Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The perfect computer for parents

Computers are lovely things. They allow us to buy things from online stores, they allow us to work, do our homework, save us trips to the bank, keep in touch with friends, and safely away from acquaintances. They have fundamentally changed our lives.

They aren't a pure convenience, though. They require a lot of maintenance: anti-virus, upgrades, malware checks, install/uninstall software, backups. The list goes on. Many years ago, only large companies had this maintenance problem. When they wanted to upgrade to the new operating system, it was a major undertaking. Computers were recalled, upgraded, tested. Suddenly, we were slaves to our computers. As families keep old computers around, and as computers get cheaper, this problem is being felt at home. You probably feel this already: you might be the unofficial tech support for your friends and family, and while you are happy to help, it is frustrating.

Looking around my house, I have seven computers, in various stages of their life. Some of these computers run more than one operating system. All combined, they can be a large maintenance nightmare. Back in the day, you got software upgrades by going to a store. It was a lot of work to upgrade each application or the operating system. But you only had one computer. Now, you're more likely to have a small army of computers at home. Applications angrily demand to know, "Do you want to upgrade now?" Quite often, these boxes make me wonder if I really need the program. For a house with three computers, and ten applications each, you're probably seeing one such box every week. It's a pain.

Some applications are learning from this, and becoming more polite. The ultimate example is Google Chrome on Windows. It silently upgrades, it ensures that you always have the most recent version without the annoying screens. The upgrade process is fast and light, it doesn't turn slow your computer down. You are never a slave to software.

Google is taking their knowledge of the Chrome browser to create a computer which upgrades silently. It gives you the Internet and nothing else. In return, you get a computer that you never have to worry about upgrading. This operating system is called ChromeOS. It forms the perfect computer for parents. It can never get a virus, it can never go out of sync. It boots up in 10 seconds and resumes from sleep in less than 1 second. Your parents can generously loan it to a friend without worrying about it having malware later.You never have to back it up. These are wonderful features, especially for a computer that is in a different city, a different country, and every maintenance issue is an hour-long telephone conversation.

It isn't a full-featured computer: you can't play first person shooter games on it. Yet. But that's not what my parents do. Most of their needs (email, web, video chat) can be met by a Chrome OS computer. And it will be invaluable when their other computers crash, and they need to send email to describe the problem.

Give Chrome OS a try. You can learn more about Chrome OS at Google's informational page. The first batch of machines that run Chrome OS is ready for order.

Finally, computers can be our slaves.

Full disclosure: Google employee, yada yada, ... I also love having free time.