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Leveraging F/LOSS

It is 1:10am on April 11, 2020. I am sitting at home courtesy of my employer, at full pay for either 2 or 4 weeks. I’m not sure how that is determined, but I’m still home for another week regardless. I am grateful.

Two weeks ago, reported new unemployment claims came in around 3.5 million. This is with not all states reporting, and so many claims came in so quickly that the number we have may be a bit lower than actual unemployment claims. Last week there was over 6 mil more and this week another 6 mil. That’s like 16 million people out of work in under a month

I hope people are able to utilize food banks/clothing banks, and family & friends for those who have them, for necessities. I’ve used both in my life, and would not be surprised if in this crazy time it doesn’t happen again.

But for technological needs, there is a path for you. Simply ask for old/used computers in Facebook groups, online and newspaper classified adds, etc. Say, computers dating from anything released the last 10 years or so.

I ran a nonpofit for 6 years that took donations of old computers from schools, businesses, and homeowners, then refurbished them with Linux. We kept some but gave most away. I worked with a Catholic Nunnery in the area and word of mouth for people who’s kids needed computers. I wanted to work with the local senior center to add fixed-income elderly people to the list of folks who needed computers…but I had so many donations and no one to help me process them all, that I wound up with a garage full of donations and had to stop.

The point is that people are willing to give their old computers away, the Linux operating system is available totally free of charge, along with the vast majority of software for Linux. Also, Linux is so versatile and fast that even on older computers it’s usually more than sufficient for anything but cutting-edge gaming and video production. It is also way more secure.

So, if times are tough for you, I wish you all the breaks. If one of the things you wind up needing is a computer or laptop for your kids because they are home from school, or to help look for work, or anything else, ask around for people who might have old computers in a closet they are no longer using.

Remember to run a disk sanitizer on the hard drive before installing a new operating system onto it. Installing Linux and basic applications will delete all data and some of it will be overwritten and irretrievable, but sensitive information might still be available if the proper forensics programs were run…say maybe by the person whom the computer gets donated to runs a data sniffer and finds a fragment of a billing email. That’s a bad situation.

So:
1) ask for donations of old computers and laptops
2) sanitize hard drive and install Linux and applications
3) be a good citizen and keep some and give some away

This approach works great for people starting a club or nonprofit to get basic IT infrastructure on the cheap. Say a group of parents wants to start working with STEM lessons for their kids and maybe other kids as well. I’d recommend purchasing some Raspberry Pi computer kits to help with physical computing and electronics later, but donated computers can get you tools for learning quickly and pretty cheaply.

Linux is an operating system in the same way that Android runs phones, Apple OSX runs Macintoshes, Windows and Linux run normal personal computers (PCs). Some software for Windows exists for Linux, but mostly you will be using programs that are super similar but not exactly the same.

Libre’ Office
GIMP
Firefox
Chrome
LastPass
Visual Studio Code
TelegramDesktop
VLC
…and tons more. These are just from the bottom tray on the computer I’m using right now.

If you are having difficulty figuring out how this all works, shoot me an email or leave a comment and I will try to give you pointers including how to find a Linux users group in your area. We are everywhere!

I hope you are doing well, peace;

Dave

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