Saturday, 31 January 2015
So I found myself rather unprepared recently when I realised I was going to be needing a bit of good old-fashioned office word processing. All the things most people have to hand around their computer, I didn't. The thought of shelling out for a pile of new kit didn't really appeal, so to furnish myself with what I needed I turned to my stash of random stuff-that-will-come-in-useful-someday.
My desktop PC hasn't had a refresh since the early 2000s. I remember when it was a cutting-edge gaming machine, now it just about runs a cut-down Linux distribution and is far too slow for the software in hand. Plus it has a very noisy fan. Useful to have for pulling data from old hard drives, but come to think of it that's all I've used it for these last few years.
Fortunately I had a handy replacement already on my desk. A pocket-money-cheap Raspberry Pi with a GertVGA adaptor drives the venerable CRT monitor, and I had to dust off my 25-year-old IBM model M keyboard. It's difficult to explain the attraction of these rather noisy devices, but their unique bent-spring mechanism gives a typing action like no other.
The oldest item I pulled out though was the printer. A 24 pin Epson dot matrix printer from the 1980s, complete with period sound effects. With properly configured software these printers can produce output that would fool you into thinking it came from a laser printer, but because most people didn't know how to set them up they gained a reputation for poor quality. The reason I hung onto mine though is cost. Instead of ink or toner cartridges these printers have a ribbon like that in a typewriter which only costs about a fiver, and produce an astounding number of pages from a single ribbon.
All I had to buy to complete my junkyard desktop were a couple of USB adaptors which together cost me under a tenner: a PS/2 keyboard and mouse adaptor and a parallel printer adaptor.
I was pleasantly surprised with how usable LibreOffice is on a Raspberry Pi. It's not the fastest of machines by today's standards so I hadn't set my hopes too high, but I guess using Microsoft Office 2010 over a network at work had conditioned me to poor performance. After a bit of playing with the Linux printing system to get everything talking I soon had my documents coming off the printer in very high quality.
So there I have it. The sounds of a 1980s office, clack-clack-clack keyboard and dot-matrix whine. I guess you have to be here to appreciate it.