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This story appears in the May 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

What happens to computer equipment that businesses have replaced or machines that have simply seen better days? Often, the equipment ends up collecting dust in the corner, of little use to anyone. Worse, it winds up in some landfill, where metal, plastic and other toxic materials find their way into our already polluted environment.

Sometimes, however, unwanted also find their way to the Marin Computer Resource Center (MCRC) in San Rafael, . The nonprofit organization, started in June 1994, rescues PCs, Macintoshes, printers and other computer components from , repairs them if necessary, and then puts them in the hands of the needy.

Recipients, which include public schools, libraries and homeless shelters nationwide, as well as orphanages, hospitals and worldwide organizations as far away as Moscow and Gambia, have found unique ways to put the old equipment to good use. "Obsolescence is a relative term," says James Burgett, MCRC's executive director. "If you don't have any processing capabilities, anything is a quantum leap."

After the high-tech hand-me-downs come in, a staff of interns handles everything from light repairs to complete refurbishing of most computer components. And if something can't be fixed, it doesn't land in the junkyard: It's broken down into its basic elements--plastic, metal and so on--and recycled.

So far, the MCRC has shipped more than 3,000 fully operable computers to happy customers on every continent. Still, Burgett has much bigger plans: He hopes to open another Bay Area center and begin expanding into Europe and as well. If you have equipment you'd like to donate, call (415) 454-4227.

Fast Lane

A symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) access may be coming soon to a computer near you. Though the superspeedy service, which currently delivers speeds of 1.5Mbps, isn't expected to go mainstream until next year, some local telephone companies have announced plans to offer it by as early as September.

Pacific Bell is testing ADSL Internet access and remote local area network access with approximately 100 customers in the San Francisco Bay Area. In September, Pac Bell plans to roll out ADSL service on a limited basis--primarily to Silicon Valley residents--and will likely expand to additional regions throughout in the coming years. Because of its anticipated high cost, the service will most benefit companies that use the Internet heavily for downloading and other tasks.

Bell Atlantic is testing ADSL Internet access in the Washington, DC, area; it hopes to bring the high-speed service to the commercial market later this year. Other telephone companies are expected to follow suit with similar announcements of upcoming ADSL service.

Bulk Mail

Is your e-mail box getting so full, you're sure it's reached the breaking point? Don't expect a letup any time soon: According to a recent report from Forrester Research Inc., a market research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, consumer use of e-mail is skyrocketing, promising to keep e-mail boxes stuffed to the gills for years to come.

In 1992, approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population enjoyed access to e-mail. Now, 15 percent use it, and Forrester anticipates the growth will balloon to approximately 50 percent of the population by 2001. Fueling the drive, says Forrester, will be a continued increase in home PC penetration and corporate Internet access.

You might think the proliferation of e-mail would send users over the edge with message overload. However, Forrester predicts that future developments in software applications, which help users better manage and sort their unwieldy mounds of e-mail, should help us keep a handle on it all.

Contact Sources

Bell Atlantic, (;

Forrester Research Inc., 1033 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138, (617) 497-7090;

Marin Computer Resource Center, 757 Lincoln Ave., #19, San Rafael, CA 94901,;

Pacific Bell, (


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