switching dad
November 15, 2005 9:47 AM   Subscribe

help my dad (and me) feel happier about a mac (or otherwise).

my dad is retired, but works part time as secretary (or chairman or something) for an industry organisation. he uses his computer (a dell running xp with ms office) to write letters and manage a few spreadsheets.

he's looking to get a new computer, and the budget he's allowed runs to a 17" imac (the flat screen one). i'm suggesting that he shift to a mac because i think it will be easier to use and more reliable in the long run, but i'm not 100% convinced (and neither is he). he's used to windows and his neighbour, who helps him out when things go worng, is used to windows. i am the other side of the world (in the future, with a mac, i'm hoping i will be able to ssh in and help fix things myself - he has a permanent net connection).

so i was wondering, is there a page/site anywhere for people who know very little about computers, who can explain whether this change is worthwhile? something i can show him. we've already decided how to move his files across (with a usb memory stick thing) and expect appleworks will be able to read the documents he has, and to save docuents in rtf format so his audience can read them.

does that make sense? personally, i have a couple of linux machines and a windows/linux thinkpad, but my partner has a powerbook, so i'm not apple-illiterate. onealternative would be a sony with a similar form factor (computer in flat screen) running xp.

sorry this is rather rambling. any relevant tidbits appreciated. to emphasise, this has to be information for someone who's not that clear on the difference between an operating system and an an application, or what a "file format" is (no offense, dad, just trying to get useful answers!).
posted by andrew cooke to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
 
Site: here

The key thing is that his friend is a Windows person. You'll be losing a lot of that help. On the other hand, once he's up and running, that help should be largely irrelevant. I've set up most of my family with Macs, and rarely hear from them with problems.

The Mac was traditionally designed for people who didn't know what an operating system was. That's less true these days, but still holds to an extent.
posted by bonaldi at 9:56 AM on November 15, 2005


thanks, i'll pass that on. i guess i should have thought to look around apple's site more carefully. i wondered if there was maybe someone's blog from a similar position/generation (but i guess that's highly unlikely!).
posted by andrew cooke at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2005


If he buys the iMac from a retailer, chance are it will come with MS Word installed, so there won't be much of a transition there.
posted by unixrat at 10:14 AM on November 15, 2005


it seems to come with appleworks only; ms office is 300 pounds (uk) more.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:16 AM on November 15, 2005


Unixrat: Retailers install MS Office?

I suspect that your father, like most computer users, will be just fine so long as he can get online and use MS products that can work with his existing files. The Mac can do both of these things very well.

Indeed, people familiar with both platforms generally agree that the Mac versions of office apps are a bit better.

Unless his needs are very specific (hardcore gaming, high end number crunching apps for business) he won't notice the difference at all. Except that the interface is a bit friendlier and easier to work with.
posted by aladfar at 10:20 AM on November 15, 2005


I would actually recommend sticking with a PC. I remember when I switched to a Mac, and for a while it was actually a bit frustrating to do some things, because I had to look around and figure out how to do things that were second nature for me in Windows. And I'm a pretty computer-savvy guy. But the transition didn't take that long. I actually got a Mac so I could have a Windows machine and a Mac, but I sold the PC shortly after getting the Mac.

As for office software, Open Office (or Neo Office for OS X) and AbiWord are fine pieces of software for free.
posted by hellomynameisphil at 10:22 AM on November 15, 2005


The big advantage for your dadis that with a Mac, he has NO worries that his computer will become a zombie in a botnet. Most people should be more worried about their computer becoming a botnet zombie, but people involved in industry organizations have their reputations on the line in particular.

Some percentage of email viruses and internet worms do nothing more than install a rootkit on as many machines as possible. This isn't too hard on Windows, becaue everyone runs Windows with Administrator privileges. So nasty code can get in and muck with anything it wants. Virus writers no longer want to format your hard drive (like they did in the '80s and early '90s). Instead, they want to turn your computer into an open email relay so that they can send spam out, never get caught, and make millions of dollars doing so.

The really nasty part is that these nasty botnet worms only need to make a few COM calls to grab all of the email addresses out of your Outlook addressbook. So the risk you run in managing industry data and email addresses from a Windows box is twofold:

1. Your machine could be compromised and used to send spam to lots of people, some of which might be your business associates.

