I am not in the business or writing ultra simple computer advice to ultra novices, but every once in a while I pay attention when some hack comes along doing just that, if only for amusement. Of course I mean a hack as in a novice (who either mistakenly thinks he is, or just pretends to be) an expert; one who provides a low quality product to a consumer who is slightly more clueless than the hack himself. It disgusts me.
I just finished reading the advice of one such person who is a regular in the primary newspaper I skim, the Virginia Pilot, which once a week prints a small and amusing column by a hack named Bill Husted (firstname.lastname@example.org) who blogs on ajc.com and surely has a different day job… He usually dishes out clumsy and often misinformed yet at the same time fairly sensible, functional, and sometimes even decent advice to clueless readers who I am sure mistake him for being knowledgeable, like whoever decides to reprint his articles in my paper… it’s like the blind leading the blind when one party has to google in braille. but I digress…
This week Bill advises an 80+ year old couple to ditch their not quite 6 year old pc because they complain it is slow. Not a bad recommendation, if you took the time to understand the situation and checked out the computer. They use the computer only for what most home users do these days, internet/docs/pics, etc…
Bill suggests that even the most basic and least expensive new computer would be “an enormous step up” over the old one. They are concerned about getting a new computer vs. having someone look at this one, because they don’t know how to transfer their “programs” to the new computer. Bill advises that “data” can transfer easily, except in “very early versions of Windows” and recommends buying a new computer from a store that will do that for them AT NO CHARGE.
As usual I have so many problems with this potentially bad advice I wouldn’t want to take the time to articulate them all. Today I will try.
First, let’s forget the all-to-common possibility that the 80 year old couple might have a malware infection and can get it removed for around $100 and that might fix their problems… FORGET I mentioned it. but…
What if they have dial-up? Ever think of that Bill? A new computer won’t help at all there… My mother still has a 6 year old computer with dial-up too – and a few times I have had to explain to her the difference between slow internet and slow computer, a distinction that believe it or not many of the techno-un-savvy have a hard time with.
But with the obvious dial-up issue aside, I’m sure my mother can honestly say “it” is noticeably slower now than 6 years ago, even when she had dial-up then. That’s because, well for one, websites are slower. Sites serve up ads from numerous and overloaded ad servers these days, have tons of pictures, flash apps, streaming audio and video, and lets not forget server side apps. My websites 6 years ago were HTML 1 based! (I know, I’m a slow at adopting web tech.) Now it’s built on DotNetNuke. I only recently discovered the purpose of KeepAlive.aspx lol! Need I say more?
Now about that new inexpensive computer as “an enormous step up” over that almost 6 year old computer? Well I guess that depends on what kind of computer you bought 6 years ago. In my mother’s case, who had a pretty good one then, it is bested by a new low-end system sure, but only slightly (not “enormous”) especially considering it is for internet, Word, and a picture viewer. Again, a new computer won’t help here, even with non-internet tasks unless she goes near top-of-the-line again.
But what about “very early versions of Windows?” I think now that qualifies as 3.11 and below. Early versions (without the “very”) might be the 9x platform. Windows XP which no doubt came on that 6 year old computer unless it was several years USED already at the time of purchase, can’t qualify as “early” can it? Not after all the evolution since what I call the early days of Windows. XP is only one generation behind the Vista/7 platform.
So what does Windows XP being a “very early version of Windows” in Bill’s mind have to do with problematic transfer of data? Is their some problem with DRAG N’ DROP in Explorer from say, My Documents to a $5 2GB Flash Drive or full external hard drive? Any trouble with cd/dvd writing in XP? I don’t think so. Or is he referring to the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard on an unpatched XP system not restoring some settings properly? Well visit windowsupdate.com and fix that. You honestly think newer versions of that tool on Vista do that much better? Or is their some compatibility issue between the older tool and Vista that was never addressed? Do we care? NO! Because…
…because all that is moot anyway. The couple is worried about transferring their “programs” to a new computer, likely as in Microsoft Works, not their “data” as in docs and jpegs. LISTEN to your sheep, Bill! Well, if they have programs with installation disks like maybe they bought family tree maker in Office Depot, that’s an easy thing to explain, software compatibility assumed and highly likely, but Bill ignores the point entirely. If they referring to programs bundled with that first PC that they probably don’t need but still want for familiarity, then of course it depends on a number of factors including more obvious licensing concerns (which probably disqualifies it from legally being installed on a newer PC, though people mostly ignore that) and also if the “restore disks” for the old PC were composed of actual install disks instead of image restoring disks, among other factors.
In either case, I’ve never heard of a company/store that will put data on a new system for free as standard practice (though you may find a special, or they just hide the charge inside the bundle) but programs too? Fat chance!
Oh yeah, and how about advising that couple to at least wait until Windows 7 to buy, since he is advising the low end computer to them they should probably wait until a version of Windows is bundled with it that will run half-way decent on it, and that isn’t Vista.
Will Bill also offer more advice if they should have a usability troubles after migrating to Vista?
Hopefully, this old couple seeks professional input prior to [if at all] reading Bill’s column, as I hope for most of his readers.
Otherwise, advise that couple to send the system to me. I’ll gladly fix it up (if anything is actually wrong) and re-purpose it to a local non-profit I occasionally service.