computers for parents
Recently had the experience of getting new computers for my parents. The plan was to deliver a chromebook for my mother, but coincidentally the power supply or something in my father’s computer had given up. So mom would get new software and dad would get new hardware. Some observations.
My mother was already using chrome on a Thinkpad running Windows, so how different could it be running chrome on a chromebook? Let me count the ways...
First off, mother is one of those people who likes to click the little button at the bottom of the scroll bar to move the page. I don’t think I’ve ever done this, but that’s how she does things. So immediately upon starting up, this is a problem. I spend some time teaching her how two finger scroll works. Two fingers on the touchpad, no, not too close together, now push down, no, both fingers at once, don’t twist, straight lines, no, lift up to start over, there, nope, too close, that’s just one finger, ok, good.
Practice will eventually make perfect so I figure we’re all good, although I am somewhat hard pressed to explain exactly why it’s necessary to remove the buttons from the scroll bars. “Well, see, if Google hadn’t removed the button, then there would still be a button.” Leave for a few hours, come back to find the situation has deteriorated.
If you only tap with two fingers, you get the right click menu (or context menu, or whatever it is). This is actually surprising if you’re not accustomed to it. Chrome OS offers no way to disable two finger tap without disabling one finger tap. At least that’s reasonably easy to do if you poke about in the settings for a bit.
However, much crazier is that chrome will interpret horizontal scroll as forward/back navigation. I’ve noticed I trigger this by accident, too. Well, mother didn’t always scroll just right and would end up navigating backwards as often as not. Curiously, this frustrated her. Fixing this, well... if you manually enter a magic internal chrome URL and dig about you’ll find an experimental undocumented option to disable what’s known as horizontal overscroll. I can only imagine the good times that would have resulted trying to talk my mother through changing this setting over the phone.
Finally, it’s possible to add back scroll buttons that resemble the Windows ones with an extension, though it requires a ridiculously scary sounding set of permissions, like reading and modifying all data on all web pages. All because somebody at Google has an irrational hatred of triangles.
On the hardware side of things, let’s take father to Office Depot and browse the selection. The precise hardware doesn’t matter, but he’s curious to know what the differences are between systems. Soon, we come across two HP laptops. These are actually the same model, just slightly different configurations. Here’s the store tags for each, side by side.
Which does father like more? Well, memory and hard drives are petty easy to compare. But... one has a battery that lasts over six hours and the other weighs over six pounds? How is that comparable? Sure enough, my dad asked if the first model had a battery. Actually, that was his second question, after asking which is better, Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Operating System. And why is one called a laptop and one called a notebook? These are two configurations of the same machine! Do they both have wireless?
Notably missing spec? The screen resolution. Gee, I wonder what it could be.
What process lead to such a terrible spec tag? I’m actually inclined to believe it’s not just incompetence, but a deliberate choice to steer customers towards “service specialists” who will then convince you to buy a few hundred dollars extra in warranties and anti virus and backups. And cloud support, gotta get some of that.
I don’t think my parents are particularly weird. Well, not with regards to computer usage anyway. I guess I’m somewhat fortunate that I work in a fairly niche space, but do the people making mainstream computer hardware and software really not know anybody like my parents?