Check out Jessamyn West’s explanation of the trouble’s she’s run into trying to get a couple of old computers donated to a library into a usable state. Here’s a snippet:
I work at this library about 90-120 minutes a week. This week I showed up and the librarian said that her friend has said the product key was on the side on a sticker. “Doh!” Sure enough, there were 25 characters and I dutifully typed them in. No go. Turns out the sticker on the side of the machine is a Win98 product code and somehow, mysteriously, these computers have Win2k Pro installed on them. No one knows how. I ran down the options with the librarian. 1) Buy an XP license or three from Tech Soup. 2) Hassle her friend to figure out wtf is up with the software on these computers. 3) Wipe the drives and install Ubuntu.
It’s a darn shame but the fact is that most older computers are just in no shape to be given to someone else to use. Even if you reinstall the computer with the operating system that it shipped with, chances are it’s insecure and will only wind up being a liability down the line.
I guess at the very least I’d say that if you want to donate a computer to an organization, you should be prepared to donate some consulting time as well to make sure that the computer works in their environment. The truth is that most people lack the expertise to provide that kind of help and should probably just recycle their old computers.