The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

Summary: It seems to me that Senior Citizens are a widely ignored market by the computer industry.

TOPICS: Hardware

"Question Number 58: What is a File?"

In the past, my Mother-In-Law has been the subject of a number of different columns.

I used to have a number of yearly maintenance issues with her older computers that ran on Windows XP, and it was a very bumpy ride for a while with Windows Vista, but ever since I've migrated her to Windows 7, put her on automatic updates and Microsoft Windows Security Essentials, it's been pretty much problem free.

These days, she might call me or my wife with a fairly simple computer question, and it's been relatively easy to deal with. My Father-in-law, however, is another matter entirely.

I've discussed Bob the Destroyer before. Anything that is related to Bob and his computer activities pretty much always means bad news.

Over the weekend I got a phone call on my wife's cell. We were in the car, heading into the city to do some holiday shopping and to go see the Angry Birds.

It was my Mother in Law. My wife was driving, so I answered it.

"Your father's laptop, it's making weird buzzing noises."

"Well, unplug it and turn it off. I'll come look at it after you get back from Florida in a few weeks."

"I did try to turn it off, but it won't. It's still making weird noises".

"So flip it over, and pull out the battery."

"I can't seem to figure out how to do that."

"Screw it. Shove it in the garage so you don't have to hear it, it will be dead within four to six hours."

"Oh that's a good idea. Great, so does that mean that Dad needs a new computer?"

"Yeah. It probably does, it was a cheap machine and it isn't worth fixing."

"Love you. Bye."

I then came to the full realization that sometime in the near future, I would now have to prep a new laptop with Windows and teach Bob, yet again, how to use the thing. And he'd find another way to break it. Again, again and again.

At age 74, Bob isn't getting any better when it comes to technology. We can talk about preventative measures to secure Windows systems until we are blue in the face, but the guy has a talent for messing up computers. He won't learn good user practices no matter how much you try to teach him. And I don't think it even matters that it's a Windows box. If I gave him a Mac, he'd probably figure out how to mess that one up too.

The only benefit to him having a Mac is that he could drag the thing into an Apple store and torture some poor bastard in a blue t-shirt at the Genius Bar, and they can charge him some ridiculously expensive surcharge to bring it back from death each time. And I could (legitimately) claim to be a complete Mac ignoramus and play stupid each time he asks me if I can fix it instead.

This would be a viable option, except for the fact that Bob needs a laptop computer, and Macbooks aren't exactly cheap, even refurbished. And they are total overkill for a 74 year-old ex securities trader whose computing needs are centered around Web browsing, email and playing with his digital camera.

Also Read: Why Old People Still Like Their PDAs

About four years ago, I experimented with giving Bob an Ubuntu Linux machine. It worked quite well for about a year, until that system also eventually dropped dead. Then he ended up with his current $400.00 Acer Aspire One, that originally ran on Windows Vista and then later Windows 7 Home Basic, which has now apparently chosen to commit suicide rather than continue to serve its cruel master.

This also happened to his pet Oscars, which gorged themselves until they couldn't fit in their tank and eventually jumped out and plummeted their untimely death.

Do you see a pattern here? I do.

So the issue isn't really what kind of a PC Bob is going to get. He's going to get a cheap Intel laptop. I'd consider getting him a netbook or a tablet like the iPad, but the screens on most of these devices are far too small for a senior citizen.

The real problem is that any operating system of sufficient complexity is a bad choice. Period.

Frankly, I'd love to give Bob Chrome OS. I mean, it's totally maintenance free, all the apps and the data are Cloud driven, and you can't break the OS even if you try. Google has engineered the Cr-48 notebook so that it's virtually impossible to screw up.

The Cr-48 would be nearly ideal if it weren't for the fact that you have to be picked by Google in order to receive them -- they can't be bought anywhere, and also the 12" screen might still be a tad small for Bob.

What I really want is an installable version of Chrome OS, or for someone to sell me an inexpensive ($300 or less) Chrome OS laptop with a 14" or 15" screen. The problem is that you can't get a Google-sanctioned Chrome OS installer, and nobody makes laptops that run on Chrome OS yet.

