Computerbank installs Ubuntu on recycled PCs

Charity on the hunt for Linux gurus

Computerbank Victoria is installing Ubuntu on recycled PCs as a way of making computing accessible to low income earners.

The not-for-profit organisation, which is run by volunteers, has been using Linux in its refurbished systems since 2006. The organisation recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and is on the lookout for volunteers with a strong Linux background.

Computerbank began installing the Debian distribution on PCs and now uses Ubuntu version 9.04, Jaunty Jackalope, customising the OS specifically for non-technical users.

“We call it the ‘Computerbank distro’,” said the organisation’s president and founder, Kylie Davies. “We tweak it, adding media codecs and flash because some of our users are very new to computers and they just want things to work.”

The group receives computers from individuals, businesses and educational institutions, with Pentium 4 PCs being the cut-off point.

“We work with working computers, so if there’s a small problem such as the optical drive, we’ll replace it. Otherwise we’ll strip it down, reuse the parts and recycle the rest," Davies said.

Plastics are recycled into building posts, while monitors are recycled through the Byteback scheme. The team refurbishes 10-11 computers each week on average.

The computers are available to people with a government healthcare card and Australian students via a shop, which is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays and is located close to North Melbourne station. (See a map of the shop's location). Prices start at $30 and customers must sign a short application form that specifies they’re receiving a Linux-based system; many of the customers are new to computers and are often unaware of other operating systems.

“Some people don’t even realise you can put other things on a computer,” Davies said. “We also provide our own user guide.”

Unlike many Linux enthusiasts, the recipients of the refurbished PCs are not always technically savvy — and using the command line is most definitely out.

The group has evaluated the latest Ubuntu version, Karmic Koala, but boot times for the new OS remain an issue. “The boot times for Jaunty are very quick, but when we installed Karmic Koala, our times went from about 45 seconds to more than a minute, so I think we’ll wait for the moment,” she said.

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