The Bountiful Pleasures Of A Backup PC
While I’m generally all in favor of unburdening oneself from non-essential possessions, I’d urge you to think twice before selling an old laptop on Ebay or Craigslist, donating it to an unsuspecting charity, or dumping it off on a gullible offspring, significant other, relative or friend. Laptops don’t take up much storage space, after all, and they only re-sell for a small fraction of their original purchase price. That’s due in part to the fact that in contrast to a desktop PC, they’re inherently un-upgradeable.
While you might be able to boost a laptop’s onboard DRAM and HDD capacities, the CPU, GPU and other key subsystems can’t be swapped out for newer, faster and more feature-rich versions. As a result, laptops can’t keep pace with the inevitable performance demand progression of newer operating system and application versions. And swapping out Windows for less-demanding Linux, for example, won’t please many potential next owners. Instead, consider redeploying your old computer in a new role (or few), such as the open-source router I mentioned yesterday. Or how about a NAS? Or a print server?
Take my situation, for example. As I mentioned a while back, I’m using an old Fujitsu Lifebook-P2040 as a means of keeping my DynDNS account up-to-date (since my alternative DynDNS update client platform died a few months back). And I’ve inadvertently stumbled across a few more recent applications for it, as well. I like my T-Mobile Dash so much that I decided a few months back to pick up a backup unit while phones based on Windows Mobile 5 (which I still need because I’m still running Outlook 2000…here’s the in-depth explanation) and in lightly used condition were still available on Ebay.
I found a compelling-sounding candidate at a great price, and decided to do the deal. The seller swore the Dash was running WM5 but, once it arrived, I discovered it had WM6 installed. It was in excellent condition, though, and the price I paid for it was notably low, so instead of insisting on my money back, I decided to try downgrading it to WM5 myself (T-Mobile offers a free upgrade to WM6, for when I migrate to a newer Outlook version in the future). Google led me to a downgrade image (scroll to the bottom of the page for the link) but my attempt to connect to the phone using WM6-incompatible ActiveSync 4.2 was predictably unsuccessful. Instead, I installed ActiveSync v4.5 on the Lifebook, connected to the phone as a ‘guest’ and successfully did the downgrade to WM5 that way.
My second example happened just last week. In preparation for the arrival of my new Windows Vista-powered laptop, I decided to plunge into a long-delayed PlaysForSure-cognizant firmware upgrade of my Creative Labs 60 GByte Zen Xtra portable audio player (since MTP-compliant firmware was necessary in order to continue using the unit with Windows Vista). I downloaded the requisite v2.10.03 firmware upgrade off Creative’s support website, connected the player to my primary laptop, ran the upgrade executable, and thought I was good to go…
…until partway through the update, when it hung with the player recognized by the laptop as a 20 MByte unit and the Zen Xtra perpetually stuck in Rescue Mode. The issue, as it turns out, is well known in cyberspace; in retrospect, perhaps, I should have done some research before attempting it, although (silly me) the fact that the problem wasn’t clearly documented on Creative’s site gave me a false sense of security. The fix involves re-attempting the upgrade on a system that does not have Windows Media Player 11 installed; fortunately (you guessed it) the Lifebook-P2040 was still running WMP10, so I was able to restore the Zen Xtra to full functionality (with latest-and-greatest firmware, to boot) without substantially downgrading my primary computer’s software suite.
As a result of this experiment, by the way, I’ve personally verified a nifty DRM loophole that until now I only anecdotally knew about. As I first wrote back in November of 2006, Zune-branded devices are not able to import PlaysForSure DRM’d content. But the counter operation works just fine. Download Zune DRM’d subscription material, for example, from the Zune Marketplace. Now make sure that Windows Media Player searches the folder tree where the Zune software stores that DRM’d content. After the subscription tracks appear in the WMP content directory, you’ll be able to sync them with a PlaysForSure portable player (such as my firmware-upgraded Zen Xtra, or a Sandisk Sansa) just fine. And, via WMP’s built-in UPnP server, you can also access the content via a Roku SoundBridge or any other PlaysForSure-cognizant, LAN-connected media extender.
So don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to discard your PlaysForSure-compliant gear if you migrate to the Zune Marketplace as your subscription music service. Though the Zune portable player hardware is quite nice…