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Technology Untangled: Making good use of older technology

October 21, 2015

technology-bourWe are constantly bombarded by advertisements enticing us to choose the newest smartphone, the slimmest computer, the greatest new operating system. It seems like it is always an uphill battle to obtain and adapt to the newest electronic thing. Yet, sometimes there is wisdom in making better use of things we already have or in choosing gently used items. This article will look at some recent examples of where I chose not to automatically go with the newest technology and will detail how those choices worked out.

The first example involves a smartphone. My wife’s Motorola Moto X was just about at the end of its two-year contract, but the headset speaker was failing. Verizon, of course, offered the easy “fix” of an early upgrade to a new, expensive Moto X Gen 2, or something similar. Another alternative was an overpriced factory refurbished unit. Aside from the cost, switching to a new piece of hardware can be a tedious process. All the data, contacts, photos, etc. must be backed up to the Cloud and reinstalled on the replacement device. Since I was going to have to negotiate that process regardless, I decided to take my chances and first try it with a less expensive used phone purchased through eBay.

It is precisely because there are so many people out there who simply must have the latest and greatest thing that there are many gently used smartphones available at good prices. I chose a Samsung Galaxy S4 that was half the price of the refurbished S4 that Verizon was offering. There are plenty of reputable phone resellers on eBay, but you still need to be careful. Be sure the phone has a clean ESN (electronic serial number) which means it can be reactivated by your provider and is not, for example, a stolen phone. You can call your provider to check an ESN. Also, be sure that the phone is a version that is specifically functional with your provider. Most sellers will list which provider a used phone will work with.

Going the used route gave me a chance to try a different brand of phone with different features all while not feeling like I would be stuck with the unit for a long time if I didn’t like it. I have already determined that I now prefer a phone with a replaceable battery and expandable memory, so no iPhone for me.

The next adventure involving not-so-new hardware came when one of the laptops we use for realtime reporting began having charging issues due to a failing power port. Buying a brand new computer would have involved switching over to Windows10 (something I am still trying to avoid for a bit longer) and re-loading all the CAT translation software. Instead, I investigated the used computer offerings at a local computer repair shop. My goal was to find a comparable computer that was similar enough to allow me to transfer the hard drive from the failing computer into the replacement. The technician at the shop did me one better. He was able to clone, or copy, the entire hard drive and install the clone into a top-of-the-line HP Elitebook. This computer was one of many corporate turn-in computers that this shop deals with.

Corporate turn-in units are typically more robust than standard laptops, and when new, they were usually at the very high end of the price range. The result was that I got a much better computer of a similar vintage for a very good price. I got to stay with Windows 7, plus I was able to retain the old computer as an emergency backup unit. One minor issue was easily correctable. Since the hardware within the machines was slightly different, appropriate drivers had to be downloaded from HP in order to get things such as the mouse and the LCD display to work in optimum fashion.

As far as firing up the computer and using it, there is literally no noticeable difference, and my reporter never missed a beat! The same desktop with all the same icons appears. All the expected programs are in place, and all the email settings are just as if we were still using the original computer.

My third experience with older hardware was the result of a recent hard drive failure. I hope the lesson I learned will save you from future troubles. What I learned was that simply backing up the data from your computers on a regular basis is not necessarily enough. I was able to recover my data, but what I lost in this failure was access to some older, legacy programs that worked best on this old Windows XP unit. I used these programs on occasion for forensic video and audio analysis because of several specialty tools that were ideal for specific situations. The original software packages are long gone, so reinstalling is out of the question.

I wish I had thought to clone that old Windows XP hard drive while it was still in good condition. Then, as with the laptop example above, I could have easily dropped in the clone and continued using those legacy programs. Instead, I installed a new blank hard drive and restored the computer using the original factory recovery CDs, essentially making it a “new” 8-year-old computer that I can at least donate to someone.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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