i want a really simple computer

Yesterday I said, “Jon Swanson hates computers.”

I need to explain.

I spend time helping people understand why their computers don’t work the way they want them to work or the way they think they should work or the way they have been told they will work. I spend time with people who still like the version of the Bible software they started using 10 years ago. I talk with people who started using their computers when their kids said, “It’s simple. You just do this.” I spend time with people who watch their computers get slower and hear a commercial for backup software or speed-fixing software from someone who they trust on social or political subjects and they try it.

I spend time with people who just want to send emails to their grandchildren or look at pictures on their digital cameras.

And these people are frustrated by changes and improvements and upgrades. And they ask me for help.

I don’t know how to help them.

I know a lot, I suppose, about computing, having been in the business since 1974. However, I don’t understand all the strategies that engineers and marketers and coders use to improve the experience and get people to buy more. I don’t know how to make that feature work, or, perhaps, I just would never add that feature or that application or that protection.

Or maybe I do understand those strategies. I know that they happen because software engineers and software companies want to stay in business and that means creating versions x.xx. And I know that they are often designed to improve featurality, without enhancing functionality for people who need something as simple as writing a postcard and putting it in a mailbox or taking a roll of film out and handing it to the processor.

Over and over I run into sales-based upgrades, written in the language of people who want cool.

Enough fussing. If you are writing for the new, more power to you. But please help me with my friends.

I want to hand my friends a computer

  • that runs quickly the software that worked great with Windows 3.1 (or maybe XP).
  • that emails simply and spam-free.
  • that explains who really needs Carbonite and who doesn’t (even though 43% of computer users lose everything every year), that says that most people don’t need to shove a terabyte of information through a USB 1.0 in a local backup situation
  • that explains that putting your name on all those really interesting email lists means that you will get a lot of email.
  • that writes back to friends who repeatedly hit <reply all> when sending out cute stories.
  • that slaps any peer, child, grandchild or me anytime that person says, “It’s simple, you just do these three things which I will now adopt from nuclear physics and pronounce in mandarin, which I don’t understand either but I’m sure worked on my computer which is completely different from yours.”
  • that actually does allow the person to plug any digital camera into the computer and look at the pictures. Or that shows how to take the card out of the camera and put it in a slot for viewing.
  • that refuses to pretend to work with dialup, or automatically downshifts for dialup.
  • that works.

I want simple equipment, like the computer for every child.
I want simple software, like nothing I know.
I want simple explanations, written by people who understand metaphors.
I want simple incentives. “You can talk with your grandchildren”

Here’s what I know. I’m calling for people to commit themselves to helping not technical people. Not to help them become technical, to help them communicate.

Please tell me that there is an old-person’s computer. I have homes for several of them. One of those homes could be your grandmother’s. The one you keep having to do tech support for.


6 responses to “i want a really simple computer

  1. Unfortunately, there is no computer that fits that bill.

    However, with a larger-than-you-want expenditure of about $850, you can get a refurb MacBook that is way easier than any XP computer. It will do all the required tasks, about as easily as any computer can. The lack of virus problems alone would make it worth the difference.

    The only software they’d need to buy is the iWork suite – for Pages, the Word substitute & Numbers, the Excel substitute – at about $43 on Amazon. And even that is optional – Open Office has freeware substitutes.

  2. iPad, Jon. Maybe with the keyboard dock because the soft keyboard is not that easy to use.

    It won’t do what a power user like you does, but it’s great for even great grandmothers. And there’s an App for all the other stuff, even iWork.

    For guys like you I agree with Paul. MacBooks not only are by far the easiest computers to use, but they will do backup automatically with the included Time Machine software and a cheap external USB drive. They just work.

    And for a guy that does video, etc. it will make your job so much easier.

    Yep. I’m turned into a fanboy. After being a DOS and Windows guy forever.

  3. but here’s the scary thing, Paul. It’s the substituting and all that. I know. I’m asking for the impossible.

  4. Jim – i’ll be curious about the ipad for this. And I don’t need something for me, because i have this huge filter in my brain that doesn’t see problems, at least not on my own machines. I just see workarounds. But for others, the one’s I’m helping? I need the help.

  5. If it is strictly email and news/blog reading, the idea of the ipad is intriguing, but it removes things like photography from the equation. It is going to be my wife’s new computer at some point, but she literally only checks email and facebook and reads blogs and books. She leaves the geekery to me.

    When it comes to plug it in and it works kind of thinking. Mac is the only way to go. Cameras, webcams, video cameras, hard drives, printers… they all just work and most of the time without any setup or disks. Throw in Time Machine for backup, iPhoto (which integrates into the OS on recent versions) to organize and manage photos and the average user is up and running.

    The key phrase though, when introducing any new computer to someone, is don’t say “better”, say “different”. The Mac is not better than their old PC, it is different. If they have been told it is better than their frustrations with the learning curve become a block.

    “It can’t be better. On my PC I could do this simple task and now I can’t find anything.”

    Unfortunately with the price point of the Mac, this is not a general fix all solution.

  6. Hi,

    Well I’m a computer geek – program them all day and play with them all night. My husband is as well so there’s not much hope for our kids. Both of which on a regular basis pull out the mini and login correctly as themselves then get busy surfing their kidzui. So we’ve used all kinds of computers / laptops / servers / and yes mac and ipad.

    I definitely agree if you aren’t doing “work” like programming go for the mac or ipad to surf, email, read, photo / movie manipulate etc. get one and dual boot if you need to do limited geek work. They do seem easier after setting up our own servers to handle our own websites etc. and mythboxs to be our tivo just because we could.

    Mini’s ipads are great for trips when you have wifi at the hotel and just really want to check email, download pics from your camera and find nearby restaurants.

    As far as the super easy – “it thinks for you” pc.
    Hmmm maybe that’s my million dollar challenge – you’re getting me thinking – or maybe I should worry about what my tech savy littles are surfing on kidzui.

    Thanks for the laugh this morning!