Also Read: MFD Printers Are Hell, And So Is Family PC Tech Support

Sure, there's the Chrome OS builds by "Hexxeh", and they look pretty good, although development appears to have slowed down. There's also Ubuntu Netbook Edition, but even with all the permissions locked down, it still has the potential to get messed up by the end-user.

Another option that looks promising is Jolicloud, but I haven't had the chance to test it out yet. Peppermint OS is another Ubuntu derivative which has additional potential, but from what I've seen from it, it still appears to be too complicated for Bob.

It seems to me that Senior Citizens are a widely ignored market by the computer industry. Sure, I've seen a number of very tech-savvy Boomers and older folks. A good number of them even helped to create the technologies we take for granted and use today. But these aging PC Yodas are few and far-between.

Most older folks want to just (reluctantly) use their computers, and they have limited or no understanding of the dangers of malware and the myriad of other things that can cause their systems to malfunction.

There is also the other thing that we don't want to talk about but we all have to accept. As these folks age, they make a lot more mistakes on their systems which create immense headaches for the people they enlist to fix them -- which usually means friends and family members, and poor bastards like me.

So something like Chrome OS on a big-screen laptop or a thin client device connected to a large monitor would be the ideal sort of platform for the vast majority of Grandpa Bobs out there. But these products don't exist. Yet.

What sort of computer or device should Bob the Destroyer get next? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topic: Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Come on, Jason. You overlooked the obvious elephant in the room

    Give him an iPad. You set it up once on your home system and then let him install his apps himself to his heart's content. (by downloading the apps over WiFi, of course, so a desktop PC would be unnecessary.)

    I know you said a 12" screen. So don't get him a Samsung Tab! Grin.
    • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

      @kenosha7777 Screen is definitely too small, and it's too delicate a device. He'd drop it. I'd have to put an Otterbox Defender case on it at the very least (now we're at $600 as opposed to $300 for a Best Buy laptop special) and I'm not sure that the UI on an iPad is actually simple enough for him. That's difficult to believe, but its true.
      • I gave an older Macbook pro to my mother...


        recently and she called me asking how to turn it on. I mean she's only 61 for _____ sake! I was like "Mom there are only so many buttons on that Macbook, you could have just randomly pressed them until you hit the winner". So, I am getting her a refurbished iPad for xmas. That may be a big mistake but I figure if nothing else her grand-kids will enjoy it. If she cannot figure this one out I am throwing in the towel.

        I feel your pain.
      • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

        You know best. Good luck finding a suitable device. By the way, my 80 year old Dad (who walks on water, IMHO), thinks my iPad IS magical but seems very reluctant to use the thing for long stretches at a time. I sort of think there is a tangible "fear factor" involved when it comes to using any electronic device more complicated than a TV remote.

        Do you think it's just a "generational" trait associated with our parents. (The generation that did Not grow up with easily available electronic computers?)
      • That is a show stopper


        If you drop the thing, no machine is up to that except that industrial panasonic with hardened rubber case. Not cheap. Your father-in-law may just be one of those type of people that should not be allowed near machinery. Maybe this is why older folks are ignored because it is a lost cause. Too set in their ways and too stubborn to learn something new.
      • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

        @jperlow Hi jason thanks for that hilarious post. I recommend for Bob a recertified Compaq Presario CQ62 219wm (i'm pretty sure thats the model number). It has a 15 inch screen and a celeron processor; and sells it for $379. I reallly think this would be a great choice for him being that it comes with windows 7. I hope you read this thanks again for your great writing.
    • The real elephant in the room may be age

      @kenosha7777 While it is still possible to create new synapses when you are beyond 70, it is not as easy as our brain tries to map new experiences to existing patterns.

      Every time Jason changes the OS or interface, what seems new to us, becomes the "same old" for them. For them it looks the same but... it does not work the same!!! where is the freaking mouse? That disconnect distracts the brain from learning the new.

