Help me help my Mom get off of AOL!
March 24, 2006 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me convince my mother to switch from aol to gmail.

My mother is a brilliant English teacher, but she is somewhat technology-averse. She has been using an aol address forever (since they got internet in the '90s while I was in college), and she has never liked the whole aol interface, with all those bells and whistles and horribleness. However, she doesn't like the idea of switching, and notifying people, and learning a new program.

I have already registered a gmail account for her. Here's where I would really like guidance:

1. What email program should I get her set up with? Obviously, she'll be able to use the browser-based gmail interface, but I think she would prefer to use a software program where she can read and compose off-line. I'd like something easy-to-use and familiar to her. I use Thunderbird, but I think she'd hate it, and I'm leaning toward Outlook. Suggestions?

2. What is the fastest, easiest way for her to transition, contacts-wise? I expect to import her contacts into the new program, and maybe set up a forwarding filter and/or automated reply on AOL. I have zero experience with the AOL interface, so I don't know what I'm walking into. Anyone who's aided in such a transition, I'd love advice on this.

3. How do I talk her through general AOL withdrawal? She is afraid of change in the computer realm, but she does know that this is a good move to make. I would appreciate any tips from folks who've helped encourage friends/family make a switch like this.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
I have similar experience with weaning family members from AOL. My mother-in-law had been a staunch AOL user for 10+ years.

#1 - In my experience, Outlook seems to be the easiest for novice users to transition to.

#2 - AOL offers an intellisync tool that will allow syncing contacts with Outlook -

#3 - For me, the most important thing was availablility and valid alternatives. My mother-in-law loved the online gaming capability of the AOL interface (card games mostly). I showed her MSN Zone and helped her pick that up. However, I think the straw that broke the camels back was getting her a Tivo. It was just a nightmare getting the latest updates via dial-up so I convinced her to go to broadband (I also threw in that with broadband I could connect to her machine from home and diagnose her problems without having to come to her house). She tried to go AOL DSL but it was a pain sharing the connection with the Tivo (long story). She eventually grew to love the Tivo (read:American Idol) more than she loved AOL and is now a happy Comcast user.
posted by toomuch at 8:05 AM on March 24, 2006

not to sound snarky but why is it you are getting her to switch from the free service she knows and likes to the free service you know and like?
posted by phil at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2006

If you can convince here to use Gmail, this might help.
posted by JPowers at 8:34 AM on March 24, 2006

Phil, he said she doesn't like AOL, but is afraid to change.
posted by teg at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2006

Response by poster: phil, she doesn't really like aol. She has expressed a desire to switch off of it, but she's concerned about the accompanying hassle and learning-new-things angle.

toomuch, thanks for your advice. My parents actually do have some kind of broadband connection as well as wireless internet; my father's really into computer stuff, but he's terrible at teaching it.

JPowers, cool link, thanks!
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:44 AM on March 24, 2006

Response by poster: teg, I'm a she.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:44 AM on March 24, 2006

I'd recommend against Outlook. A while ago I was introducing a novice to Outlook 2003 and didn't realize how many quirks and idiosyncracies it had until then. Thunderbird seems much more straightforward to me.
posted by zsazsa at 8:49 AM on March 24, 2006

If she is a Comcast user she probably is better off just using their email. Who knows what will become of gmail over time. You get what you pay for and since it is not free Comcast has more incentive to make their email error free. She is already paying for it anyway, so to her it is in essence free.
posted by caddis at 9:01 AM on March 24, 2006

Thanks for brightening my morning, caddis. Funniest thing I've heard all week.
posted by dmd at 9:20 AM on March 24, 2006

Response by poster: The main reason I think T-bird isn't right for my mom is the layout of the To: addresses. I've known her all my life, and I know that layout will drive her crazy-go-nuts. Thunderbird is Right Out.
I don't know what version of Outlook is installed on her laptop, though, and zsazsa makes a good point that Outlook 2003 might be overwhelming for her. I use 2002 at work, and I think that would be good for her, but maybe Outlook Express is all she needs?

caddis, I've thought about the potential for change with gmail, but I think it's too popular at this point for anyone acquiring it to change it, and I would like for her to have an address that wouldn't change if my dad decides to switch providers or if they move.

Also, I want to apologize to teg - I should have also thanked you for the clarification, and I didn't mean to be so rude.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:27 AM on March 24, 2006

Ugh AOL. Going through this with my mom.

Honestly I'd say stay with the Gmail interface - that's part of its charm. It's so intuitive.
posted by radioamy at 9:37 AM on March 24, 2006

If she's used to AOL, perhaps Yahoo e-mail would be an easier next step? It's closer to AOL and Outlook, especially if you can get in on their new beta layout.
posted by kdern at 9:54 AM on March 24, 2006

Outlook is overkill for the typical home user. It's also riddled with nasty little quirks. ie, the one where it decides that a message in your outbox hasn't actually sent, so it sends it again.. and again.. and again. Microsoft's fix? "Upgrade to Office 2003." Or the bug where it decides to re-send everything in your Outbox. Microsoft's fix? "Upgrade to Office 2003 and call us back.

Outlook Express really isn't a whole heck of a lot different from Thunderbird when you're using it as a POP client. I'm looking at Outlook Express now and am not really seeing a whole huge difference in the "To" field layout. What was the last Thunderbird release that you used?

But yeah, Outlook Express isn't terrible. It's kind of annoying how it likes to tie itself into Windows (MSN) Messenger though. I keep having to go back in and uncheck that "Start MSN Messenger when $ANYTHING_MICROSOFT launches" preference. Blah.
posted by drstein at 10:35 AM on March 24, 2006

My dad is the polar opposite of "technically savvy", and he handles Outlook Express fine, other than once every few months when the preview pane disappears and he needs me to bring it back.

That said, one thing I've noticed about Gmail is that even though it seems to cater to a more tech-aware crowd (at first anyway), it seems like it's designed for the "AOL user" type -- everything is right there in the open, few hidden menus, no CC and BCC unless you know what that is and that you need it, etc. I switched (not by choice) from TBird to Gmail and have never looked back. But that's just my opinion...
posted by SuperNova at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2006

Another reason, more related to those who email her, perhaps, than to your mother, is that if people send pictures or forward messages, especially if they are emailing other folks at the same time, to her AOL account, they are likely to be flagged as spammers and will never be able to send email to her AOL account again. This doesn't happen to gmail users AFAIK.
posted by Lynsey at 12:06 PM on March 24, 2006

Same here with my dad. Having been used to having folders, etc. in his trusty old Netscape Mail he had a hard time adjusting to Gmail (my first attempt to switch him) and Opera's mail client (my second attempt to switch him). He's using Outlook Express now and is very happy and comfortable.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2006

I wish someone would convince me to use gmail.
posted by auntbunny at 3:28 PM on March 24, 2006

I wish someone would convince me that Microsoft actually makes “E-mail” programs. Out of the box they send top-posted HTML messages, which scarcely qualify.
posted by joeclark at 4:08 PM on March 24, 2006

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