2. Your machien could be compromised and your personal and business contacts could be added to a nasty spammer's Big List.

I have several windows boxes that I use for software development, but I do all of my email from a mac. Everything sits behind a hardware firewall.


With respect to desktop apps, Office is nearly 100% compatible. Fonts aren't perfectly the same on both machines (this mostly crops up in PowerPoint), and Word has some rendering issues (I've had issues with text boxes created on windows, they don't render exactly the same on a mac, but then Word is a word processor, not a page layout app), but 99.99% of documens should be fine. I've never had trouble opening Mac Office documents in Windows Office, only the other way around (and those problems were fairly trivial).

The iMacs are sweet machines, VERY fast and very compact. If you don't need a second display, they make great mchines. You may also want to consider a 12" or 14" iBook. The iBook is cheaper, fast enough, has incredible battery life, and is portable. The 14" ibook is slightly larger and faster, but doesn't have any more pixels. If your dad can read the 12" screen, go with that.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:29 AM on November 15, 2005


Oops, guess it's just the 'Test Drive' version. When I bought my G5, I could have swore that they were offering full Word on the G4s. Guess I was wrong.
posted by unixrat at 10:31 AM on November 15, 2005


the help you lose with the neighbor can EASILY be made up for with either the free in-store classes that all Apple Stores have, or a ProCare membership. ProCare is an amazing service Apple offers. Basically your dad will get unlimited 1on1 training with an Apple employee who specializes in whichever program he wants to learn that day. Lets say he just wants to learn the basics of the OS. All he would do is logon to the ProCare website, schedule an appointment (up to 7 days in advance) and then make sure he's at the Apple Store on time. VERY easy, VERY powerful, VERY helpful. And if he decides he wants to learn about the other applications, he can schedule appointments for them as well (if he ever wants to get into more professional apps like final cut or photoshop, he can schedule training for those as well). he can ask questions, take notes, etc. i think something like this is PERFECT for mac users of all skill levels, not just beginners.

you'll also get next day turnaround on in store repairs (i also suggest buying AppleCare so you don't have to pay for any parts that might be broken... $170 for AppleCare is a lot less than ~$800 for a new logic board), the ability to reserve a Genius AND they'll even transfer all of your files and install any applications you purchase for you, no need for a flash drive (they'll even install the latest OS/application updates if you want).

and if theres no Apple Store near him, just get him a .Mac membership. he'll get webhosting, an email account, a simple yet powerful backup program and online 'training' videos so he can learn the OS and applications that way. i still think ProCare would be his best bet, but if its more than a 2 hour drive to his local Apple Store the .Mac membership might be ok.

even if you get the ProCare, you might still want to check out the .Mac service. it basically integrates right into the OS and applications so if he wants to publish pictures or video to the web, its just a click of button. he won't need to know any html, won't need to ftp any files to a host. its all done for him, and looks damn good IMO.

so when you go buy the iMac, make sure you look into ProCare ($99/year), AppleCare ($170/3years) and .Mac ($69/firstyear, $99/year after). also make sure you buy Office2004 for the mac since you said he'll be doing spreadsheets.

go to your local AppleStore and have someone demo the new 17" iMac for you, FrontRow will blow you away.

oh, and did i mention ZERO viruses and ZERO spyware on macs? that alone is worth the switch.
posted by hummercash at 10:31 AM on November 15, 2005


unixrat: no, all Apple computers come with a 30day TRIAL of office2004 installed, he'll still need to purchase it at some point.
posted by hummercash at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2005


actually, he's not had any problems with viruses, as far as i know (i've used the machine myself and never noticed any problems). he's pretty careful about what he does, doesn't run as admin, and has an up-to-date antivirus running (although in retrospect i'm surprised at just how effective that's been - i'm not sure what kind of connection he has, but suspect that might be acting as a firewall). but that's a point i should probably mention to him.

we're wondering whether buying office is worth the money, if appleworks does what he needs (which is just simple letters and spreadsheets).

is that procare thing available in the uk? (sorry wasn't very clear about location).

no switching pensioners out there that want to chime in? :o)

thanks for all the replies. will continue reading, but try to shut up a bit now....
posted by andrew cooke at 10:43 AM on November 15, 2005


he needs to live near an actual Apple brand store, not just a store that sells Apple products... so there are 3 in the UK: http://www.apple.com/uk/retail/

if he lives near one of them, PERFECT. if not, go with the .Mac, the training videos on there are the next best thing to 1on1 training.
posted by hummercash at 10:46 AM on November 15, 2005


Well, she doesn't have a blog (thank god), but we just bought a new Mac mini for my over sixty mother in law.

