Mom, meet Mac! You'll LOVE it, it's SO simple...
April 5, 2008 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Mom's FINALLY decided she'll get a computer. I'm gonna help, so it'll be a MacBook. I know there's been a lot already here on this topic, but...

...since this means I'll be upgrading to 10.5 myself as well, I'm looking for ideas specific to this spiffy new world. I'm of course also combing the net for articles on this and buying some Leopard manuals, so I'm here mainly for links, tips and anecdotes from anybody who's recently been over this exact ground.

She's a vigorous, sharp, but distinctly OLD-world 84, still running her own Montessori preschool, and for years now has been very vocal in her disapproval of computers for all manner of reasons. 5 recent minutes with PhotoBooth and Mail on a shiny new iMac miraculously changed her mind, at least for keeping in touch and penning her memoirs...

She's on one coast; I'm on the other. I'm shipping the MacBook to her after I set it up. We'll both have .Mac accounts and broadband, so I'm interested in video Chats and remotely controlling her desktop when showing her stuff/fixing things. And I've never done either before...

She says she just wants to write and do email, and is scared of the mouse. I have no idea how, or IF, she'll take to actually learning to use and customize the Finder, etc., so I'm planning to record some how-to videos and put 'em on her desktop. I'm also streamlining her Mac with preset Spaces for auto-launched Mail, Pages, Safari, creating a few Pages templates, and maybe adding in LaunchBar for easy keyboard automation (without explaining to her what it is...), and...wondering what else I might do. Got any cool thoughts on how I can maybe use Automator and/or some other keystroke-creation utility to automate basic texty/searchy/sendy things she'll want to do? Should I maybe make myself the Adminstrator? I want to keep everything DIRT-simple and totally stumble-proof, at least initially.

She's VERY suspicious of the Internet, both culturally and ethically, but I'm sure she'll learn to love it eventually as a great big replacement for her 1911 Britannica and her Home Book of Verse. But I'm DREADING her first brush with porn spam or pictures... Might some kind of "parental" controls or other filters prove useful? Never used these either...

Many thanks in advance for all comments!
posted by dpcoffin to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Some of us got my mother WebTV--remember that thing? Utterly simple, but it had a low-res display and was utterly slow.
So a first stumbling block was having to telling her, "Don't worry and don't press anything else, it's working, just wait a minute and you'll get to email!"
Another blip was the first time she saw an e-mail (actually an email one of her friends had received), and she freaked out because she though she would have to learn all about the header in order to send and receive e-mail.
Sorry I have no MacBook suggestions, but I hope these reminiscences may help. BTW, she never used the WebTV and finally gave it away.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:33 PM on April 5, 2008

screen sharing is very easy to do via iChat - you'll both have .Mac accounts so all you need to do (once you have them set up - for her, part of the initial unboxing process) is start iChat and click the button. same for video chat. FWIW, the .Mac pacakge has a learning center which can be rather handy - you might look over it and bookmark it for her. teach her how to use the junk filtering in the Mail program - once it's trained it's pretty good about filtering out crap. if she has a local Apple store, there's a training program they offer called one-to-one as well. if she has friends on AIM, you could have them on her buddy list too in iChat (it's all AIM).
posted by mrg at 12:33 PM on April 5, 2008

10.5 includes screen sharing. If you can, setup the machine at a friends place / neighbors, .etc to make sure you understand how it works and that it works over the internet with its configuration.

Buy her a TimeCapsule also, configure it as the router and backup machine for the macbook, ship that to her along with the macbook, so you know she has a known working and good network configuration / backup working already. This way you wont have to configure the router etc remotely. Also having TimeMachine backup working will do wonders.

Again, bring the setup over to a friends place with broadband and test it from your house before you ship it to mom.

.mac has back to my mac, which almost works, but what does work right now is machine location, so you should be able to get the IP of your moms machine even if she has DHCP.

Create two accounts, a localadmin account, and Mom's account. Setup moms account to be non administrative, with simple finder and an easy password. Under sharing preferences, only allow the localadmin account to connect remotely. Also, document the localadmin account. If your mother ever forgets her password, etc. you can use that localadmin account to easily reset it.

