I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but at some point I became the tech support person for my parents. It began innocently enough with my father asking for help keeping the XP laptop he used for his consulting business going long after it should have been retired. Now I get calls regularly from both family and friends asking for help with various repair and upkeep computer issues, advice on software, help with purchasing accessories, and questions about various iOS devices.
By default the tech aficionado in any family tends to gravitate to this sort of function for their family and/or friends. There are a few universal things I’ve found need addressing when troubleshooting a Windows PC- making sure they have fully functioning antivirus running (not the limited introductory Symantec or McAfee that comes preinstalled), running the system update software (something that surprisingly is almost never done), and checking for conspicuous software downloaded from internet sources (I’ve seen installations of Internet Explorer with three browser bars stacked like a malware tiki totems).
Another common hurdle I’ve noticed is conditioned behavior and reliance on defaults. To this date my father tends to associate the internet with the big blue E of Internet Explorer- even referring to the desktop shortcut as “the internet”. While it’s been improved a great deal over the past few years I’m still not a fan of Microsoft’s browser and try to gently guide any that will listen to one of the alternative browsers available, making the possible transition to a non-Windows environment a little less daunting. Firefox and Opera are fine choices, and I use Safari on my Macs regularly (although I confess I’m one of the weirdos that uses multiple browsers, sometimes concurrently) I try to suggest Google’s Chrome browser as a first alternative. Chrome is one of the fastest browsers, is relatively light on system resources, has a track record of being one of the most secure browsers, supports a great selection of browser plug ins, and meshes perfectly with Google’s other online products. This synchronicity with services that many of us use every day is a big plus- my extended family is still learning about Google services like Google Chat and Picasa photo sharing, and anything that makes the experience more streamlined is a plus for them and something that will circumvent calls for help later.
The fine folks at Apartment Therapy have posted a short article on tips to make Google’s Chrome browser more accessible for older family members. Some of the tips address issues I wouldn’t have likely thought of initially, from adjusting the font size to something easier to read to stressing the advantage of learning keyboard shortcuts for easier navigation and control. More good advice for the Chrome newcomer can be had at Digital Trends and from Google themselves. While it’s not a vital change, getting loved ones to venture away from IE is a good first step in breaking conditioned behaviors and teaching them more about their systems and how to get the most from them.