A Computer for Your Parents

Genius Bar, any good?This post in Forbes today, “Apple’s Secret Weapon: Your Mom” came across Techmeme a little while ago.

While the post centers around Apple’s financials and quarterly earnings report due this week, it interested me because I’m currently planning to bring my parents into the now with a Macbook Pro.

A few months ago, they finally conceded to the future and said they’d “have” to get a computer. Somehow they’ve managed to survive without one for all this time. I know, hard to believe, but somehow they did it. Seems like the main driver is the desire to consume news and information, not online shopping or Facebook or anything like that.

Just the news. I fully expect them to continue calling me to buy stuff for them on Amazon, but I suppose it’ll be easier with the exact URL. Of course, as an Oregonian, I don’t pay sales tax (or pump my own gas). Win.

We debated options for a while, and I politely insisted on Mac for a number of reasons. They haven’t used computers much and won’t be doing a lot other than browsing, so there’s not a lot of lost skill that wouldn’t translate from Windows to Mac. Plus, the inevitable support I’ll have to do will be easier if I have a similar configuration.

I don’t have a Vista or Windows 7 VM that I could use to emulate that setup.

Linux is out of the question, and you know why if you’ve worked with an installation for any amount of time.

I also accounted for the Genius Bar, which is why the article interested me. Even though it’s not for me, the Genius Bar offers people the in-person support experience that’s not as easy to get with Windows. Sure, you can go to Best Buy’s Geek Squad or a local computer service shop and get personal support, but whether it’s true or not, the Genius Bar seems to be better at supporting Apple stuff and has more parts on hand. Natch.

Having picked a model, probably one of the new unibody Macbook Pros, I’m now faced with the broadband problem, which is a completely different rathole.

Anyway, since most of you probably represent your family’s technical support too, what do you recommend when relatives ask?

Does the in-person support matter, or are you willing to be the PC ambulance for your users?

I’ve only used the Genius Bar twice, for issues that didn’t require support really, just replacement. Are they any good at supporting n00bs?

Find the comments.




  1. My father has been online for years. Probably initially through work (government/military). He's fairly comfortable if not dangerous. I _think_ I have convinced that he cannot delete the explorer folder.

    Mom is another story. Since she won't go in dad's room (it's a mess of course), she wanted her own. I've used Dell for quite a while and find them fairly inexpensive. But, I knew that mom wouldn't be the only one using it.

    Despite working most of her adult life with Mac like computers (newspaper publishing), she sort of missed the internet revolution via work. She had the “wire” back in her day (I still remember getting pictures off the “wire” back in the early '80s and I also remember the cool pneumatic tubes all over the place…a 10 year olds heaven!).

    Anyway, I gave them a few options and they went with a Dell 17in laptop. Vista Home I think. Who uses it? Dad. CBS Sportsline in the living room while watching the Reds.

    Did I answer a question here? Not sure. I haven't talked to a soul today so…

  2. > what do you recommend when relatives ask?

    I recommend a different relative! (Hi Phil!)

  3. Do they keep their machines clean though, or are you over there troubleshooting “slowness” all the time? My main fear of deploying Windows to my 'rents is cleaning viruses and malware off it all the time.

  4. Oh, how I wish I could justify introducing a Mac to my parents' household. Thing is, they both use Windows for work, and while I *think* my dad would love using a Mac for his photography hobby, he had an iPod briefly but traded it in for a…a…Zune. In addition to messing with my general worldview, this makes me question my general assumption that they'd get along with a Mac better than the Vista machine that they battle regularly.

    All that aside, I am de facto tech support for my parents, and not having a comparable system at home makes remote troubleshooting hard. You'll be glad you picked a Mac for that reason alone. My Windows VMs are all Win2K and XP, which aren't great help for telephone-based walkthroughs.

    This may be relevant, geographically speaking: the two Apple Stores nearest me frequently have long Genius Bar queues. My friend uses the South Hills Village store, and always needs an appointment. I once had to wait 40 minutes in the Shadyside store to get someone to look at my MBP for 30 seconds and declare that, yes, it *did* need a new battery. OTOH, I recently went in for a replacement power supply and they just handed me one and sent me on my way. Conventional wisdom suggests calling ahead, though.

    I have had occasion to observe (translation: I'm nosy) the Genius Bar in action during my visits to the Shadyside store, and found that even during busy times the staff remains friendly and accommodating, even with less technically inclined customers.