Setup safari on your mom's machine as the default web browser and set the safe search to protected or maximum filtered. Any search results she gets back from google should be pretty well filtered for her. Set as her home page.

Search for "computers for seniors" training classes in your mom's home town, see if she can go to a few classes just to get her head around such things. Usually the folks teaching those are very gracious and helpful, so as not to intimidate the participants.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:35 PM on April 5, 2008

This may not be that significant to a person with as little computer experience as your mother, but I think a Mighty Mouse would be useful. Laptop touchpads still seem woefully inaccurate and prone to accidental triggering to me after quite a long period of laptop use. I also find the hold-key-and-click model of right-clicking on Macs to be quite clunky and I think this might help familiarize her with the two-button mouse model that she's likely to encounter when using computers other than her new Mac.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:45 PM on April 5, 2008

I'd hesitate to set her up with predefined Spaces. I've been helping my grandmother through a new MacBook recently and one of the things that is the most difficult for her, still, is the whole windows metaphor, along with understanding what it means to be "in" an application, how to tell if an application is active, etc. The visual cues that are second nature for people that have been working with computers for a while are too subtle for her. Your mom might be totally fine with all that kind of thing, but if not, Spaces might be another conceptual level that would just make it that much harder. (Hey, where's Mail? etc)

Also, I've found it hard to get any of the Mac novices in my world interested in automated actions, special keystrokes, etc. They want to see things happening. For me Quicksilver is essential; they just don't get why you'd care about opening an application with a keystroke.

Also, re porn brushes, I think you can surf around a LOT and never come in contact with any of that. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

If you or your family have flickr accounts or similar, that's almost guaranteed to be a big hit, I would think.
posted by bluebird at 12:46 PM on April 5, 2008

May I suggest installing the new LogMeIn Mac on her system just in case you run into an issue with getting her into Screen Sharing. You can set it to autostart and you can definitley get in if she's not quite getting you in with Screen Sharing and iChat. (I know it's dirt simple, but she is a NEW computer user and may have trouble following over the phone.)
posted by tcv at 12:54 PM on April 5, 2008

I would second bluebird's advice against Spaces. Although you may find them very useful, they can become extremely confusing for someone who's just beginning with the finder and computers in general. I'd recommend using the dock for most applications and folders (ie. put only what's really necessary there, so that she does not have to dig through folders for applications or other stuff).

Also, keep the desktop as minimal as possible: the HD, and a folder with your video tutorials. Plus maybe a shortcut to her documents folder, though this can go in the dock as well.
posted by ddaavviidd at 1:03 PM on April 5, 2008

again, all of the above settings can be managed on her account, in the account prefences pane (under managed account).

you can connect to her machine using screen sharing just by enabling remote access, and doing:


in the go -> connect to server dialogue. she doesn't have to enable it, and you don't have to use something like logmein.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:22 PM on April 5, 2008

Install Safari AdBlock.

This will not only help with the naughty bits, but also keep potential distrust of the internet at bay. ("Find someone who went to my high school?" *click!!*)

I recently did a similar thing for a relative and it kept her from wasting time looking into ads that seemed legitimate.
posted by pants tent at 1:36 PM on April 5, 2008

I know it's dirt simple, but she is a NEW computer user and may have trouble following over the phone.
Seconded: when you know exactly what you're doing, tech support over the phone is e.x.c.r.u.c.i.a.t.i.n.g. When you don't know exactly what they're looking at or what the solution to their problem is, it's a (long, slow, frustrating) exercise in impossibility.

Also seconded: the recommendation against Spaces and launchbar-type addons. OS X is pretty good at giving you a visual representation of what's going on, and new computer users seem to appreciate that. New users I've taught seem to like having only one program visible on the screen at once, and can for the most part get by with "closing" one program before switching to another (either by quitting or with the window close button). Keyboard shortcuts are likely to reinforce the "mysterious/unlearnable" impression she has. I guess she'll have to get over her (pachydermal?) fear of the mouse.

