Old Computer Use Case: A 9front-Powered Offline Workstation for Writers

James Deagle
5 min readJan 30, 2020

I have a castoff Compaq Evo N600c laptop that was passed on to me by someone who hadn’t used it in well over a decade, and who had also forgotten their Windows 2000 password.

To them, the machine was merely a laptop-shaped paperweight. To me, it was an opportunity to fulfill a dream I’d been harboring for a long, long time, which was to set aside a separate computer to be used primarily for text editing, and secondarily to induct my kids into the mysterious and arcane world of the command line. (It is at the command line where actual computer literacy is developed, and not in the dumbed down realm of cartoonish looking GUI-based apps, but that’s a topic for another day.)

While my primary machine, a Dell Inspiron running FreeBSD 12.1, does everything I need and want it to, the main drawback for me as someone who struggles to focus on a given task at hand, is precisely that it does everything I need and want it to. All too often, when I’m trying to concentrate on finishing a blog post, or an important email, I can hear the siren’s call of the web, and all that information just waiting to be absorbed. Especially if I’m composing the text directly in a web-based interface, unlimited distraction is always just a new browser tab away.

As a hopeless information junkie, non-stop internet access has long been the bane of my existence when it comes to staying on task, whether in an office setting or at home. I’ve often thought of it as being akin to a recovering heroin addict trying to focus on their work while sitting beside a box of clean syringes and a Costco-sized bag of smack.

Roughly ten years ago, I read about an author who had an old 386 PC running Windows 3.1 situated in a walk-in closet as her dedicated workstation for writing and editing, and nothing else. No internet, no games, no distractions. (I can’t remember where I read about this, or even whether it was a print article or online.)

Though I’m not a Windows fan, this sounded like paradise to me, and since then I had dreamed of having a similar setup of my own.

The first draft of this blog post being composed in Acme, a multi-window text editor and work environment. This is what a distraction-free workstation looks like.

Beyond running a non-Windows operating system, the primary difference with my version of the above is that it would have to be a portable workstation, as I…

James Deagle

I like to write about life and make music. james.deagle@yahoo.com