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Linux.SYS-CON.com Feature - Silicon Embers: Making Old Technology New Again

Silicon Embers: Making Old Technology New Again

There is a concept in computers called the "Digital Rainbow," an idea that describes how all digital projects eventually end at a pot of programming gold.

Riding the Digital Rainbow is akin to riding the light waves of a silicon world, from everything in computers and GPS systems to Apple's iPod. It doesn't matter where the rainbow begins nor where it ends. What matters is that the rainbow is there in the first place, and that we are steadfast in using it to reach our computing dreams.

Eventually, as computer technology moves quickly ahead at the blinding speed of light, we must come to a full-stop at the present moment and reflect on the digital world where it existed only moments before anew. For in the cosmic universe of the 0s and 1s of the electronic world there is nothing but rapid, constant change swirling around us at all times.

During the early 1990s, when my grandfather was upgrading his computer system from a Kaypro II to an NEC-built x386 system, he was kind enough to offer the old Kaypro to me for free. The Kaypro had served him well for many years and was still serviceable as a main computer for his grandson. At that time, I was still using a Commodore 128, which came with CP/M 3.0 as a third built-in operating system (bootable from a floppy disk). I knew that the Kaypro II wouldn't be of much use, but the included software would certainly run in CP/M mode on my 8-bit Commodore 128. So I delightfully accepted his generous offer.

But certain circumstances beyond our control prevented me from acquiring my grandfather's Kaypro system. Alas, a sudden death in the family put off the offering for good. The Kaypro - like most systems - eventually turned into "Silicon Embers," the dying flame of a useful but aged silicon beast.

Making old technology new again means finding new uses for seemingly outdated and obsolete systems. With regards to Linux, newer versions of the Linux kernel function very well on older machines that might otherwise serve no useful purpose (or even end up in the trash).

The average life cycle of a generic computer system is 18-36 months. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits will double roughly every 18 months (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law). This forces computer manufacturers to constantly and consistently develop new computing hardware for a wide spectrum of the consumer market, from consumers to schools, big business, and government.

Linux makes this cycle redundant, a biproduct of the minicomputer age. No longer are we racing to compete with IBM's System/360 (which landed in virtually every corner of the globe, including NASA and even the Space Shuttle's advanced avionics and control systems, via Pi).

By placing Linux on aging systems, we are breaking Moore's Law wide open and establishing a new computing codex: that all computers invariably have some life left in them, regardless of age, applied technology, or original station of intended use.

The silicon embers of dying machines no longer hauntingly lurk beyond every computer graveyard, nor do we relegate our once beloved machines into the digital dust that has become so prominent in our computing culture. This "Race to Innovate" is important, even vital, to our computing futures. Yet, by keeping older machines humming long into the night, we are burning the midnight oil upon a whole new world of innovative and constructive computer usage.

More Stories By Paul Panks

Paul Panks is the author of "HLA Adventure," an adventure game written in Randall Hyde's HLA (High Level Assembly) language. His ultimate intention was for others to eventually contribute to this project, so in May 2003 he released it into public domain, including the source
code, so others could add to the game over time. Paul is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, an avid fan of pro football and creative writing, and became
interested in Linux programming through Red Hat Linux and Fedora Core.

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