New computer and tech support for non-techy older person
December 6, 2015 5:23 PM   Subscribe

My mum's 8 year old, second hand laptop is on the way out. I'd like to replace it with something more suited to her needs. Also, is there any sort of phone/online tech support available in Australia suitable for older people so she doesn't have to wait months until I'm home to learn how to download pictures/ save files etc?

My mum (in her 60s) started to use a computer a few years ago, and since then it has become an important part of her life - she is otherwise pretty isolated, and it allows her to keep in contact with family and research things that interest her. Her (Windows 7 ish) laptop is dying and I want to replace it with something easier to use.
Currently, she mostly uses the internet: for researching things, edX/online courses, reading news, webmail and facebook. She also uses Skype. She would like to upload photos and create albums, write documents/ keep a journal, but understanding the file system ( where the documents/photos go, how to get back to them) is difficult. She is not too computer-savvy: the things she can do, she does by following a procedure (e.g. click on Chrome icon, type in webmail address, press enter, type in login information, press go) and gets confused when things don't behave exactly as she expects.
Physical requirements are fairly basic: it must have a full size keyboard (no tablets), good sound/webcam for skype. She mostly uses it on her lap. It'd be good to have something durable, that will last more than a couple of years. Fairly cheap would be good.
So, questions:
1. Is a Chromebook the go? I thought maybe having things working through the internet would make more sense to her, since she understands that best. Any experience getting older relatives going on one of these? Any specific model recommendations (available in Australia)?
2. Whatever the computer, what can I do to make it as easy as possible to use? e.g. What tasks (updates etc.) do I need to schedule? Are there features best turned off? Programs I can install (Teamviewer?) that would make it easier to troubleshoot problems? It has been a long, long time since I've used a Windows computer.
3. Finally, is there any sort of tech support service out there we could subscribe to that would be useful if she wanted to know how to do basic tasks, say, upload a photo from a camera? She is reluctant to bother me with this sort of thing, and it is difficult for me to explain over the phone with an operating system I'm not familiar with. Again, should be available in Australia.
posted by neatsocks to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
As a Mozilla employee, it pains me to say this, but buy her a Chromebook. The one I bought my own mother has been ideal, to the point where several of her friends now have them as well. The automatic, whole-system updates take care of any security concerns.
posted by SemiSophos at 5:47 PM on December 6, 2015

Skype does not work on a Chromebook except for text chat.
posted by w0mbat at 7:20 PM on December 6, 2015

Yeah unfortunately Skype doesn't work on ChromeOS. If she could move to Hangouts that would work fine (no longer requires a Google+ account, and I at least get much better video performance on Hangouts than Skype, but this seems to vary widely from person to person). But if Skype is a hard requirement then ChromeOS is out.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:54 PM on December 6, 2015

Where shouts in Australia are you located? My partner specialises in teaching IT self-suffiency.
posted by travellingincognito at 10:18 PM on December 6, 2015

You could create some cheat sheets, complete with screenshots, for common tasks (uploading pictures from her camera, finding files in file explorer, saving files, etc.) and then print them out for her. You could even have them laminated at an office/copy store. This might take some initial time and work (since you don't use Windows, you might have to borrow someone's system to make them) but in the long run it'd be worth it. She wouldn't need to call you over and over for the same thing, and she'd probably feel more secure knowing the solution is on a piece of paper somewhere. I did something similar for my mother back when she first started using computers.
posted by katyggls at 11:27 PM on December 6, 2015

For the tech support part of your question:
My elderly mom's eyesight continues to be less clear. She often mis-clicks, moves icons, or can't make out certain instructions on the screen. We connect via the personal version (free) of TeamViewer, so I can call up her screen and talk her through most any issues she is having.
posted by tronec at 2:27 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It'd be good to have something durable, that will last more than a couple of years. Fairly cheap would be good.

I second the chromebook suggestion, but specifically on that point: try and track down a thinkpad 11e. The australian version of lenovo outlet seems to be region locked, but on the US site there's been stacks of them for about $120 for months.

They're built for classrooms. Elementary school classrooms. They're designed to get punched, stuff spilled on them, thrown around, etc. They have SSDs and no moving parts besides the fan. The one i deployed at my old work seemed like it would last many years.

A chromebook basically eliminates all of #2. And #1 is extremely simple in comparison. There's really just not much to it. It's a browser, with a few extra menus and the ability to save files and stuff. It's almost beyond iOS level simplicity where you could show someone the basics in one session and never really have to elaborate besides edge cases. Chrome also has "chromoting" and it's own teamviewer-like remote desktop which works with chromeOS as well.

There isn't a good solution to the skype thing. I've actually had to steer people to basic windows laptops who need skype... which sucks, because generally their usage pattern is 100% chromebook compatible except skype. There's hacky ways around it(like running the android version of skype), but they're something i would do to see if i could... not that i'd set up for someone else to use. I get that neither google or microsoft have any motivation to come up with a solution here or even offer a workaround... but it still bugs me. That's basically the missing feature for a lot of people who would otherwise be really well served by a chromebook.
posted by emptythought at 4:23 AM on December 7, 2015

Response by poster: So, a Chromebook is looking good. The lack of Skype is certainly a problem, but maybe I can teach Mum to use Hangouts.
Emptythought: a Thinkpad sounds good, but unfortunately it is too small. From my Mum's point of view, literally her only requirement is that the keyboard is a good size.
Travellingincognito: She is in a small town in country NSW.
posted by neatsocks at 6:28 PM on December 7, 2015

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