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?