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The cost of computer hardware may have reduced significantly over the years while concurrently becoming more powerful, but replacing your desktop or laptop is still a big outlay, particularly if you are on a fixed, limited income. A lower cost alternative may be to upgrade your software and/or hardware.
For those of us still using Windows XP, Microsoft will cease supporting this operating system on 1st April 2014 - just 4 months from now. You'd be a fool if you used Windows XP to access the Internet after this date. Any Microsoft security upgrades after the 1st of April will be carefully checked by hackers to see whether that software on Windows XP is vulnerable and if so, these weaknesses will be exploited to gain access to your computer. You have been warned!
If your computer is under five years old, then it may well be worthwhile upgrading the operating system to Windows 7. (I wouldn't recommend Windows 8.1 as the user interface has changed dramatically from earlier Windows versions.) Provided your old computer had a medium quality processor (CPU) when new, it should be more than adequate for web browsing. You can purchase a Windows upgrade disk for around $100. While the amount of RAM required by Windows 7 is about the same or less than that needed by Windows XP, the same can't be said for many commonly used programs. I'd recommend an upgrade to at least 2GBytes of RAM, but no more than 3GBytes if you have a 32 bit operating system. (You may need to fit 4GBytes of RAM, but be warned that you won't be able to access all of that RAM. A 32 bit operating system can only access 4GBytes of RAM and some of that is used by the video card.) 2GBytes of RAM costs about $25 and the extra RAM can really make a difference to the responsiveness of your computer.
Even if you aren't running out of room on your hard drive, upgrading this is worth while - mechanical drives don't last forever. The easiest way to upgrade your computer operating system is to exchange the old hard drive for a new one, install the new operating system, then transfer files from your old hard drive. A 500 Gigabyte notebook/laptop hard drive will cost around $60 and a 2 Terabyte desktop drive around $100. It isn't that hard to change these over on desktops and laptops, so you shouldn't be charged much by your local computer repair shop to do this work. It may be more cost effective to buy a new laptop/desktop if you need to upgrade your operating system however, given the operating system upgrade cost is likely to exceed the RAM and hard drive cost, even before labour is factored in.
Then there's Linux. There's an overwhelming choice of distributions (called distros), with some specifically designed for low powered hardware. I installed Salix on a 3 year old underpowered netbook and it now gets much more use.
Some structures can last a very long time with the occasional upgrade. The lighthouse pictured began service in 1869 and remained operational for over a hundred years, during which time it was upgraded and relocated, before being brought home for use as a maritime museum. It was prefabricated in England of iron plates and shipped in pieces. The British architects intended keepers live around the base of the tower in rooms made of iron. The heat of our summers made this impossible and quarters were prepared between decks of the staying. The poem below by one of the construction workers, was found in a time capsule, discovered during one of the lighthouse moves:
When the sun doth gild the southern skies
Above these lonely isles
There is no need for this our lighthouse
Nor can't be seen for many miles
But when the storm and wind doth howl
Upon the ocean wild
The mariner will see this light
Which will beam out so mild
That fancy paints the lights of home
That cottage by the sea
Where dwell his loved ones all secure
From wind and wave while he
Doth work and toil to earn their bread
and die if needs must be
He then will bless this kindly light
And think mayhaps of us
Who built this light that such as he
Might rest secure while it flashed
Its rays across the sea