Your old computer, born again

Turn your old machines into media servers, e-mail stations and nodes to help with scientific research

6. Use any netbook for home security

Netbooks are too slow to handle gaming and movies, but they work great as home security devices. They can show you who is at the front door or even detect motion and alert you to an intruder. I used a Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t with 1GB of RAM and an Intel Atom processor to find out if a new webcam could support motion detection on an old system.

I installed Yawcam, a free Web surveillance application that supports motion detection and video recording. Setting up Yawcam is easy: You first install the app, then select the built-in webcam for your netbook. You can set up the software so that it sends you an e-mail whenever it detects motion.

Another option is to install a dedicated Wi-Fi security camera, such as the D-Link DCS-1130. This camera mounts to an exterior wall and then feeds a video signal over a home wireless network to your netbook. That way, you can see who is at the front door right from your netbook, no matter what room of the house it's in.

The motion detection with Yawcam is extremely accurate. In my tests, I could make just a slight hand movement in front of the screen and, within a few minutes, receive an e-mail alert on my Apple iPhone.

7. Install Jolicloud to liven up an old netbook

Netbooks such as the original Acer Aspire One and the Dell Mini don't use the latest iteration of the Intel Atom processor (called Pineview) and come with 1GB of RAM or less. (Companies such as Lenovo now offer 2GB and 3GB versions of their netbooks.) Older netbooks usually run Windows XP, which some see as outdated.

One easy way to make your netbook run faster is to use a new operating system called Jolicloud.

To use Jolicloud, you'll need a 1GB USB key. Click the download link at Jolicloud.com and download the ISO file for Jolicloud and use Jolicloud's USB Creator to create the key. Boot up your netbook, watching carefully for the key to press so you can access the netbook's BIOS. Now, look for an option to boot from a USB key, enable it and save the BIOS. Jolicloud will walk you through the basic installation.

When you reboot, you'll find that the new operating system loads much faster than the old one did. You'll also notice that it provides some cool social networking features (such as the ability to update your Twitter status from the operating system). The new setup also includes a fast browser based on Mozilla Firefox.

Another operating system to consider is Moblin (a mobile variant of Linux). I tested Moblin with a friend's Acer Aspire One, and it ran about twice as fast as the originally installed version of Windows XP for basic browsing and even beat Windows 7 for speed. Most of my tests were simple stopwatch comparisons of before and after -- with the Moblin browser, the machine started up in about two seconds compared to four seconds or more on the two versions of Windows.

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John Brandon

Computerworld (US)
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