Saturday, October 17

Monkey Wrench

December 23, 2006. I'd only been in the States a few months had finally nailed a precious on-campus job at the Communications Studies department. The first semester was over and a sepulchral silence settled over the campus and residential areas around the university as the Christmas and New Year holidays commenced.

I sat at my desk in the silent office building waiting for quitting time (everyone else had left hours earlier and I was simply manning the fort) when the phone rang. It was my room mate, Grandpa. "Chote, tere liye kuch parcel aaya hai. Pata nahin, baxa hai. Aake dekh le." is what he said before hanging up, leaving me nonplussed. I hadn't ordered anything and wasn't expecting any parcels or letters, so what was this box?

Eventually 5:30pm rolled by and I left for home at a brisk pace. On opening the door, I was confronted by the startling sight of Grandpa leering like he'd seen a particularly comely female. Though it was his natural smile, it still took some getting used to. I was about to ask him about the box but the question froze on my lips because I spotted the logo. DELL.

At first I couldn't believe my eyes and assumed it was a joke by my room mates. But there it was, heavy and sealed with all the official documentation. On opening the box, I found the note from my folks wishing me a happy birthday. And then I found the white and silver Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop which they'd arranged for a relative to buy and ship from New Jersey. I think that was the last time a birthday gift genuinely stunned me.

Since it was from my folks, the tech-specs were pragmatic rather than woo-hoo! But it was a very respectable laptop; solid and dependable, packing a 60 GB Internal HD and Windows XP. From the very beginning, I took good care of it, avoiding dodgy websites, shady downloads and the like. Though it weighed a ton, I hauled it everywhere, using it to read books, watch movies and of course, start this blog. It was on this laptop that I perfected the ability to type in pitch dark at speed and till today, I struggle to reach the same ease on other keyboards.

The first time the laptop gave me trouble was in Cambodia when the CD drive inexplicably conked off. Since I've chronicled that in posts from 2008, there won't be a repeat. But that little flake slowly become a growing snowball going down the tech hill. The battery performance nosedived after a few years, which was followed by the system itself. Though the RAM was enough for the superb XP OS, programs started slowing down and dragging and anti-virus only made it worse. My preferred browser, Firefox, would take ages to load and I was unable to run more than a few programs at once.

Eventually, I cleaned out the laptop, installed more RAM and things improved. And then came the fateful announcement from Microsoft that they wouldn't support XP after April 2014. I began to do my research on the possible solutions. Yes, the simplest would have been to buy a new laptop with top of the line specs. But, there was nothing wrong with the actual hardware. A Mac was out of my budget and I honestly didn't see what the hullabaloo was about. At heart, I'm still a writer and all I need is a word document program and the Internet.

Since I was living in Bombay, the Dell was my Poona-based PC, crammed with all the critical stuff. I got a second-hand laptop for Bombay, which had superb hardware but only came with XP on it. That's when I knew it was time to take the plunge. I'd heard, read and kept up with Linux for years, always curious about this highly praised OS and its derivatives but also scared about its technical side. Earlier this year, I did a little bit of experimentation, dual-booting the Bombay laptop, installed Linux Ubuntu and fell in love with its simplicity and elegance. But what was I to do about my old, faithful Dell which was still on XP?

The answer was LXLE. And today, after 9 years, I backed up all my files and folders, plugged in the Live USB and said goodbye to XP. I was sorely tempted to keep it going till December 23rd, giving it a neat birthday send-off, but didn't see the point in that. The laptop was limping and the OS was tired so, in a way, there was more dignity this way (Okay, maybe I'm starting to sound like Joaquin Phoenix in 'Her'). And once I installed LXLE, I knew it was the right decision.

It is basically made for laptops like mine, i.e. old but serviceable. It'll be supported by the Linux community till 2019 so I'm happy to have given the Dell a new lease of life. After all we've been through together, it was thoroughly deserved. And yes, I'm still writing blog posts on the same laptop. Who would have thunk it?

Song for the moment: Into the great wide open - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers    

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