Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting started with computers

Back before Christmas my sister June enlisted me to buy her a laptop and prepare it for everyday use - meaning - getting it registered, updated, set up with permanent anti-virus software, and putting Open Source free software on it, to replace all the commercial rubbish (aka 'crapware') installed on new computers by vendors looking to subsidise their cost overheads. By installing Firefox, Open Office and Thunderbird, all of which I use daily, troubleshooting over the 'phone should be a lot easier with the benefit of free TalkTalk calls between us replacing costly helpline converations to distant operators with unusual accents.

Over the six weeks since I purchased a Sony Vaio for her I guess have put in a dozen hours of leisure time to get it functioning in a way that is low on nagging prompts to make decisions a new user doesn't understand or panic over. Once you get get your machine functions properly under control so that it's easy to use, you quickly forget just how much trouble it took to get it up to standard, how much time you spent machine minding, to get it the way it ought to be. If cars were as demanding and high-maintenance in their first 1,000 miles, as computers are in their first month of regular use, the rate of turnover in car sales would be much lower. Consumer products have to be far more user friendly.

Apple Macs and well set up Linux driven machines are far more user friendly from scratch, though less so if you're switching from Windows, as you have to unlearn ingrained habits before you can benefit. Even so, these systems too have their times of unproductive machine minding to be endured before free and easy usage is guaranteed every time. But such is the desire to be able to communicate, or access information via the internet, that even the most reluctant will invest money, time and energy to enthrall themselves to these strange machines. I've always enjoyed the challenge, though from time to time I get frustrated and fed up with them. Getting a machine up to scratch for my sister was a salutary experience - all the time having to put myself into the position of someone who hadn't touched a computer since the days of Windows for Workgroups in the early nineties, pre internet, pre-email.

Yesterday evening, I took the Megabus up to London, to deliver the laptop, connect it up to her newly commissioned broadband service and wireless printer. TalkTalk broadband was easy enough to manage, as it's identical to mine at home. The printer only took two tries to establish as part of a nominal network. I gave her a brief introduction to using Google search through Firefox, and walked her through Thunderbird's emailing procedure, having set up a file of family contact addresses she'd find useful to get started.

Then we went into the city to visit the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy - a wonderful treat. Much of the material on display was icons and liturgical items were familiar to me from art books and backpacking trips since college days, so I was able to enjoy just gazing, without a guide, with minimal need to read the exhibit labels, which was just as well since it was very crowded. There was enough time for tea and cake in the RA restaurant, then it was back to Victoria Coach station for the journey home.

I wonder how long it will be before I get my first email from June?

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