She has never been computer savvy and, like your father, uses her computer for only Word, Excel, and internet browsing/email. We live in another state and every visit to her house involved me spending hours trying to clean her old Windows machine from viruses and spyware. Eventually I put my foot down and told her she needed a Mac.

She was very apprehensive about switching and very nervous about learning "a whole new computer". Since the switch, however, she has had nothing but positive things to say about the Mac. I cannot stress how computer-unsavvy this woman is: no idea what a file, folder, application, or operating system is - and she has been able to make the transition from Windows to Macintosh with no problem. In fact, she has commented to me how easy everything is now.

More importantly, for my sanity, she isn't calling me with computer questions any more. In my opinion, Macs cost a bit more, but you get what you pay for. I don't have hours of time to devote to ridding a Windows machine of spyware. If my 63 year old mother in law can switch without a problem, anyone can.
posted by peppermint22 at 10:54 AM on November 15, 2005


It should come with both AppleWorks and Pages these days. AppleWorks is showing its age, but if definitely gets the job done for the usual type a letter, simple spreadsheet sort of stuff. Pages is really spiffy for newsletters and so on, once you get used to it.

My mother, in her late seventies, living in rural Yorkshire, dithered for a while about getting a Mac (my recommendation) because the computer class she took was PC based and all the people around her who could "help" her had PCs. Frankly, that kind of help is often not much use, when it isn't actually destructive.

She has had a couple of trouble free years -- the only time she has had a real problem was when her network settings somehow got garbled and she had to call her ISP because she couldn't remember where she had written down her dialup password. The sort of thing that could happen to anyone really, and simple to fix because the system settings are straightforward (getting her to read me exactly what was in the dialog boxes before she started clicking on things was a bit of a challenge, but that's another matter).

She has the occasional compatability problem with some random Windows flavoured document that someone sends her as an attachment, but no worse than the problems that her friends who have PCs have with the same issue.

The only maintenance that gets done to her PowerBook is when I visit her or she bothers to bring it when she visits me, maybe once or twice a year at most, and I install the system updates. Otherwise it just works. No viruses, spyware, registry corruption, and so on... those things might not happen to any given PC, but they are even less likely on a Mac.

My mother is far from computer savvy, and has the same confusions about files, applications, formats etc. as many people who come to computing at that stage of their lives. Every now and then she gets confused, and has a problem doing something she needs to do, but really very little and nothing that I haven't been able to talk her through from 3,000 miles away.

Nowadays I'm trying to persuade her to get broadband so we can use iChat and save on phone bills, but it's uphill going.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:56 AM on November 15, 2005


Speaking as one who's been back and forth between Mac and Windows a few times (and is on the way back to Windows again), the more you know about Windows, the more frustrating a Mac can be. I know Windows quite well, to the point of when I see something weird happen, I know where in the registry or elsewhere I should be mucking about. When I got a Mac at home, I had no idea where to change things when something I didn't like happened and this drove me crazy. However, if I didn't know much about computers in the first place, this wouldn't have annoyed me so much, since I wouldn't have known what to do on a Windows box either. My basic frustration came from knowing that if I were still in Windows I could fix something, but not knowing how to do it on a Mac.

To sum it up, I think your father would do well on a Mac, assuming he's not too Windows computer savvy. If he is pretty savvy, it could take him awhile before he re-figures it all out and calms down. It took me a good year before I stopped cursing at my Mac.
posted by Moondoggie at 11:08 AM on November 15, 2005


I convinced my dad to do The Switch from PC to Mac. I don't use a Mac but I wanted him to have something that looked more attractive and was easier to work with. It is both of those things, and I very rarely have to fix something. I can even say "Burn me a DVD of those pictures we took last week with the camera" and it happens without my interference. So yay Mac!

