Will my parents hate Windows 8?
December 2, 2012 4:33 AM   Subscribe

Will Windows 8 put my parents off computers for good?

It's time to replace my parents' old PC (eight years old, P4, XP), and they're looking to me for guidance. They've both been light computer users for a long time, but are not 'digital natives' by a long shot.

As I begin to shop for this new PC, it seems that virtually every current model now comes with Windows 8. I had been hoping to find a Windows 7 model, to minimize the learning curve as they switch away from XP, but that now seems to require the purchase of Windows 8 Pro, which comes with downgrade rights. Dell charges a $70 premium for this 'upgrade to downgrade' solution, which I'd rather avoid.

I realize there are still some Windows 7 models on store shelves, but given the likely possibility that such will be very hard to find by the time my parents are ready to pull the trigger, I'm wondering: would the Windows 8 learning curve really be as bad as I fear? I have no experience with it myself. I also live more than 2 hours away, so I can't pop over and help them get unstuck. What do you think the transition from XP to W8 might be like for your typical tech-intimidated older person?
posted by jon1270 to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is a Mac not an option at all? I find OS X to be far better and simpler for technological simpletons.
posted by litnerd at 5:21 AM on December 2, 2012

I don't think Macs are on the table, due to both cost and unfamiliarity.
posted by jon1270 at 5:27 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If they use a computer for very basic computing, you could but XP in a VM and they wouldn't have to learn anything at all. Or you could use a linux distro that looks a whole lot windows. For long distance support I recommend a combination of something like Deep Freeze to set everything back to normal if they break it and something like logmein to show them how to do things when you aren't around.
posted by Brent Parker at 5:32 AM on December 2, 2012

Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, studied how a dozen experienced PC users interacted with Windows 8, and the conclusion was not good. ... “On a regular PC, Windows 8 is Mr. Hyde: a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.”

In my own tech support job, I've only had a few contacts so far from Windows 8 users. But the one who most closely matched your description of your parents was clearly confused by it. And a tech-savvier one was all but kicking himself for not understanding what he was getting into.

But if they're capable of installing a program, something like Classic Shell will probably shield them from most of the UI "improvements".
posted by Egg Shen at 5:32 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

What sorts of things do they use their computer for now?

Personally I've found W8 obtrusive and silly for the most part. (I'm not on a tablet, which had better be the target scenario.) There are third-party extensions that are supposed to make it more W7-like, most importantly ones that provide a Start menu. Definitely look into those. If they make it possible to use W8 without ever having to encounter the metro UI and just stay in the W7-ish Desktop, then you should be okay. However, anything that requires you to switch between the two UIs, or even lands you accidentally in one or the other, is a pain in the neck and incredibly confusing.

I should point out again that I'm not the target scenario for a W8 user: I've got things I want to do and standard ways of doing them that don't fit into the new model where ideally you stay in the metro interface as much as possible, using appstore apps for everything. If all your parents use their computers for tends to be email, a browser, and maybe a few games, they could be fine staying in metro.

However, are you looking for a desktop, tablet, or laptop? W8 is a much greater pain to use without a touchscreen (again, unless you can lock yourself into the W7 Desktop and avoid metro altogether). If you're going for a desktop then there are multitouch monitors you can get, but I think reaching out straight ahead to touch your monitor all the time can have a nontrivial physical toll on the user.
posted by trig at 5:36 AM on December 2, 2012

Windows 8 is definitely much less of a change than switching to OS X. I really haven't found Windows 8 to be as different as all the reports were saying, personally. I think that as long as you show them how to use it - all the stuff that now works by moving the mouse pointer to a corner of the screen - and strip all of the crap they won't use and the "live tiles" things out of the Start screen they'll be fine.

My mother, who has trouble coordinating well enough to use the mouse, seems to actually find the Start screen easier to use than the Start Menu from XP. And the system I got my parents has a fingerprint reader, which allowed me to set up account logins for them instead of the way they had XP autologin because remembering and typing in a password was too much of a hassle.

(Also, have you ever used Remote Assistance? It's pretty handy. You would definitely want to set it up while you've still got the laptop. Connecting over the internet, you really want to do the handshake over Windows Live Messenger or whatever it's called these days.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:46 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

What sorts of things do they use their computer for now?

Web, email, reading PDFs, simple photo processing. Occasional use of Word. Virtually nothing else.

are you looking for a desktop, tablet, or laptop?

