Switching to Mac isn’t right for everyone

When I was in California recently to visit my family I talked to my brother about getting my parents an iMac. Daryl had switched to Mac about 6 months ago and loved it and as you can tell if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time I’ve been extremely happy with my switch too.

Why not share that joy with my parents? It would be great for them to be able to see and speak with their grandkids 2,300 miles away more often and I figured an iMac would be a pretty good solution. iChat and the built in iSight camera are painfully easy to use and my Dad would finally have something other than the TV as a source for his news and information. We would set up a high speed connection with their local cable provider and they’d be good to go!

With that plan fully formed in my head I brought it up to my wife when I returned home from the trip.
Me: "Daryl and I are thinking about getting Mom and Dad a Mac!"
Wife: "Not a good idea. Don’t you remember how it went last time you got them a computer"?
I stopped and looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. At this point those little swirly clouds that appear in sitcoms washed over me and it was 1999 again:
I just bought a nice little Compaq computer for my parents, loaded up with Windows 98 and MS Office 97. I set up the entire machine before-hand, patching the OS and placing icons on the desktop to make it painfully simple for them to use the machine. I also bought a copy of Windows 98 for Dummies and Office 97 for Dummies. I even bought them a nice Epson inkjet printer and pre-configured it to work with the machine.

All this was nicely packaged up so that all my parents had to do was take it out of the box and set it on the desk, then plug it in. This was to be a stand-alone machine, no internet access. They really wanted to use it to write letters and my Dad had an interest in playing around with the technology.

The day after the computer arrived at my parent’s house I got a call from my Dad. He had my cousin come by to help him set it all up because plugging things in was just too difficult. My Dad was getting nowhere with the machine and he needed some help. I got questions like

Dad: "OK, the TV part has a bunch of little pictures on it. What do I do now?"

Me: "That’s called a monitor and the little pictures are called icons. They represent the applications I loaded on the machine for you"

Dad: "Uhhhh"

Me: "OK, let’s just fire up Microsoft Word so that you can type in some text. Double-click on the Microsoft Word icon on the desktop…"

At this point we had a little conversation about how to double-click. It wasn’t long before my Dad was frustrated by the pace of all this and sensed that I was getting frustrated too.

Dad: "Is there a book that we should get before Windows for Dummies"?
The swirly memory clouds disappeared and I was still standing in front of my wife, my plans to get my parents a Mac starting to sound a little crazy even to me. Providing basic support to my parents was something I had glossed over in my zeal to get them a Mac.
I then remembered that my parents still had that $1,200 Compaq I bought them and they do actually use it. The Epson printer – which has never actually printed anything – serves as a bill and magazine holder for my Mom. If you fire up the machine it’s got an entire screen full of shortcuts for Solitaire on it. My Mom has a tendency to click Start and accidentally drag the Solitaire icon to the Windows desktop every once in a while. After 9 years there are a lot of icons. Turns out that’s the only application that’s actually been run on the machine.
So I paid $1,200 for a machine that has effectively become the equivalent of a plastic inbox tray and a deck of Bicycle Playing Cards. I shudder to think what would happen to a shiny new iMac if it was put in the same situation.
My Mom is quite happy with it just the way it is. Maybe I don’t want to mess with that after all.


  1. Nice post, I had a few laughs, especially about the desktop being littered with Solitaire shortcuts. Luckily my parents are a little more knowledgeable when it comes to using the computer, I recently persuaded them to get a Mac Mini as it suited there purposes extremely well. I still don’t think they get the concept behind the whole ‘windows’ thing, don’t think they realise you can have a bunch of windows open on top of each other. Click and drag? That thing that was invented to make it amazingly simple, forget it.

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