Friday, January 4, 2008

Put That Old Computer To Good Use

By Thomas A

An old computer these days is no longer a completely useless system. In fact, even though I might upgrade my main computer every couple of years, I usually take ten to fifteen years before I completely remove it from my home network and send it to that great LAN in the sky!

Here are ten twelve uses that I have discovered for that more "experienced" computer system!

And once you have read through the article and decided which exciting project you want to do, make sure you let us know by voting in the poll!


This was the very first use I had for an older computer. I grabbed an old 286, installed a couple of network cards, and the latest version of FREESCO and suddenly every computer in my house had Internet access without having to keep my main system running or without having to buy an expensive (at the time) dedicated router/firewall device.

Not to mention that I learned a ton about Linux through this process!

Here is a list of some Linux distributions and tools that you could use to create a firewall/router for your home:



* Smoothwall

* Firestarter

* Coyote Linux Personal Firewall

* Shorewall/Shoreline

* Mason

* Vyatta

* floppyfw

* FireHOL

* Guarddog

* Turtle

* m0n0wall

* Endian

* pfSense

* LutelWall

* Zorp

* ClarkConnect

* Devil Linux

* Sinux

* Kaladix

* SafeSquid

File Server

If you've been on Daily Cup of Tech before, you will know my love for FreeNAS. With an old computer and a couple of hours effort, you can have a nifty little file server available on your network.

There are other ways that you can create a file server other than FreeNAS. Here are some that I found:

* FreeNAS

* Samba

* iFolder

* NASLite

* Openfiler

* CryptoBox

Print Server

My wife and I share a printer that used to be hosted on her computer. It was a real pain when her computer would go into sleep mode or she would shut it off and I would lose my ability to print. I was able to turn an old computer into a print server that is always running and I can now print regardless of the status of my wife's computer.

Nicholas Fong has a great tutorial on setting this up.
Fax Gateway

Yes, I know. Faxing is so 1985. But, a lot of people and companies still rely on this technology to keep their business running. With a bit of effort and some old computer hardware, you can set up a HylaFAX server to manage and control all of your incoming and outgoing faxes. Plus, you could save a few trees because you are using less paper.
Web/FTP Server

With the advent of LAMP server installations, it is relatively trivial for someone to create a web server. This will give you the ability to create your own websites in house before you distribute them to the world or you can simply use it as an intranet site to keep your busy family in touch.

Here are a few tutorials on setting up a web server:

* Setting up a local web server in Debian Linux

* The Apache Web Server

* Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) LAMP Server Setup

* Quick Linux Server

SSH/SCP Server

SSH and SCP provide you with a lot of very powerful abilities so that you can remotely access your network and copy files securely. One of the best ways is to set up a FreeNAS box, enable SSH and then connect to it using an SCP client such as WinSCP to transfer files or PuTTY for accessing your network.
Anti-Spam Server

We all hate spam. So, use your old computer to get rid of it! By using SpamAssassin on a Linux box, you can quickly stem the flood of incoming spam. I have also found a really good tutorial on the subject (Sorry, I had to use the Google cache.).
Proxy Server

Most users have the same webpages that they visit on a regular basis. Each time that they go to these websites, they need to go and download all of the files again. While this is not a terribly big issue if you have lots of bandwidth and it is not being used very much, it can become an issue if your are a high bandwidth user.

You can also use it to filter out undesirable content.

Here are a few tutorials on setting up a proxy server:

* Setup a transparent proxy with Squid in three easy steps

* Minimal Linux Proxy

* 3Proxy

Thin Client

I've always thought that the next time I decide to upgrade all of the computers for my entire family at home, rather than upgrading each system, buy a rather beefy server with lots of RAM and then create virtual computers for everyone. Then, I could use their original hardware and ThinStation to give them access to their new virtual computer!

You may also want to check out AnywhereTS to help with the setup.
Voice Mail Server

For me, voice mail has always been so passive. It just kinda waits in one place until I remember to check it (which could be days later). A voice mail server would be a great tool!

One great advantage would be the ability to have my voice mail e-mailed to me. Another would be the ability to check it from my computer. The VOCP System provides me with all of those abilities and more!
Media Server

More people are going away from their CD and DVD players and heading for MP3 and AVI files. A media server is a great way to use that old box.

Here are some resources to get you rockin'!

* Jinzora

* Firefly

* TVersity

* MediaTomb

* LIVE555

* MythTV

* Icecast

* Helix

* LinuxMCE

* Darwin Streaming Server


Bittorrent Box

I put all of my bittorrent stuff on a separate box a long time ago. It just seemed much neater and cleaner. For a good tutorial on how to do this, check out Nerdica.


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1 comment:

Leena Roy said...

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