So is the Mini a game-changer? That question is too big. But here’s an easier one: is it a good computer to buy for my Mom? [Updated: Lots of feedback on what’s good for Mom, and on appropriateness.]

Jean Bray

Jump here for the updates.

My mother is young and healthy enough that she’ll be needing a computer for another decade or two for sure, and her 2000-vintage E-Machines Win98 box is Just Not Gonna Cut It. Especially now that she’s got broadband.

She’s got a perfectly good screen and printer and mouse, although her keyboard’s kind of past it. Plus she got a brand-new digicam at Christmas. So on the surface, it would appear that the Mini might be a good candidate.

Let’s go cost this out. 1.25 GHz and 512M ought to be fine, and we might as well spring the extra pennies for the 80G drive, which will for her purposes be infinitely large. So, if we add the Apple keyboard/mouse, it comes to $682.00, which is not too bad at all.

Mac Mini

Except for that’s not quite the whole story... Mom needs Office. I don’t think the new iWork will help (no spreadsheet, to start with) and much and all as I like NeoOffice/J, I don’t think it’s quite at ask-your-Mom-to-use-it level yet. She has a horrible old copy of Office 97 that is of perhaps dubious provenance (she says she doesn’t know where it came from, and I didn’t pay for it), so I guess upgrades are out, and I see that Office for the Mac is (gasp) $399.95! Which frosts my socks, because this was supposed to be at least partly about C-$2MS. Mom is an active student and takes all sorts of courses through the senior-citizens’ centre, but I bet that doesn’t qualify her for the $149.95 “Student and Teacher” edition.

I feel a slogan coming on: Microsoft is mean to little old ladies! Not bad, eh? Seriously, they should consider a senior-citizens discount, every museum and concert hall and public-transit system in the world has one.

As for the hardware, people have pointed out that if you stay in the Wintel world, you can get a little more for a little less. But then we’d have more or less the same Office problem over there.

The other option, then would be JDS or Knoppix or whatever; I suspect Mom would do just fine with OpenOffice, but there might be a psychological barrier as she had a bad experience with a much earlier version.

Speaking of psychological barriers; Mom’s a super-smart person and youthful for her age, but is it fair to ask her to learn a whole new user interface? She’s still prone to grumbling about how some of the things that she was used to in Windows 3.1 don’t work any more. My intuition is that the total irritation from having to use Windows into the grave will be noticeably greater than the one-time irritation of learning OS X. So on balance, I suspect that there’s a Mini in Mom’s future. But if we end up paying the full ticket for Office, you can count on reading some irritated prose here.

Follow-Up · First of all, it turns out that the Student and Teacher edition is probably an available choice; my appallingly-cynical readership scoffed at the letter of the law. I quote (name withheld to protect the guilty): “Microsoft expects that everybody’s gonna buy one of those for their three computers at home, they know business can’t get away with it so this gets them in the door, residentially.” Hmph.

Second, Simon Phipps reports that his Mum does just fine with NeoOffice/J, maybe I’m being too pessimistic.

The interesting debate was with my brother Rob Bray, her other sysadmin, and the source of her (perfectly legal, as it turns out) copy of Office 97. He contended strongly that Mom should stay in Windows-land because that’s the mainstream option and she’d have the maximum interop and minimum friction with her peers.

Aren’t children awful? Here we were arguing away without even asking Mom. Eventually we were polite enough to invite her into the conversation:

Tim: “Rob's all mad at me. In a friendly way. He thinks it's madness to consider anything but Windows, because that's what all your friends will be using.”

Mom: “Not all of them, some of the people at the Centre have Apples and have had for years. And most people are fairly irritated with Microsoft, and if someone else started praising a new system, you never know what might happen. Contrary to traditional belief, seniors are experimenters and like to try new things. We even vote NDP, not all conservative or liberal.”

So, there you go.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights

January 11, 2005
· Technology (85 fragments)
· · Mac OS X (118 more)

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