Bringing Mom to the Mac

My parents just began an experiment. My dad bought my mom a Powerbook. She’s had difficulty mastering Windows, probably due to inadequate education and training resources combined with the myriad of little frustrations that can accompany the user experience on that platform, and this has been compounded by my relative lack of experience in acting as helpdesk on Wintel.

I have long encouraged them to consider trying a Mac, and one of my primary arguments was that I would finally be able to provide reliable helpdesk support to them. This will help me to effectively gauge the level of user-experience versus education needed to bring them into a happy relationship with their computers.

This is the first of several blog entries I will be producing to document some of the written support I will provide them. The bulk of this entry concerns local and online resources for reference, help and user education.

One of my future entries will deal with the vagaries of disentangling a LAN to enable port-forwarded service mapping – all from the security and comfort of my office chair, on the opposite coast from the physical LAN itself. Current smart money is on the active presence of two competing DHCP routers in the LAN. That will be fun.

Mac Reference Books
Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition
by David Pogue – Amazon link.

This is essential. If you only pick up one of these books, make it this one. Pogue nearly invented the modern user-oriented computer book, and has been writing in that vein, and about the Mac, for about twenty years.

The Little Mac Book: Panther Edition
by Robin Williams Amazon link.

This has been the long-standing standard introduction to Macs. It is written with the assumption that the user has no experience or knowledge of computers at all. Williams style is exemplary and inclusive, communicating the sense of affection and joy that so many of us on the Mac side experience with our machines. It should be noted that I have not seen this edition of the book.

Mac OS X Hints
by Rob Griffiths, David Pogue – Amazon link

This is a compendium of the public-contribution website linked above. All of us are smarter than one of us, and these hints are great. The website is the best single place to go when you have a specific question such as “How do I…” or “Can I…” or “Why does it…”

Rob’s website is also a genuine phenomenon, and he deserves high praise for the way he took the tiger by the tail when it became apparent that he’d created the most crucial independent information web site for users of Mac OS X. The fact that this good fortune – both his and ours – resulted in publication may do something for those seeking proof of a just world.

Mac OS X for Windows Users: A Switchers’ Guide
by David Coursey – Amazon link.

I am not directly familiar with this book, but Peachpit sets the standard for user-oriented Mac books, and it may therefore prove of value. Anyone actually had face time with this book?

Useful Websites

MacWorld and MacAddict are the two main US-market Mac-oriented magazines. MacWorld’s website is much deeper than MacAddict’s and includes hundreds of articles and reviews.

Mac OS X Hints
Mac OS Hints is the basis of the book suggested above.

MacFixIt is a long-standing, community driven website for Mac users to share knowledge. They have a tiered access policy, though.

Apple Discussions
Apple Support
Since my parents have Applecare, they are entitled to as much technical support as you’d like. Please note, however, that there is a difference between support and training, and issues which reflect a lack of training will probably produce a somewhat brusque response. By all means, do complain if that’s the case.

Personally, I have found the discussions board (the second URL above) a much better source of help and information, particularly on issues of training. At the moment, the site is inaccessible from my computer, but that won’t be the case forever. I often find myself looking here first for information.

Unfortunately they rotate the messages offline after only about three months, which is a real shame, but this is the online location where you will find the highest density of courteous and helpful Mac users in any area of need you might have.

Other Sites
I haven’t linked to a raft of other sites such as TidBITS, Macintouch, The OReilly Mac Dev Center, and so forth, primarily because those are sites that are most helpful to experienced users. I will introduce my folks to them in time, but not yet – wading through the data at those locations might well prove overwhelming at this stage.

Connecting Wintels and Macs
Connecting Mac OS X to Windows PCs, by Wei-Meng Lee and Brian Jepson. 11/19/2002 article at O’Reilly’s Mac Dev Center.

This article may be a little dated. I know that I myself am in need of a brush-up regarding wintel networking and this may be a helpful place to start.

June 13, 2004

7 thoughts on “Bringing Mom to the Mac

  1. Babbette

    Good luck on getting your Mom on the Mac. Here are some of my observations on getting my 79 year old mother on the mac.
    1. Visual acuity diminishes with age. My mother navigates by location more than by looking for a particular icon. I found that a launcher program was essential. Set the brightness high.
    2. Mom’s like to do practical things with the mac. My mom’s favorite thing is making greeting cards. Your mom might like recipes. Motivating her to use the mac is easy if she has a tool on there she wants to use.
    3. Help your mom set her preferences as a way of introducing her to the system. I won’t swear this works, but it certainly gave my mom practice in mousing and clicking.
    4. Don’t be cheap, get a track ball, for some reason anyone over fifty who works with a mouse the first time has trouble with lifting and shifting and keeps complaining that the mousepad isn’t big enough.
    5. When you set up her email accounts make sure you have her password. You’ll want it someday to help her straighten out a lost email, or spam, or god knows what.
    6. Get her on a mac friendly ISP. I live 1500 miles away from my mom and can’t help out everyday. Boy was I glad she went with Earthlink who talks mac.
    7. My mom likes Apple works. I’ve set up envelope templates and letter templates so she just has to click on one and get going.
    8. If your mom is like my mom, she won’t understand the concept of a desktop or a window, or scroll bars. My mom calls the window a ‘page’ and the desktop the ‘picture’. She knows what they are and how to manipulate them, she just refuses to learn the standard terms.
    9. You will learn that your mom wants you to email her EVERY DAY and give detailed accounts of what you’re doing. My life isn’t all that interesting, I had to break that cycle early.

    Anyway good luck

  2. jbelkin

    Good start though I think most of the websites you recommended are for pro & advanced users. A better place and a great starter magazine is MacHome. For beginners, MacAddict & MacWorld’s content varies in usefulness greatly from month to month for beginners.

    If you have the inclination, signing up for .Mac lets you access the How to use Panther QT movies – they start from the beginning and they are as clear as day – there are about 80 movies and they start with MOUSING to ATTACHING A DIGITAL CAMERA and using iphoto. All the basics and some not-so-basics are covered. There are discount .mac subscriptions that range from $60+ (check and may be well worth your time and time that you don’t have to spend on tech support.

    You’re supposed to only view the movies inline but I downloaded them so I could pick and choose the ones for users to view (most people do not need to know how to actiavate the limited finder for guest users, and topicfs like that).

    .mac also can be set up for automatic backups and setting up photo & video homepages.

  3. mike

    Both of you have fantastic observations. jbelkin, how would I point my mom at these resources? .Mac comes with new product, so she has the access. Is it a URL, or do they live in the .Mac disk?

  4. B

    Just a persnickity usage quibble:

    You say Rob took “the tiger by the tail” but I think you mean he took “the bull by the horns.”

    Having a tiger by the tail is not a good thing. One is afraid to hold on and afraid to let go.

    I only bother to mention this because you seem to appreciate a good hair-splitting.

  5. mike


    Picture the sort of web-traffic growth Rob musta dealt with. It is the tiger, he drags you.

    But hairsplitting, I say yes, please!

  6. Jim Heid

    Shameless self-promotion: I think your mom (and Mac-using moms everywhere) would also get a lot of my book/DVD, “The Macintosh iLife ’04.”

    Mike, if you email me, I’ll send you a signed copy for you (and her) to peruse!

    Jim Heid

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