Every so often, I come across a post about whether or not a certain computer is Internet capable. Too often, this is with regards to computers that are a decade or so old.
Well, I've got news for you; this computer is a little over a decade old (Dell Inspiron 3500, 1999 vintage). It is running a very new operating system, Xubuntu 9.10, and I am typing this in Zoho Writer via Firefox 3.5.8. The performance is a little lacking, mind you, but it is better than what I got used to in the late 1990's.
The equation for what to expect really comes down to this: a willingness to accept that the computer will not be the fastest, that watching videos may not happen, but that access to content as well as the ability to post content is paramount. If you had to write that out, it might look something like this -
That is, Expectations times Performance over Access. Basically, living with lower expectations while still having access to the Internet.
This still doesn't answer the question of how new does a computer need to be to be able to access the Internet. In truth, any computer capable of supporting a modem or network card can gain access (gasp!). Just be prepared for somewhat less than dazzling results. Based upon personal experience, here's what I've found -
0 - 8 years - Good Flash support, videos play fairly well. All modern browsers will work, most major modern operating systems as well.
9 - 13 years - Browsers lag by average of three years if run on major operating systems. Open source solutions offer better possibilities, but videos play poorly if at all. Java is somewhat compromised, .NET sites (and specifically, ASPX) run sporadically. Secure sites might have problems. Email access is still good.
14 - 18 years - Some computers still have the ability to run newer operating systems actually designed for their processors. Better options exist within the open source arena, but browser performance is greatly compromised. Secure sites are very difficult to access.
19 + years - Very limited access.
Chances are pretty good that these numbers will roll forward and perhaps hold as much relevance in ten years as they do today. To be honest, very few computers over fifteen years of age are likely to run properly due to aged hardware (faulty hard drives, power supply issues, etc). Let me stress again that I said it would be difficult, not impossible, to get older computers online, I've done so.
Just be prepared for lackluster performance. Access, however, is access. So, to my friends out there who are getting on the Information Superhighway using the digital equivalent of bicycles, I salute you.