Windows 8 is no place for the elderly unlike Apple iPad

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ew PC for Grandma?

Apple iPad 5 vs Windows PC vs Chromebook, Ubuntu or Mac 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 retired.

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 Grandma 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 Grandma’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 Retrofit 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.  Is it because she’s avidly shopping online for specialty lighting – or loves reading blogs?

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.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Joseph/100000615672314 Paul Joseph

    Small correction: Its LibreOffice not “Libra Office”.

  • JayArby

    I pretty much agree with the article, but I can’t stand it when people use the term “PC” interchangeably with “Microsoft Windows Desktop Computer”. A Mac, for example, is (practically) a PC. So is an Android phone, among many other things.

  • KeydellEnglish Lorenzana

    I never liked windows, however recently that has changed with the adoption of windows 8 on my surface pro. What to recommend to an old granny…
    well let’s see my surface has large (very large on 8.1) tiles that are easier for old people with eye trouble to see. It also has live tiles so they can see things at a glance. IPad still uses the small square icons which are fine and good enough but in this category I would recommend a windows 8.1 tablet.
    Next is apps, what will your grandmother use it for?
    1: Internet, now here the surface gives a full web experience similar to watch she was used to all her life but made easier for touch. The iPad/ android devices, although great, tends to get handed mobile sites or a more limited web experience that could frustrate my granny who just wants to do her online banking but it does not support mobile platforms and she does not know why. Winner again windows 8.1 tablets.
    2: Office, this is only available on a windows or mac computer. However since windows tablets are windows computers she gets office which she knows and can easily adjust to. Other systems have a plethora of different word editors but none as good and it would frustrate your granny to have to learn a new editor.
    3. Photos, most old people love their photos and Facebook albums in this so far iPad is the leader but with a native Facebook app coming soon and a decent photos app that shows your online and offline photos in one place I think windows 8.1 tablets will soon surpass the iPad.
    The rest is simply opinion, which do you prefer and what do you feel your grandmother would like. The beauty of this discussion is all 4 types of devices are great from a MacBook air, windows 8.1 tablet, IPad to android tablets. It is a great time for us to have so many great opinions.

  • Patrick Fletcher

    What about the Surface 2? It actually avoids all the issues you mentioned plus it offers access to Office. I’m going to buy one for my Mom because of the quality Web experience it offers, the advanced front facing camera and the Skype integration (and 2 years of free Skype calling to landlines as well!). She likes to use the Web version of Facebook and she wants to Skype to see her grandkids. My Mom likes to use her digital camera and connect it to her computer to download pictures and post them. She can do this with Surface 2, but not with the iPad. While the iPad is a good device, I think Surface 2 is better value, easy and safe to use, and is easier to use with other devices. I think it would be a great device for many seniors.

  • LA Stone

    I don’t think this actually makes sense as a discussion about what to give Grandma. It’s more a discussion about what to give people to fit their usage scenario. The vast majority of people don’t need a traditional computer because they’re not doing any kind of work on them. They’re doing the same thing that grandma is doing. Surfing the web. If this wasn’t true then tablets wouldn’t be selling so well. The tablet is the anti computer. It’s an expensive web browser. So if I know the person I would recommend either a traditional computer, or an ipad/android tablet/RT tablet.

    Personally, I’m still thinking that if you’re going to have a single device, it just doesn’t make sense for it to be limited to the capabilities of the tablets. Microsoft has the right idea but execution leaves everything to be desired. So I would have a hard time telling someone to not get some kind of tablet that converts to a laptop and is running full Windows 8. 95% of the time, they won’t need to access the desktop, but when they do need to, it’ll be there for them. Microsoft really needs to just get itself together and make an OS that is really functional rather than wacky. All those slide out from the side gestures and charms and stuff really just aren’t very good.

    Metro makes me feel like I’m working blindly. I would like to slide out from the side and go straight to the program I’m thinking about rather than swiping from the left and having what is essentially a random open app come to the fore. That’s really stupid. Imagine, quick swipe from the left is the equivalent of Alt/Tab. You slide out the large icons of open apps, then you touch the one you want. Where’s the Metro version of Alt/Tab? Alt Tab is a really good thing but in Metro, you can swipe from the left, hold it, then move back towards the left and get a column of apps running vertically down the left. That’s just not a good way of doing this.