What software and games should I put on my Grandfather's new PC?
June 17, 2010 5:39 AM   Subscribe

What software and games should I put on my Grandfather's new PC?

For father's day, my family is getting my grandfather a new computer. I will be traveling down to his house in a few weeks to set it up, and before I do, I had a few questions about software that you fine folks might be able to help me with:

1) He really likes to play solitaire, but I think he'd be up for some additional casual games like maybe Everyday Genius or some kind of crossword game. He's 96 years old, so anything that requires any sort of hand-eye coordination or is timed is not going to work. Any suggestions? (I'd like to stay away from games tied to any form of DRM or that require being online, as this would likely confuse him).

2) I know that eventually he will run into trouble, so I'm wondering if there is a relatively easy to use remote-access software I could use to take control of his PC from my house. We would both be running Windows 7 (although mine would be Pro and his is the Home version, if that matters, and we will both have a high-speed connection.) I have no idea what's out there, so any suggestions or tips are appreciated.

3) I need to track down a copy of Microsoft Office 2003. That's the version he's used to using, and he's not going to be able to adapt to the new interface on Office 2007/2010. Where is the best place to buy a copy of this? I was looking at eBay, but I am wary of buying software from there, especially as it seems most sellers are new and/or have low review numbers.

4) Right now, he uses Outlook Express for email, and I know that's not available on Windows 7. Microsoft touts Windows Live Mail as its replacement, but I've never used it. Is it any good, and what are some alternatives? Also, is it possible to move over old messages from Outlook Express into the new machine?

5) Any other suggestions for software are appreciated, especially if they are self-sufficient and/or unobtrusive programs that would provide some value to an elderly person.

If it matters, he's going from a six year old Dell with who-knows-what processor, 256MB of RAM and a 17" CRT to a quad-core AMD with 6GB and a new 22" flat screen.
posted by thewittyname to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tight VNC is a good way to remotely access his machine. How about gmail for mail?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:52 AM on June 17, 2010

The software with the biggest wow factor for my grandfather when I was trying to get him set up with a computer was Google Earth. There are a bunch of good website recommendations at that linked question as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:24 AM on June 17, 2010

Best answer: I'll cast my vote for LogMeIn for the remote control software. It's free, cross-platform, and remarkable simple to set up. As for the software and games, if he's into crosswords games and such, you could browse through some of Simon Tatham's Puzzle Games, they include some of the classics such as sudoku, minesweeper, and pegs, and are free. I don't know much about Outlook Express, but I *think* that Thunderbird has a similar interface and might be an alternative for your grandfather to pick up.
posted by LifeEngineer at 6:36 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

One way you might want to abstract the "local vs online" piece is by installing Google Chrome as a browser and using it's "Create application shortcut" tool to make desktop links to casual game websites that behave like standalone applications. If he's comfortable using the internet, though, this is probably unnecessary.

Chrome is also a very friendly browser. The omnibar combination search and url function is very clean, and more or less guarantees that you'll find what you need with a minimum of fuss.

As for Office 2003, you might want to look into OpenOffice.Org, since its interface is very similar to the old Office 2003, and it's free and open source.

If at all possible, switch him to using Gmail. I know it's completely different from everything he's used to, but Gmail is really just the perfect email system.
posted by Lifeson at 6:58 AM on June 17, 2010

(2) I used to use TightVNC but recently switched to LogMeIn Free. It's much better, completely web-based (so I can access it anywhere), adjusts the colour depth to cope with the connection speed (so feels zippy) and works fine with Windows 7. All of the VNC variants I tried had problems with fast user switching and the UAC prompts can sometimes drop the connection. Plus I had to go through the hassle of getting my parents to tell me their IP address - with LogMeIn Free I just click on the computer in a list and away I go.

(5) My parents used to use Outlook Express (OE) and they switched to Windows Live Mail (WLM) which is connected to Gmail using IMAP. They love it. It's clear, simple and easy to use. Microsoft have hidden away the menu bar and opted for a row of textual buttons at the top to do all the key tasks. In other words, he'll find it much easier. The only downside is that multiple profiles aren't available any more so I had to set each parent up with their own Windows account - but that won't affect him.

WLM allows you to import email and contacts from a variety of sources including OE so you're fine. I went a slightly different route and used the Google Email Uploader tool to upload all their emails into a Gmail account and then sucked them back down into WLM using IMAP. Sounds like a bit of a pain but it meant that they didn't lose any emails that they'd ever sent or received and if they ever used the web interface then they could find them all there too.

I wouldn't recommend pushing him to the Gmail user interface as I think he'll get confused. Using WLM and Gmail means you get the best of both worlds.
posted by mr_silver at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding OpenOffice.org's software suite. Thanks to my archaic office, I use Office 2003 at work and have very easily used OpenOffice for my home PC. It feels and looks incredibly similar to Microsoft's offering.
posted by BrianJ at 8:11 AM on June 17, 2010

My 87 year old grandmother loves Dragon Naturally Speaking. If your grandfather is not a fluent typist, it might be worth the investment.

Also, she uses Skype to keep in touch with relatives overseas. That might be useful for him to reach out to the rest of the world on the cheap.
posted by teabag at 8:12 AM on June 17, 2010

Hoyle Casino is a fun suite of various card and table games. I know a lot of people who like it. I am also nth-ing LogMeIn free. Whenever he has a connection you can get online and help him out with total control from one click. I use it on so many computer around me to help. Windows Mail isn't terrible - it's essentially Outlook Express with a paint job.
posted by msbutah at 10:24 AM on June 17, 2010

Snood. Very addictive, non-timed, and easy to grasp.
posted by liquado at 12:25 PM on June 17, 2010

Seconding Skype, especially if others in your family have webcams and you can pop for one for his new system. My parents, in their mid-80's, think vido calling on Skype is pure magic.
posted by imjustsaying at 12:54 PM on June 17, 2010

Look at the Popcap games, especially Peggle and Bejeweled. I think they have a version of Plants vs Zombies - that is great fun too.

If he likes Everyday Genius, and if he can see those tiny little numbers, then he might also like Sherlock by Everett Kaser Software (sorry, I can't link to game sites from my office PC).

The New York Times has their crossword puzzle online. The subscription is something like $45 per year.
posted by CathyG at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2010

Have a look at Thunderbird for email, I find it very Outlook Express like, especially with an extension to change the back/next button behaviour to match it.
posted by Canageek at 3:42 PM on June 17, 2010

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