It would be useful to give her the message that it's hard to break things by poking around. Exploring menus is a great way to figure out what you can do. I find myself giving lessons to new computer users during my job (as a Mac tech), and depending on how comfortable they are I try to give them two "power tips": right-clicking for contextual menus and (for the more confident people) keyboard shortcuts based on the legends in the dropdown menus.

She'll almost definitely decide to start a paper notebook with steps for completing different tasks. Maybe in your care package you could set her up with one, with instructions already there for the first things she'll want to do.

Good luck! It actually sounds like a fun project.
posted by lostburner at 1:53 PM on April 5, 2008

Are you sure she needs a laptop? If portability is important then a laptop it obviously has to be, but if this computer's going to be staying at home then I'd consider getting one or another desktop Mac, preferably with a big monitor.

(I got my mother an eMac, but that was a few years ago.)

Giant monitors can be great for older users, if only because big pixels are easier to see. If her eyesight isn't great, you might like to try a very large but relatively low-resolution monitor, like a Dell 2707WFP, which has a 27-inch diagonal but only 1920 by 1200 resolution. You can get a 2707WFP for $US949 when Dell have a special offer going - as they currently do.

Plus, a bitchin' screen will totally help her out when she gets addicted to WOW. You know it's going to happen.
posted by dansdata at 2:18 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks so far; very interesting!

I've never tried Spaces myself; I only considered it after looking at new leopard features; I was just thinking LaunchBar for switching between login items initially: "To write, hold down command/space P. To email, hold down c/s M..."

My thought re: automation, LaunchBar, etc., was that if I give her the automation as the only way, rather than a better or optional way, she'll just have to remember a few one-click steps to get going with what she wants, and I won't have to deal with any GUI/big picture metaphors at all up front. When she's comfortable, and if she ever gets interested in the computer itself instead of the tasks it's helping her with, I'll show her more and maybe give her a subscription so she can explore OSX on her own. I'd rather she felt comfortable typing in Pages and Mail, ASAP, before she tackles the Finder, if ever.

All this is probably because my wife remains a very focused, experienced and happy user of just Safari and Mail, lo these many years, and despite all my efforts; she's still clueless and resistant about the Finder, using a mouse, or any other applications, even after watching me for years, while I definitely welcomed any and all "Go ahead; it's hard to break things! Explore! Add on!" encouragement when I was new.
posted by dpcoffin at 2:30 PM on April 5, 2008

Remember that the Dock is a great application launcher -- it's always there and always looks the same. "If I want to do something, I look at the doc until I see the right picture (e.g. the stamp for mail)" is much easier to remember than any key command.

Keep in mind that even just doing mail and pages will be a huge step up for her. I can understand your frustration with your wife's limited use of the computer, but don't let that drive you to make this too hard for your mom!

Teach her one thing at a time. Yes, pick them wisely, because you'll probably only get to teach her 10 things or so!
posted by wyzewoman at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2008

Yes, and seconding the suggestion of having her write things down in a paper notebook. As you are teaching her, have her right down what she's learned, in her own words. This will mean that she can understand it, and also force you to go slowly enough!
posted by wyzewoman at 2:42 PM on April 5, 2008

Nthing not to configure her for Spaces if you love her. I use and enjoy it, but there are times when Apple apps (in particular, it seems) pop modal dialogs off in another space, behind another window, which don't appear on the zoomed-out Spaces overview... it can be hell figuring out what app is capturing all of your clicks. If for no other reason than this, I wouldn't recommend Spaces for n00b mom.

And yeah, the Dock, please, not keyboard shortcuts. Unless you think you're going to be the only person she ever asks about how to use her computer, I'd steer clear of trying to create a highly customized environment for her.

Is there a reason you're thinking MacBook over iMac, by the way? I would have thought that larger screen, more eye-level positioning would be preferable. Is she going to be moving this machine around?
posted by mumkin at 3:07 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mac instruction books might be helpful. I'll reiterate what I said there, that Robin Williams is an excellent author for this purpose.

