New PC for Grandma?

New PC for Grandma?

If your Grandma asked for a recommendation for a new PC, what would you suggest?

I am actually faced with that question all the time. I head an IT Help company focused on the home market. A lot of our customers are retied. I am always being asked such questions by such people. It used to be just a question of choosing the detailed specs between different Windows OEMs, but things have changed a lot. I am saddened to say that although a Windows PC is not last on the list, it’s heading in that direction.

Why? What Granma wants is an appliance, something that just works. PCs are the exact opposite of being zero maintenance devices. The update cycle is the best example (but not the only one). We are all geeks here. We know that vulnerabilities are being found all the time in all the software we run. We know we have to patch to stay safe. But Microsoft has never included all the other programs in Windows world into Windows Updates. How many serious updates have there been to Flash? Or Java? Or Adobe Reader? How many of those simply do not get installed and the PC gets infected? I see it often enough. Run Secunia PSI on a system and you see just how much work it is to keep Granma’s machine locked down and protected.

Microsoft cannot fix this because their lawyers will not let them. If Microsoft includes other people's updates in their update system they will be liable for anything going wrong. Platforms with app stores have that liability question designed in from the start. On Android I can get tell it to everything update automatically forever, even all the apps. It's just not an issue on any modern OS.

Now, what are you going to tell Grandma about how to use the system? What should she answer when a firewall asks for permission or UAC pops up? Could you give an answer that works for all circumstances? How many pages long would it be? Again, any modern OS does not ask Grandma such questions. You lose flexibility, but although flexibility has brought as many good things, as it sure has brought in the dark side with it. Normal people (not geeks) are simply not equipped to maintain the details of the operating system. Hence the endless infections and countless botnets with thousands of active clients. Ever heard of one of those on iOS or Android or Chrome? Or course not. The developers have to sign their apps and there is a central kill switch for everything. You cannot Retro fit that structure to Windows, its too late.

Set aside the religious debate about which platforms are the best (this is your lovely old granny we are talking about here and she is looking to you to look after her). Would you take a deep breath as say “How do I get Grandma solely on an iPad?”. I know I do.

My conscience insists that I do the right thing. Even though I know that I am going to get a lot less future revenue out of Grandma if she has an iPad, because it will just work. She won’t get it infected, she won’t forget to back it up and it if is lost or stolen everything is locked down and recoverable.

I know this works because I have done it numerous times. Users don’t just like it, they love it! They are bowled over by how much better an experience it is than what they have had before. Even the ones that have a PC as well pretty much stop using it. The PC gathers dust in the corner.

Admittedly there are times when iPad is not the right choice. When she has a large photo collection or wants to do a lot of Microsoft Office, but even then. Your average Grandma has a 10 year old Dell Dimension 2400 with XP and Office 2000. Are you going to give her Windows 8 and Office 2013? Not unless you plan to spend a lot of time at Grandma’s house explaining what on earth is going on. If you have to give her a PC you are going to go for Windows 7 and Office 2003 (maybe even Libra Office) and lock is down the best you can.

If you are going to do that with Windows 7, why not Ubuntu? Or a Chrome book? Or anything that has a smaller attack surface and high reliability than Windows. It’s a sad situation when people want Microsoft’s old products more than the want the new ones.

Before you defend the merits of Windows, remember, we are not talking about what is right for you, a geek. This is Grandma and lots of folks like her. Normal people who want to read their email and surf. All that extra flexibility Windows brings is not needed here and it is positive liability.

You might say that's all very well for Grandma, but everyone else needs a full fat PC. Really? Does mum looking after 3 kids know whether that update she is being offered is an essential security patch or a Trojan faking it? Did Dad remember to backup the family photo collection the day before the hard drive died (we are dealing with an epidemic of people losing crazy amounts of data out here because the PC does not come with automatic online backups).

I have spent years defending Windows (mostly against the cult of Mac) it became a habit, but Windows 8 caused me to really stop and think about. It now feels like an idea that has run its time. I have been doing this for 38 years. I am way beyond being a fan boy for any one platform. I see them come and I see them go. Sure this one will be around for years to come, but as fading legacy, not where things are moving to. For a long time it was the best choice, now it is a liability.