      Patience and comprehension. They are not stupid. Let's adapt our help to their ways, not the other way around.
  • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

  • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

    No matter what latest laptop or computer you give someone who isn't a whiz at it, still you're gonna have a hard time in teaching them. Like what my sister told me, "You can't teach those who are older than you."
  • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

  • Hopefully there will be all-in-on 22 inch ChromeOS PCs next year. Would be

    perfect for Grandpa. He does NOT want to carry it to Starbucks, use it in bed, or on the couch anyway. He would much prefer the big screen.
    • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

      @DonnieBoy Correct, he uses it on his desk and -occasionally- travels with it.
      • Stupid question time . . .


        Why not get him a Wii, and a keyboard? He could upload pictures via the SD slot, and browse and do email, etc . . . And have a simple interface at the same time (Unless you think that even THAT might be too complex also . . . :) )
    • I wouldn't say ChromeOS is the answer

      too many "internet only" limitations.
      John Zern
      • I would say that grandpa does not care about Win32/64 applications. He

        checks his email, reads news, searches with Google, that is about it. If he had to type a short note and print it, he would be very happy with Google Docs.
      • Thats right donnieboy its not like

        gradpa would EVER run old win 32/64 applications as older people arent all too smart to do something like that.
        Ron Bergundy
      • yeah, I'm thinking that would be a nightmare

      • Donnie

        YOu missed the part where he takes pictures. ChromeOS would be built for that.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: The PC Industry's Forgotten Market: Grandpa

      @DonnieBoy I can actually see a big market for a ChromeOS all-in-one as a cheaper alternative to the iMac for unsophisticated types.
  • I don't know what you clowns are talking about...

    1st.. tell Grandpa to get a 13.3" Macbook and make sure he gets Applecare... (That's three years of mac genius's without hair and you should be able to re-grow most of yours back in that time).<br><br>My step dad (also a grandfather) used to call me 2 to 3 times a weel for his windows PCs... That $%(*$#@% would open any and all email attachments he ever received... (even tho I told him not to)... I finally ended up write protecting his registry... And still he would call and complain that he clicked on an email and it cant install something it wants to install. And he was irritated about not being able to infect his computer. He sprayed WD-40 on a CPU fan because he said it was squeaky!!! ARGHHHHH!!!!<br><br>I finally talked him into a Mac (with a little help from my mom) and the old fool went out and bought an old clunky Bondi-blue iMac (original series, all in one with CRT) that had a bad hard drive. Once he paid a guy (he was too embarrassed to call me) to replace the hard drive he ended up spending more than the Mac Mini I told him to buy in the first place!!!! Well once that ancient iMac wouldn't cut it, he donated it and finally ended up getting a new iMac... I couldn't be happier... Granted, the calls slowed drastically when he got the old iMac, but once he had the new one, he went 6 months without a peep and after 6 months the only thing he did was rave about his iMac and OS X and iLife<br><br>@oncall.. Your mistake was giving your mom an older Powerbook... Chances are it needs or needed a PMU reset. And You gave her a machine that didn't have Applecare... Big mistake... Stupid mistake... I get Applecare on all of my personal Apple products except my shuffle (that is cheap enough to replace) and I never call Apple. The hardware protection alone is more than worth it, but if you are a person that will actually cash in on the support, then it is worth more than gold and diamonds...<br><br>Yes, they are high end machines and not cheap PCs. But you get more than what you pay with a Mac... You get a OS that is not affected by PC virii and malware attachments... So the old geezers and click away until they are blue in the face and they still can't infect the machine. You get three years of support with is more than enough to handle even the worst learning curve. And you give them independence from you. If you think for one second that they like depending on someone else (no matter how close they are), then you are sorely mistaken. An investment in happiness is a worthwhile investment, for everyone.<br><br>Windows 7 is crap. It's not even a good knockoff and it is soooooo convoluted and hideous compared to XP that it's not even funny. Even running as Admin it is FUBAR'd... Permissions all wacky and lame... Clunky, virus prone, insecure, hunk of junk... It may be fine for those of us who know how to finess and caress it into doing what we want, but it's not an OS for the masses and it's definitely not an OS for Grandpa (unless you hate him and don't have to do his support... If that's the case, by all means, tell him he needs Windows 7.. LOL).