Also I would suggest setting up her internet access so that she can only access a list of sites that you have approved to begin with, so you can corral her in a safe zone with reliable reference sites with the fewest possible ads and whatnot. It might even be easier just to keep her in only email and word processing and photography for now, no web browser at all. After all, she can already do the reference stuff she wants to do, without using the web.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:31 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: Alright, I'm ALMOST convinced to ditch LaunchBar for a stripped-down dock; maybe that's more my idea of a cool thing than her's.

And I was sure an iMac would be the ticket, too. But she walked by my BIL's laptop after her blinding iMac conversion and said, "THAT'S what I want!" So, maybe after a while, we'll take the MacBook and get her that big screen...

Just getting her writing on it to begin with is the clincher, tho.

Thanks again!
posted by dpcoffin at 3:36 PM on April 5, 2008

Does she like to play solitaire, by any chance? Klondike was what convinced my own aged mother that she could operate a mouse without making anything explode. (Though it still took her many months before she felt ready to try cutting and pasting.) I'd definitely recommend making some simple, addictive games easily available to her.
posted by sculpin at 3:52 PM on April 5, 2008

The Apple Web Site .com has hundreds of tutorials (mini movies) that you can click on for free and they will take you through some basic Mac OS X steps.

Also I found it is SO worth the money to sign her up for the following:

Personal training at the Apple Retail Store.
There’s no better way to learn more, or learn it faster, than with One to One personal training sessions at the Apple Retail Store.

Our trainers — experts in all things Apple — create a program customized to your level of experience. You can choose individual sessions covering everything from getting started on a Mac to making more out of your memories. Or explore any topic you like

Good Luck.....
posted by blast at 4:48 PM on April 5, 2008

I haven't seen the new versions of the Mac OS, but in the one I have you can set the dock so that it doesn't disappear off the screen. You might start her off with that set-up. The disappearing one took me a little while to get the hang of - you have to roll the mouse down to where it would be, and usually the dock will appear, but sometimes it doesn't, etc.

If she's going to do email, you might make a special set of reminders for her about common scam types: Nigerian scam; Pharmacy online; Chain letters about money for sick kids. Tell her about fake "from" addresses (which are usually used to pretend to be a bank, credit card company, etc -- tell her those companies will NEVER email, and she should not reply to succh messages), and tell her not to open attachments unless the letter is from a PERSON she knows. The rule of thumb is "if it's a message from someone you don't know, or from your bank etc, send it to me before doing anything else with it."

A laptop might be a great choice, especially if she has trouble getting around the house it will be easy if she can use it at the sofa, kitchen table etc. If she's ever ill, she can have it by the bed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:48 PM on April 5, 2008

Oh, and along with a timecapsule, if you are going with a macbook, buy her atleast two more power adapters. If she is going to want to move around the house with it, make it so she can have power at various tables / locations she would use the computer.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:10 PM on April 5, 2008

I don't know why you'd even consider Launchbar if she's only going to use a couple of apps; just plonk them in the Dock and tell her "click on the stamp for email", etc.

If she's wary of "The Internet", don't tell her - just tell her "click here to start the connection, then click on the stamp for email". Later, if she decides she might want to check out this internet thing, it's just a small step different to what she's already doing.

And, as you probably know, the filters in are pretty good. Just teach her that if an email looks like junk, then she should click on the "Junk" button. The filter learns pretty quickly.

Baby steps is what you should be thinking of, not "OMFG! How do I teach her about email and browsing and porn sites and spam and ...". Just let her do what she wants as she wants.
posted by Pinback at 8:21 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: just plonk them in the Dock and tell her "click on the stamp for email", etc.

I don't want to start by putting the mouse between her and what she wants to do. But I've decided to give her a choice: Click or tab between one of 3 pictures, or type one of 3 letters, and let's get on to basic text formating...

Baby steps is what I AM thinking of; I'm gonna avoid teaching her "about email and browsing and..." as long as possible!
posted by dpcoffin at 12:15 AM on April 6, 2008

« Older Help Me Close The Tray From Hell   |   thinking about it too much Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.