Computing on the cheap

Don’t think you can afford a byte of the apple? Think again, says Debra Jane Appleby. Think retro.

I’m writing this article on an Apple Mac.

“Oooh”, you say, “You creative maverick, you. A writer on an Apple Mac: must be doing well to be able to afford that what with the whole Apple tax thing; I mean I have a boring old Windows laptop that I bought when I was a student. It was only £250 but it did what I needed and I could never afford a Mac because they cost like thousands and they can’t be that different really and…”

Oh, shut up and let me finish. I’m writing this article on an Apple Mac that cost £50. Yes. £50. Do you need to mop up all the tea you just spat all over your screen? Use an unscented baby wipe. It’ll bring it up lovely.

So, how do you get a functioning Apple Mac laptop for a mere £50 without having to resort to dodgy Dave down the Dog & Duck or some Dutch auction website?

Easy. Go retro!

This is the Mac I’m using right now.

She’s a PowerBook G4 (Ti) 867 Mhz to give her the full nerd name. Introduced on November 6, 2002, a snip at $2,299. Yours now, on eBay, for anywhere between £30 and £150.

Why? Because it is considered grossly obsolete. Macromedia Flash won’t work with it (which is a bonus in my book); the ‘latest’ operating system it will run is OSX 10.4 Tiger, which is 10 years old; it has a PowerPC processor so any Mac software from 2006 and beyond is a no-no, and you can’t plug an iPhone into it. If you desperately need to run Windows, which on a Mac is usually through bootcamp (so named, presumably, because that’s what using Windows feels like – sweaty and painful), forget it.

So why am I wasting your time? Because it’s fun, it’s a Mac, it’s cheap. It’s also a great second machine if you already have a lumpy old Windows desktop and want to see what the Mac is all about. If all you use your laptop computer for is surfing the web, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email and a bit of word processing then it does all that easy enough (with the help of the odd app like MacTubes).

It plays games of the time, such as the first Starcraft, and as retro gaming is all the rage these days you can now find old stuff available free and on open licenses.

A lot of other software is still up to date and running fine. Dropbox for example. I write my scripts on it using Celtx, record music and podcasts using Audacity and Garageband ’08, and edit videos for YouTube in iMovie HD. There are free apps such as LibreOffice which give you a Microsoft Office alternative, completely free and all fully compatible. There’s even a modern browser in TenFourFox, a version of the latest Firefox browser maintained for OSX Tiger and above on these PowerPC machines.

Oh, and of course, it plays DVDs. Remember DVDs?

As you can see, the list of what it can do is a lot longer than the list of what it can’t. What it can’t do, I’m usually doing on my phone or iPad anyway.

It’s the computing equivalent of getting yourself an old MG Roadster to spin around the country lanes of a summer’s eve or that fab 1960s dress that has a story all of its own. Retro is cool these days and doesn’t have to just mean legwarmers and a ra-ra skirt.

You can pick up a later Intel-based MacBook, which will run everything up to and including OSX 10.9 (the current version of the Mac operating system), for the price of a low-spec brand new Windows machine and be able to do all that state-of-the-art stuff if you want. Even in a shop like CEX if you’re not an eBay fan.

A lot of people think, like with cars and other stuff, that new equals best. Yet why spend £600-£800 on a laptop that could run the Mars Rover project and then do nothing but read Facebook on it and delete your Viagra spam? Hey, if you have a grotty old laptop that you bought for £250 when you were a student and it still does most of the stuff you want to do, put Linux on it and give it a whole new lease of life.

Still, that’s another story for another time and I’ve just discovered a Tetris game for my PowerBook while researching this article. At least it should stop me from playing FreeCiv.


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Written by Debra-Jane Appelby

Loud, Yorkshire, opinionated, techno-geek, trans-woman comedian with a fondness for excessive culinary pleasures and too little exercise.