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Extending worthwhile PC use beyond the in-house lifecycle

When PCs reach their end-of-life point within many organizations, the question then arises about what to do with them to achieve their responsible disposal or redisposition. In developing a lifecycle course for HP a few years back, based on HP’s in-house lifecycle expert Bruce Michelson’s excellent book,  Closed Loop: Lifecycle Planning (A Complete Guide to Managing Your PC Fleet) (Addison-Wesley, 2007, ISBN-13: 9780321477149, List Price: $44.99), I had cause to ponder the many and various ways of dealing with obsolete or end-of-lifecycle computing gear.

Of course, vendors such as HP, Dell, IBM, and others do offer “take-back” programs to permit companies and organizations to dispose of used computing gear safely. But after its useful life in business is over, older PCs can still enjoy a useful second life in other worlds. I’m not necessarily in favor of outright disposal of such units, no matter how environmentally correct such disposal might be.

To this day, one of my favorite recommended methods for safe disposal of computing gear that adds jobs and income to communities where such equipment is received is through Goodwill Industries International. With a strong presence in North America, and an increasing presence in  South America and Asia, Goodwill offers environmentally sound e-waste disposal around the world these days. But they scavenge donated equipment first and foremost for salvage and refurbishing, to gain extra life, money, and work for their employees out of handling these materials. Over the past 10 years, I’ve probably donated over $20,000 in in-kind gifts of computers, monitors, keyboards, networking cards and components, plus miscellaneous computer parts and components galore to Goodwill.

The Helios Project Logo and Slogan

The Helios Project Logo and Slogan

Recently, I heard about a group based in Austin, TX, called The Helios Project. It’s run by Ken Starks, who works out of donated space in Taylor, Texas (about a 40-minute drive away from Austin). This group collects older computers and related parts for refurbishing or what you might call “reconstruction” so they can give working PCs to disadvantaged youths who might otherwise not have access to personal computing power. It’s a great cause and one well worth supporting, and they’re going to be getting my used gear going forward, primarily because they not only see to its safe and productive re-use, but also because the group voluntarily wipes gifted hard disks to DoD erasure standards to protect donors from potential illicit data mining and reuse. Ken and his directors (see “The Helios Project Directors” for some capsule summaries of the movers and shakers there) are also passionately committed to Linux and other Open Source software, and equip all of their outbound PCs with legally licensed operating systems and software that the new owners can maintain without having to incur re-licensing or annual maintenance fees.

I’d encourage you to look for similar kinds of organizations in your communities as potential recipients for used or end-of-lifecycle computing gear. These outfits will work with you to protect your data and information assets, but can also give that gear added life outside the business world. It’s nice to make a difference, and do something good for the community, in addition to practicing safe and secure disposition of no-longer-needed computers and equipment. Please, look around your neighborhood, and see if you can find an outreach organization to support. If not, you can still always turn to Goodwill, and generate some jobs and income in your community through your gifts in kind.

With the holidays approaching, The Helios Project is humping like mad to get a raft of new computers ready to show up under Christmas trees all around Central Texas. I’m driving out to Taylor myself next week to give them a barely used “One Laptop Per Child” machine I purchased from Negroponte’s organization a few years back, plus an Asus netbook PC, along with a collection of surplus memory, disk drives, and other spare parts they can use to bring computers back alive for re-use. Those interested in making financial donations to this organization should send checks c/o Ken Starks, 308A High Estates Drive, Round Rock, TX, 78664. But those checks should be made out to “Software in the Public Interest” (SIPI) with a memo notation that reads “Helios Project” (SIPI is a legitimate 501(c) organization that handles the donations for The Helios Project, and save them the expense of registering with the state to process donations and write IRS-accepted receipts for donations to a nonprofit charity).

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