However, when I need to use his computer I am driven completely mad by the horrible keyboard and the least responsive mouse known to man. We've changed mice a few times to try to resolve this and the new rocker mouse seems to have helped some. We also mucked about with the keyboard settings to ggett itt tto sttopp ddoubblingg llettters. Sadly, it didn't work. It's no big deal to him--all he does is upload his photos to his computer, play solitaire, and check his web based email. He rarely types. But if it were my computer I would have drop kicked it off the nearest cliff with mad glee.
posted by xyzzy at 11:29 AM on November 15, 2005


Just a first hand story...

I personally switched over to a Mac 2 years ago after all my friends were making the switch and telling me how much better they were. I have never been happier with a computer. The difference from XP to OSX is amazing. I was new to OSX so it took a little bit to get into what I was doing. OSX being open source helps in user applications. There is essentially a program out there that will do anything you could have done on a Windows unit.

Last year, I told my Dad ( who isn't computer savvy in the least) to make the switch. He was on an XP unit that kept getting bogged down with Spyware and the such. I was literally having to clean up stuff on it every month. He finally made the switch and I haven't had to touch his computer since. It took a few months of hands on use for him to grasp the easiness of OSX, but he loves it.

Making the switch over to a mac is a huge decision, but one you're not likely to regret.
posted by se7encrows at 12:58 PM on November 15, 2005


Not a pensioner, but my dad is. I bought my dad a Mac in the pre-OS X days. He had no exposure to computers at that point other than that he spent an awful lot of money on them for me to use when I was a kid. I got him on the web, in email and playing solitare in no time. He's got an eMac now and it's rock solid with OS X. No problems at all.

I also bought him a PC because he really really wanted one to do taxes with (please read that as play games) and it's been horrible keeping it running. I've locked all the admin settings away from him on the Mac and PC but the PC is tits up at least once every few months.
posted by substrate at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2005


I'm in a similar position with my mother. Having persuaded her to switch to Mac (because even after five years, her PC still bewilders her - she stays in a tiny comfort zone and really misses out) I took her to the Mac User show in Olympia and, rather to my surprise, she had a great time. What swung it for her was the lively community that is her local Mac User Group. These seem to be very active in the UK and she got on very well with the representative there. Say what you like about Mac users, they do look after each other. Your Dad might find a local group helpful too.
posted by grahamwell at 2:48 PM on November 15, 2005


The iMacs are sweet machines, VERY fast and very compact.

I'm a huge fan of iMacs, and will be purchasing my second very soon, but they are NOT very fast machines. They get the job done, and would be fine for you father, but to call them very fast is simply not so. Just clarifying.
posted by justgary at 3:55 PM on November 15, 2005


Here's a blog of a switcher. He has lots of mac tips as well.
posted by dhruva at 6:32 PM on November 15, 2005


As the owner of a G3 iBook onto its last logic board, I tend to be a little leery of the *heart* Mac brigade.

The best analogy I can think of for Macs is high-end European motor vehicles. Bentleys, say. Most of them are fine. The lemons, though (and there are lemons) are Hell (and potentially very expensive) if you have the misfortune to own one. Basically, it helps to know a good mechanic (i.e. be near an Apple service centre).

There's an interesting, if unscientific, poll here on iMac reliability, which also touches on quality control/build issues.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:45 PM on November 15, 2005


As a mac user who uses a PC at work, I can understand why corporations use it - but I also would not buy the company car to drive on the weekends.

Of course - you should switch but don't take our word for it - here's why Walt Mossberg of the WSJ says (you can also go to his site to read much more - he basically says the mac is the best computer on the market now:
http://ptech.wsj.com/archive/report-200511.html

This is a bit techie but here is a switcher story:
http://www.anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2232

Here are two guides on how to get started, one techie, one not so much:
http://the.taoofmac.com/space/HOWTO/Switch%20To%20The%20Mac
http://homepage.mac.com/metroxing/mac.html

And just to be ojective, here's mossberg's take on why you may not want to switch:
http://www.macobserver.com/article/2005/02/17.2.shtml

Here is WAlt Mossberg's archives - you can see which ones to read:

http://ptech.wsj.com/archive.html
posted by jbelkin at 10:24 PM on November 15, 2005


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