Mar 142011

In what I’m expecting to be a bit of an Apple fanboy week for me (yes my iPad2 has shipped and is scheduled to be delivered this week), I wanted to share an experience I had of setting up a Mac Mini for my parents over the weekend.

A little bit of back story:  My parents are not the most computer literate people around, although they’ve grasped email and do some online banking, they’re not stuck in the stone age either.  They’ve used some form of a Windows PC for all of their computing experience, and really never even seen a Mac, let alone used one.  However, my parents, and my Mom in particular, are avid iPad1 users for doing things like checking/sending email, playing games and reading books.  They even stream some of their favorite shows at the breakfast table via the ABC app that they may have missed the night before.  They purchased their iPad last summer and have loved it since day one.  These are people without any technological biases, unlike many of us who pretty much eat/breath/drink tech every day of our lives.  They don’t really know the difference between operating systems (mobile or desktop), and could care less about Steve Jobs or any of that stuff.  They’d never get any of the snide jokes we make about Apple’s “walled garden” or Android being “open” when it only suits Google.  They just want things to work, and not require an extensive background in technology to do things.

They’ve had a Dell desktop computer running Windows XP for about 6 years now, which was getting to be quite sluggish and running out of disk space.  50GB doesn’t go as far as it used to, even for casual users with iTunes libraries full of music and lots of digital pictures.   I offered to set them up with a Mac Mini, to which they had no real idea what that meant.   I said that a Mac is a bit different than a PC, but for the most part things will be very similar, and possibly a little less stressful.  The vexing thing for my parents was always the need to manage antivirus on the PC.  I’ve tried to set them up with low maintenance solutions, first with AVG, and then going to Microsoft’s Security Essentials, but even that would have its troubles from time to time.  If it wasn’t able to update on a particular day, all sorts of errors and warnings exclaim that “your computer may be unprotected!”  Other cryptic and ominous sounding messages would tell them their computer was unsafe, even though the antivirus was active, it hadn’t updated in a day or two.  These are things that most computer savvy people may ignore, but something that can be unnerving to novices who hear things about a killer virus going around the internets destroying everything in its path, in the most sensationalist way that only main stream media can achieve.  Of course the first thing that was asked was “What kind of antivirus do you need to run?”  After telling them you don’t really need to worry about that (although, yes, there are plenty of Mac viruses out there, if you practice safe computing, you won’t need to worry about them) they were quite amazed.

The next thing they found amazing was the Mac Mini form-factor.  Apple has a way of creating something that is not only functional, but looks and feels great while doing it.  Love them or hate them, the Mac Mini definitely has one of the smallest and sleekest form-factors for a desktop computer.  Along with that, they noted how much quieter it was versus their old Dell, and that it wasn’t spewing tons of hot air after running for a while.

Getting them set up on the desktop was fairly straight forward.  Switching from the Start Menu system in Windows to the Mac OS X dock they found to be an improvement, and common things they do, like using Firefox, Gmail and iTunes were obviously unchanged.  The thing that really won them over was iPhoto.  Since getting their first digital camera around 4-5 years ago, they’ve taken tons of photos of pretty much everything.  I had previously tried to set them up with some ways to try to keep them organized on Windows, starting from just creating a folder organization scheme in Windows Explorer under “My Pictures” to introducing them to Google’s Picasa, and all resulted in limited success that I think served more to confuse them than to actually organize anything. Questions like “how do I email this picture to someone” were frequent and the answers always changed depending on the method the picture was stored.

iPhoto was just the thing they were looking for.  By dragging and dropping a backup copy of their photos into iPhoto, it automatically organized them into events based on their previous folder structure, and then started by recognizing every one’s faces.   My Mom even quickly learned how to do a slide show (without any help), and was amazed that it was no effort to do, with fancy animations and transitions, all set to music with just a couple clicks of the mouse.  I even had her scanning multiple pictures at once on her HP multifunction without any driver or software install procedures.

To end the whole thing up, as I left them, they were excited to go “play” on their new computer later that day, without my guidance or supervision, and are actually looking forward to using the computer, rather than just fighting with it to do the tasks they wanted to do.  For my next trick, we were already planning on replacing my Dad’s 4 year old iPod classic, which he uses religiously with all the traveling he does each month, with an iPod Touch, so I’ll show them Facetime so they can video chat while he’s away.

I was a bit unsure how they’d take the transition from PC to Mac and was a even bit surprised it on how smooth it went.  The whole experience reminded me that  Apple really does try to focus on the end-user experience so that your average day-to-day user doesn’t have to worry about what’s going on under the hood.  Just turn it on and go.  Even with the advancements Microsoft has made in Windows 7, it still can’t compete with Mac OS X in terms of usability, and there really are no Windows equivalents to the programs that come bundled with every new Mac in iLife.