT was one of the first personal computers.

Boase has a 2,400-baud modem - which is painfully slow by today's standards - that he uses to send e-mail and participate in Internet discussion groups.

"It's a little slow, but it gets me there," he said.

The computer cost him about $1,000 eight or nine years ago, but he has seen the same model sell for as little as $10 at a bank auction.

He said he sees no need to upgrade - his computer is working just fine.

Boase's electronic relic and others like it have no trouble connecting to the Internet and bulletin board systems because they don't require a lot of processing power for text-based connections.

With such connections, your computer is acting like a "dumb terminal." The computer you are linked to is actually doing all the heavy thinking.

Of course you won't see pictures or hear sounds found on the World Wide Web with these types of computers. For that, you need at least a "386" class machine running Microsoft Windows.

But the most basic access can be had with any computer, some communications software, a modem and some patience. A 2,400-baud modem will do, but if you can afford a 14,400 bps modem, which are sold for as little as $50, buy it.

Saved from the trash

One of the least expensive ways to get to some of the Internet resources is through local bulletin boards. There are dozens of boards in Rhode Island that offer both Internet e-mail and discussion groups.

That's how Boase gets connected. He uses a Providence BBS called Chowdanet, which charges $30 a year for one hour of use each day.

Another way to get e-mail and text access to the World Wide Web is throught the Ocean State Free-Net, the statewide public access computer system.

That's what Kerri Haddow of Providence used to send e-mail to a friend in England. She used an old portable computer, a 1983 or 1984 model, to connect last summer while she waited for a new computer she ordered to arrive.

Where do you find these "classic" computers?

Haddow literally pulled her machine out of the trash. She worked as an editor for Providence Business News and the company was getting rid of the old machine because it didn't work.

But Haddow was able to fix it with a minor repair.

If your employer isn't throwing old computers away, check newspaper ads or stop by a store that sells used computer equipment.

Jim Pierce, owner of Rhode Island Computer Consultants in Providence, said there is a demand for some of the old machines. "We still have a few XT's kicking around," he said. Those are sold for about $100.

But for $150, you can get a "286" class machine, which is the next step up - it's a little faster. And a modem? Pierce said at that price, he would probably throw in a 2,400-baud model.

There's no question that a fast computer, a speedy modem are the way to go if you can afford it. But if you don't have the cash, or are just one of those people who can't give up your technological treasures, you're not out of luck.

Haddow puts it this way: "If you can get it slow, it's better than not getting it all."

Related story: Where to find free or inexpensive Internet access

Computer calendar

Tuesday - The Rhode Island Area Computer Enthusiasts will discuss and demonstrate ways to connect to the Internet, at 7:15 p.m. at the Buckley & Scott Building, 101 Corliss St., near the Providence main post office. Admission is free. For more information, contact Steve Dunphy at 781-5766 evenings, or by e-mail: sdunphy43@aol.com.

May 20 - the Boston Computer Society's Rhode Island Macintosh Users Group will see a demonstration by Herbert Holland of the Newton 2.0 Message Pad, Apple's latest personal digital assistant, a hand-held computer, at Brown University's CIT building, Waterman and Brook Streets, Providence, on the second floor. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and is free. For more information, call Bob Hazard at 884-3050 or Tom Feeley at 444-9677.

May 21 - The Boston Computer Society's Rhode Island PC Users Group will discuss Internet tools at 7 p.m. in the East Conference room of the Community College of Rhode Island, Warwick. The meeting is free. At 6:30 p.m. there will be a general discussion, along with a question-and-answer session. For more information, contact Louis Stein at 739-2810, or by e-mail at louisstein@aol.com, or see the group's Web page at http:// ids.net/~louissn/ribcs.html.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.