Definitely not a tablet. Debating between desktop & laptop.
posted by jon1270 at 6:35 AM on December 2, 2012

If your parents are the kind of computer users who try to figure things out, they'll probably be fine with a little bit of guidance at the start. But if they're the kind that rely on things being in the same place every time you'll definitely want to find a way to go to Windows 7. It's totally worth the extra $70 to switch back for the amount of frustration you'll be saving them.

If you're interested in helping them remotely, I would also recommend installing Team Viewer. I work as a remote support technician for a local IT company and this program is incredibly valuable. It's free for personal use too. Allows for easy remote control without having to set up firewall rules or port forwarding or anything.
posted by JDHarper at 6:44 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

My mom is not computer savvy and had almost no problems adjusting from XP to Windows 7. However, I dread the day her laptop dies and we have to get a Windows 8 machine. When this day arrives, I will be installing Classic Shell and hoping for the best.
posted by xyzzy at 6:49 AM on December 2, 2012

Dell charges a $70 premium for this 'upgrade to downgrade' solution, which I'd rather avoid.

Check out the small business computers on dell.com. I just bought 4 computers with Windows 7 without having to go through any downgrades. I'm not sure if the business line carries a cost premium (probably depends on what sort of specs you're looking at), but I've always found their pricing to be very competitive when I've made purchases for personal use.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2012

I'm assuming that your parents use computers for a: web browsing and b: email, and b: is probably now also done with a web browser. Is there anything else?

If this is the case, why don't you consider either Linux? Installing and using Linux is so damn easy now, seriously. It has a "for geeks only" rep that is now unjustified. Windows 8, on the other hand, has a "for the masses" rep that is entirely unjustified.

The other option given their presumed computer usage is a Chromebook. ChromeOS couldn't be easier, when you turn it on it's a web browser. Done.

btw, I had this should-I-move-to-Windows-8 conversation with my Dad, who is a total iconoclast in all other phases of life. I told him he should ditch windows for linux and he said "but I need office". Which is actually totally bunk (and there are good linux alternatives), but it spoke volumes about how unwilling he was to change platforms. So, after all of this advice, if you read it and say "nope, non starter, too scary", I understand.

But it's still good advice.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:03 AM on December 2, 2012

I've had success twice with the Dell Outlet refurbished machines. Looks like many are still Windows 7.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:49 AM on December 2, 2012

Linux isn't going to fly no matter how airworthy it might be. I haven't even tried it myself, which means I'm in no position to walk them through even the simplest problems unless I install it on my PC and get familiar, which I don't have the time or inclination to do.

The refurb idea is a good one.

This is all great information, and I very much appreciate everyone's thoughts. I'm less intimidated my W8 myself now, but I'm fairly convinced that it's more trouble than it's worth for my parents. Thanks!
posted by jon1270 at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2012

I recently bought a laptop with Windows 8 and was completely lost for several hours -- I couldn't figure out how to open and close applications and was mystified by the interface. Overall I felt pretty annoyed that I was being forced to spend time relearning basic tasks. I am returning the machine and will try to find a Windows 7 machine, perhaps a refurbished one. I work in IT, by the way. So if they are casual users, I would avoid Windows 8.
posted by shw at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2012

I just bought a laptop with Windows 8, and it's actually not as awful as I was expecting... but I wouldn't say it's an improvement either. You have to kill all the preset apps from loading by setting default progams, and try to avoid the icon interface or embrace it. But then it's fine. Plus, this is the way Windows is going to keep taking things, so I figure might as well learn it now.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:39 PM on December 2, 2012

There are a ton of win 7 options out still available, and there should be for some time yet. The super-cheap deals at your local wal-mart might all be on 8, but any decent computer shop (ie. not big-box) should have a ton of options available for quite a while.
posted by jjb at 3:35 PM on December 2, 2012

I was on Newegg the other day and they had lots of laptops with Windows 7, and that seemed to be where the best deals were, all different brands. Might check them out jon.
posted by PaulBGoode at 6:42 PM on December 2, 2012

I would say windows 8 is ideal for what you're talking about. Stick their email, web, pdf etc apps as the first few tiles on the home page, get rid of all the other tiles, tell them that pressing the windows key from anywhere will always get them get back to their home page and you're done.

Optionally find metro versions of those apps, but there isn't any particular need to.

that don't fit into the new model where ideally you stay in the metro interface as much as possible, using appstore apps for everything.

It is entirely possible to use a windows 8 PC for days on end using entirely the traditional desktop and non-metro apps.
posted by markr at 9:52 PM on December 2, 2012

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