My father is 75 and decided that it was time to switch from his 8 year old Dell running Windows to a Mac. I'd been suggesting this for a while as I think that Macs are simply easier to use, are great for integration with basic consumer electronics (think "phone" and "camera"), and the Apple Store's Genius Bar and classes is a great way to have him get help one-on-one. I really am proud of him for taking this leap.
While I thought I understood how scary these things can be for "civilians", it wasn't until I got to participate in this first-hand that I really grokked the problem. The only bright spot is that my father doesn't use his computer for much - primarily web and email, and I think he'd do more with photos if his photo software wasn't so bad. (iPhoto to the rescue I hope...)
So on Black Friday, both because he was visiting for Thanksgiving and thus opportunistic as well as ... well, don't all geeks want to do this? ... we went to the Apple Store at 7am. (I wanted to go at 6am for full additional bonus geek points, but we both weren't ready...). My hope was that he'd get a laptop and a big screen and keyboard (his sight at 75 isn't what it once was), with the intention that he could take the laptop and all things digital with him when he went to the Apple Store for help or classes. However, he wasn't convinced that he wanted the laptop - he didn't think he'd be able to see it well, and figured the expense wasn't worth it.
Well, the LCD screen in the new 15" MacBook Pro is gorgeous and he can read it, and coupled with the zoom feature and easy font adjustment (open-apple-+), he has no problems. So we got that, an airport express, and a wireless printer. (It was $18 after rebate....). I took the pile home, got it setup so that all he had to do was just plug things in. Connect the Express to his DSL modem, power up the printer... what could possibly go wrong?
Well, what went wrong was that unlike the cable modem that I've had for what feels like 15 years now, where I just plug a router into it, configure it for DHCP, and away we go, Verizon's DSL does some seemingly awful things, requiring flipping the modem into ethernet bridge mode and configuring the AirPort express to use PPPoE.
Really? PPPoE? I faintly remember using that over dialup in the early 90's....
And as a bonus, the DSL modem that my father has isn't listed as supported by Verizon's own support site! Since I was guiding a neophyte over the phone, there was *no way* I as going to try this blind.
I really understand why people are afraid of new computer technology. It wasn't just this DSL issue - even the basics that I take for granted, like minor config changes and such via SystemPrefs or whatever are utterly out of the realm of experience for someone who isn't computer literate. I'd love to see a common UI for things like this, just like cars have a common UI for the basics. I understand the advanced stuff is harder, but just the simple things....
Anyway, he was a trouper and between schlepping between the local apple store and dealing with Verizon's phone service, it all got worked out, and he's now online. I'm sure there's going to be quite a bit of niggling things to solve, but I think the journey will be worth it. (E.g. This morning, Mail.app kept the Send button grayed out because there was no outbound SMTP server selected for the account even though there was one defined - this had me for a while, but eventually googled my way out of it and talked him through it... would be nice to see a hint in a tooltip when you hover...)
BTW, I like the new LED screen so much, I got a MBP for myself - I'm a little afraid of the reflectivity of the new glass screen, but so far, there's a lot to like. Plus, the kbd on the MBP is the same as my desktop, which helps as I switch back and forth.