    FWIW, I've also been a customer of the two major broadband providers in town (Verizon for DSL and Comcast more recently), and found service to be mercifully, consistently average in both cases. Nothing to write home about, but okay. Verizon hasn't rolled FIOS to my part of town yet, but my suburban bandwidth-freak buddies who have been so blessed have not regretted dropping Comcast for Verizon. I'd bet that in your parents' case, the best bundle (phone or cable co.) wins.

  5. How I get them online is completely different puzzle, involving support, aesthetics, price, power, and a whole mess of ferrets in a blanket (not literally, but you get the picture).

    My limited experience with the GB matches yours. Schedule ahead b/c showing up w/o an appointment is maddening, especially if you didn't plan to buy various knick-knacks for your Apple crap. I'm a relentless consumer when bored 🙂

    I agree they are very nice and patient with n00bs, which is why I don't like going there. It's tough to get a quick answer for a specific question, e.g. how much are your memory upgrades for a MB? That took 10 times longer than it should have and required two geniuses. But they are very nice and good with people's broken stuff. I think they must take crisis training b/c some of the people in there for help are ready to explode.

  6. I've got them mostly trained now. There was a time when I would remote into their computer, about once a month, but then that got difficult with the new wireless router and all.

    I would still like to get him on Ubuntu if only to keep him from just deleting programs.

  7. I supported Win98 2nd Edition for a long time across the oceans. Nowadays it's a bit easier with XP, but I still get the occasional “the virus scanner detected a trojan, what do I do now?” or “Antivir says I need to upgrade, should I pay them?” calls.

    But overall it's been a pretty good experience. Never had to use the VNC server for remote login that I set up on their box (no, it's NOT auto-started). The really tricky part for me is to give instructions for a German language XP without having access to it. Those translations used by Microsoft aren't necessarily the most intuitive ones.

    I'd go with a Mac if there is no pre-existing Windows experience.

    Oh, and as a Californian, I don't pay sales tax to Amazon either 🙂

  8. My father has a long history with computers (in fact, the first PC *I* used was bought for “dad's work”), but more as a necessity to get things done than actually enjoying the whole computing experience. For years they had a PC which seemed to get slower on my each visit, a custom-built machine from some local basement-store.

    I finally convinced him to get a Mac, so he opted for the iMac last year as my mom insisted on not getting a laptop (as this would “make him take his work with him even to summer cottage”, as the sound reasoning went). I showed him a couple of OS X basics, like how to apply system updates and import photos to iPhoto. Mom and dad both seemed more than happy with the new machine and were very impressed with some of the out-of-the-box functionality (like iPhoto's slideshows). Dad was mostly concerned with compatibility with his old Word docs and what-not, but has been able to work things out with OpenOffice and other free alternatives. The biggest migration issue was getting his years worth of Outlook Express mails transferred to Mail.app.

    Migration issues aside, so far no real technical support has been required. In case there would be, I'd probably try remoting to his desktop and fixing the problem myself rather than trying to explain things on the phone like before (unless it was a network problem, of course).

  9. That would be funny. Would you give him root or not, probably not. I can see a bunch of headaches related to an inability to sudo. You could try “sudo make me a sandwich” on him.

  10. Wow, international phone support would be even worse, especially for a version in another language.

    Re. sales tax, I don't pay it at all ever to anyone, even if they do get that legislation passed that closes the nexus loophole. Oregonians will fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.

  11. There's that Outlook non-compatibility thing again. So not a fan.

    I really like the iMac we bought my wife, but my parents had the opposite requirement. They want portability, mainly so they can hide it away and not spoil the design aesthetics of their place, which makes sense I guess.

    Luckily, I have a clean slate. Nothing old to upgrade or port. This will be a true test of Mac's just works UX for brand new users. I'm a bit worried about how well it will translate for the uninitiated. We'll see.

  12. I tried to get my dad a Dell and sadly it kept giving him problems. We junked it and got him a mac and he is very happy. The Genius bar is the key, it's more comfortable for him to talk to someone in person and his problems get solved without me (w00t).

  13. In-person support is key, especially for people who prefer it to combing the interwebs for answers or asking in forums, Twitter, etc. My only question now is do I wait for a tablet . . . don't think they'd like one, but still, sounds like it would come with a data plan.

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