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Introducing the Linux OAPC (Old Age Personal Computer)

 
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What do you get if you combine a computer company with a group of Vegans and someone who used to present a popular children's TV show? The less than obvious answer is a Linux computer designed especially for old people.

But there you have it, and according to the press release that sits before me the awfully named simplicITy computer (what's wrong with OAPC I ask you) that is designed specifically to meet the needs of users aged 50 plus, has come about courtesy of a collaboration between a money saving website co-founded by ex Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton, a group called Vegan Solutions and a company by the name of Wessex Computers.

The real question I find myself asking is why? Why build a PC just for older people, and why assume that older people are either technophobic or somehow incapable of using a bog standard PC running Linux, Windows or even a Mac for that matter?

"For some time now, we have been aware of the need among older people for a simpler type of computer" Valerie Singleton says, continuing "a large number of 50 pluses only require: email, internet, a writing package, perhaps a means of storing or viewing pictures and a facility to chat. We don’t need the bells and whistles that modern computers offer, we just need something that’s simple to use and reliable".

So buy a netbook then.

The press release gets even odder, insisting that if you walk into any computer store you discover that even a basic computer comes with "a bewildering array of packages and programmes" as if this is a problem. Surely that's called getting value for money, right? How many consumers would buy a PC which comes with just the OS and diddly squat else if it cost the same as a PC which comes with a bunch of productivity and leisure applications thrown in for free?

But that's not the only problem, apparently. Nope, the user interface is not ideal either I am assured, and as a result "potential mature computer users are being ‘turned off’ from using email and the Internet".

So buy a netbook running Linux then, assuming you can still find one that is.

Nigel Houghton, Managing Director of discount-age which is marketing the OAPC (I'm using my name as it is less bewildering and confusing than simplicITy) argues that for "many 50-pluses, using a computer has become complicated and frightening" and the OAPC makes "getting online and staying in touch painless, easy and affordable".

What's the secret of this incredible computer for the apparently easily confused over 50 age group then? The use of a basic menu planted on top of a Linux distro called Mint. This shows just six big options to choose from: Email, Browse the web, Chat, About me, Documents and Video tutorials.

Big buttons with big text and a page called Square One so if the user gets too confused they can always go straight back to square one. To aid the anti-confusion, the video tutorial button explains the main functions "slowly and logically" and can be "played again and again".

Don't get me wrong, I applaud any attempt to get more people into computing in this increasingly IT communications dependent age. I don't have anything against using Linux either. But is it just me who finds this whole approach a little, well, overly patronising?

It has far too much of the speak loudly and slowly about it, after all the poor old duffers will never understand otherwise right? I'm sure the team involved has done its research, but a quick poll over the last few days of relatives and acquaintances over the age of 50 makes me think it might have missed the mark, by a country mile.

Most of the people I spoke to were as old as Ivy Bean although most were as computer savvy and all were rather offended by the idea of being treated as incapable of using a PC just on age grounds. While more than half of these people already owned a computer and were amazingly managing to cope with using it quite well thanks very much, the remainder were split up between those who had no interest at all and 20% who popped into the library and used a PC there when they needed to. Of that group, a number said they would be buying a laptop soon so I explained more about the OAPC.

Guess what the main concern was? Yep, that the computer would not be the same as the ones in the library, which they already knew how to use. And those library PCs were running Windows, of course.

I admit that I am not in the over 50 age group myself, so I'd be particularly interested in reading the opinions of those who are. Is the Linux OAPC a hit or miss?

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Davey Winder

I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .

 
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So buy a netbook then

Keyboard and screen too small for old people. They like a big screen (but at a lowish res), big keyboard and a non-touchpad mouse with low sensitivity

 
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Depends on how 'old' an old person you are talking about. The people behind the simplicITy (still hate that name) are saying 50+ and I know tons of people between 50 and 60 who are very happy indeed using a netbook.

 
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I mean 65+ . Pensioners.

hell, even I hate using netbooks. The mouse and keyboard suck.

 
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That's another area where I think these folk have gone wrong, marketing it as a 50+ thing as if you turn 50 and start falling apart. My mum is in her late 70s now, but even she manages to use the computers in the library without any fuss.

As for netbooks, I guess it's a personal thing. I spend all day writing most days, and if I am away from the office I do that on a 10" netbook and find the keyboard perfectly acceptable. I can type fast enough and my fingers don't hurt any more than usual.

Sure, not as good as my desktop keyboards (I go through them at a rate of at least one a year) but no different to most 15" screen laptops that I've tried.

