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January 31, 2013

How To Set Up A Computer For Grandpa

Everybody needs a computer these days. Yes, even your grandpa, whether he realizes it or not. While he probably won’t be using it for World of Warcraft, Twitter and Tumblr like you do, he’s bound to find it plenty useful for a load of things, too.

What Grandpa WIll Likely Use Computers For

1. Solitaire. I know, it’s cliche, but it’s only half a joke. Unless you actively teach them things to do on a computer, it’s bound to end up serving as nothing more than an overpowered solitaire machine.

2. Skype. As you get older, more and more of your family live away. And if you want to stay in touch with children, grandchildren and other relatives, there’s really nothing better than firing up Skype for a video chat.

3. Facebook. Granted, not a lot of seniors are on Facebook. I do know plenty, though, especially those with family who live far away. Facebook is just a great place to catch up with people and see what they’re up to without having to be online at the same time (as with Skype).

4. General reading. Savvier seniors will take to the web for general reading purposes, such as news and hobby magazines. You’ll likely have to teach them exactly how to find what they want, but once they do, computers and them internet will become really valuable for them.

5. Casual games. Yep, everybody plays games and the explosion in casual gaming the past few years is a testament that it’s pervasive beyond the 13 to 35 years old demographic.

Other Things You Should Teach Them

1. Online banking. Unless your grandpa keeps his money in a shoebox, he deals with banks. Chances are, he’ll find online banking very helpful, especially for paying bills and checking his accounts.

2. Email. Make sure to create an email account for them and teach them how to use it. Email is a necessity for getting into many places on the internet, so it’s worth the trouble. We suggest Gmail or Outlook.com — both have an uncluttered interface and has a very low learning curve.

3. Online shopping. At some point, they’re going to try to buy stuff from the web — the internet is one big shopping mall, after all. We suggest teaching them all the necessary precautions, as well as getting them started (e.g. sign them up to Amazon and other safe e-commerce websites) to avoid problems (like scams and identity theft) later on.

Buying A Computer For Grandpa

I used to think a netbook will be ideal for seniors. Until my grandfather started using my 10-inch Asus, that is. Fact is, the screen is too small for seniors with poor eyesight and it just makes using the computer cumbersome. While you can still use a netbook or a nettop (it’s cheap with sufficient power for their needs), we suggest throwing on a larger display to make staring at the items on the screen just a little bit easier.

Things To Set Up

1. Turn off Windows Updates. Those dialog boxes that constantly pop-up usually start confusion which become an annoyance that eventually ends up as frustration. Save them from the hassle and turn off automatic updates. You can just run the updates yourself once a month when you visit.

2. Install all the basic software. We suggest using Ninite, the web service that automatically installs a bunch of free and open-source software to a machine. At bare minimum, you need to install a browser (Chrome is the simplest), an antivirus (the free Avast is really good), all the needed plugins (Flash, Java), Adobe Reader (for PDF files), Open Office, and video chat (Skype). You can also install advanced software later, like the more specialized and thorough AVG Internet Security.

3. Create desktop shortcuts. The simplest way to get to a program is always the desktop. As such, make sure to set up shortcuts to the programs they need on there. To help keep it simple, delete ones they aren’t likely to need (e.g. Adobe Reader, which will open automatically when they try to access a PDF anyway).

4. Set up the browser. Turn on the security features on the browser, set the homepage and optimize default font sizes to that which they can see. Also try to set up a Speed Dial feature (browser extensions) with links to sites they will frequently use to simplify the whole thing (e.g. the New York Times website if they like to read the news).

5. Set up the webcam for video calls. Make Skype (or whatever video chat program you will use) as easy to use as possible. Do this by setting up video chats to be ready as soon as Skype launches (e.g. automatically turn on PC webcam, auto-login to his account).

6. Configure home network settings. If they’re not connecting to the internet via a wire directly, make sure to set up their network settings to work automatically. This is a big deal, especially for seniors who have little to no experience working with home networks. Considering how much of what they do will rely on the internet, you can’t afford to skip this.

7. Make Windows friendlier. Like you did with the browser, you want to increase the font size across Windows to one they can see without any difficulty. Same with mouse cursor size, which could give them trouble.

8. Install some games. Like we said, everyone enjoys games. Plus, your grandpa doesn’t have a curfew so he can spend all night playing Angry Birds if that’s what he wants to do. Try to keep it to the casual gaming category, though. If they want more complex games, they’re likely to ask you for it.

Teaching Grandpa

Setting up a computer is easy enough. The hard part is actually teaching your grandpa how to use it. For some, it will be easy. For others (especially those who have shunned computers all their lives), prepare to exercise some patience.

The basics you want to cover:

1. Show them how to turn the computer on and off.

2. Show them how to launch programs from the desktop.

3. Show them how to go to their favorite websites. With that said, show them some websites they might like.

4. Show them how to play Solitaire. And other games, too, if they’re up to it.

5. Show them how to type documents and spreadsheets (my grandpa loved Excel so much — seriously).

6. Show them how to use email.

7. Show them how to use videochat, especially how to look into the camera and speak into the mic. Doing a couple of dry runs with your computer should solve this quickly.

8. Teach them what to do when they encounter problems (this depends on you, although the most likely scenario is to call you).


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