 
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Okay I love the idea of OAPC but seriously that website is just plain stealing money from old people. They are charging almost £400 which is about $650 for onboard graphics??, dual core ATOM?? and some crapy motherboard which most likely nobody has ever heard of....WTF????

and to top off the insane price they are adding a 19" screen after charging extra £130 (about $200) ??? I can get like a full HD 1080p 21-23" Monitor for that price on newegg right this second

And thats not even worse... they are shipping it with LINUX not even Windows XP (pretty much saving money on Operating System)....and to tell the truth I am pretty sure older people would much better prefer good old windows XP, which they might even have SEEEN or used at some point in their life...or at least get some pretty easy help from relatives...

But no they shipping with linux to an audience which is not supposed to have a good knowledge of computers and you would expect them to learn linux? God, are we living in hell or what?

I mean common you cannot be any more in considerate....

PS: I just recently made a PC with
Gigabyte MA-770T-UD3P Motherboard
AMD Phenom II x3 720 @ 2.8GHz
4GB DDR3 RAM @ 1333MHz
Radeon HD 3650 DDR2 512mb graphics card
19" Acer monitor with resolution of 1680 x 1050
Backlit keyboard and 5-button mouse!!!

And guess how much that cost me....only 680$ (+ $30 Shipping) all from newegg
and this website is selling a what 900$ system which is 10000 times inferior to my system. And they are probably getting parts for much much cheaper....even brand name manufacturers like Dell, HP, etc offer better at these price points

Just because most old people dont use PC for high tech stuff doesn't mean you can hand them a dual core ATOM processor

 
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The basic program "Eldy" has been available for years on Windows - and is now on Linux. Out of interest I have had it for a while. It is a confusion of the original Italian and English. Mostly garbage.

http://www.eldy.eu/

 
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@Crash~Override: I've got my 65+ Mother-in-Law using Ubuntu and loving it. She says it is much easier to use than Vista was and does everything she needs it to. Check your facts, and get out of the 90s already.

 
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@cwrinn: buddy its great that you could get your 65+ grand mother to use ubuntu (one of the most easiest linux distributions). But obviously she is not going to need to use windows only features like Microsoft Money or similar. So no need for using programs like wine and googling around. But you know some people can pick up on some stuff faster. And clearly your Mother in law wont be using computer beyond say web browser, pidgin/empathy, and maybe evolution and some songs and movies once in a while. So yea it makes 100% sense to spend around 900$ for computer with the most crapiest configuration!!!!

So yea get out of the rich-kid mentality and start thinking of people who are no filthy rich and who dont want to spend 900$ for a dual core ATOM processor with 19" non-HD screen and some cheap ### onboard graphics

 
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@Crash-Override: Actually, the machine's specs aren't far off of the ones you posted, and she paid less for it than $680. Who said anything about $900? I only commented on your "LUNIX IS SO HRD" FUD spreading. RTFA. The Linux on that machine is Mint, which has a record for being easier than Ubuntu.

However, I do agree the $900 price tag for that rig is extortion. The components from what I can see should cost half that, and then there's no extra overhead for a free OS. Overall, it's a ripoff.

 
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@cwrinn: linux (dont get me wrong i love linux use it all the time) is just not mainstream yet there are certain things which are just plain annoying in linux to setup. it's great your mother in law is comfortable using linux but for lots of older people who are somewhat used to the likes of XP at work or at friends/relatives would generally prefer the norm instead of venturing into a completely new world.
Also I never said anything about vista, vista was and still kinda is buggy, thats why I said XP not vista!

PS: i see other people talking about netbooks, well I agree, netbooks just aren't a thing for them. I know some older people who absolutely hate the touchpad and aren't too comfortable with a small 10" screen.

But a 15-17" laptop on the other hand with a decent companion mouse, would be suitable!

 
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I would just like to say... Davey, I think you are the one missing the point. A netbook for someone of 50+? Whilst I'm sure many older people are able to just about read the text on a newspaper, they aren't going to want to stare at a tiny screen when they barely understand what they're doing... eye strain becomes more common in the over 50s and shouldn't be encouraged with tiny netbooks.

My nana would love to get a computer a start browsing the internet. Do you really think Windows and all its bloatware is a good approach for someone who doesn't even know how to switch a PC on? Teaching someone who's never seen Windows before how it works and what to do when many of the messages/errors and screens appear seems ludricous.

I'd say at least this addresses a real problem that exists today (granted at a price)!

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