What’s the Best Computer for Your Parents?

Best Computer for Your ParentsThis post doesn’t apply to all parents, obviously. But if you’ve been living out of the house for a couple of decades or more, you might find this situation familiar. (Or, if you’re younger, you might substitute “grandparents” for “parents.”)

Computers and parents don’t always mix well. They’re going to have problems. They’re going to get viruses. They’re going to call you while you’re eating dinner so that you can explain how to log into Skype. Troubleshooting issues over the phone is difficult and frustrating for both you and them. Using remote desktop software is easier, but explaining how to set it up on their end — over the phone — can be as difficult as solving the original issue over the phone.

Getting them set up with the right computer and the right OS can make many of their issues disappear. If their issues disappear, it means less work for you. However, it’s best if you do this right from the beginning. Switching your parents to a new platform isn’t easy. They don’t like change. They want their “Start” button to say “Start” and they want it in the exact location where it has always been.

The majority of parents probably use Windows. While Windows (7) is a great OS, there are alternatives that may be better for an inexperienced user. Keep in mind that I am not offering a biased opinion. I am currently using a PC that I built, running Windows 7, but I have experience with many other platforms.


A Mac is probably a great computer for your parents. It may be more expensive than a PC, but the resale value is great and it will likely be much easier for your parents to use.

  • The Menu Bar is always at the top. It’s easy for them to remember and locate.
  • The Mac App Store makes it easy for them to find and download software.
  • Viruses are less common than on Windows. Less viruses mean less work for you.
  • If something goes wrong, there’s someone they can call that isn’t you: Apple.

Even if you’re a PC fanboy, you can’t deny that paying $99 for Apple’s One to One program, which teaches your parents how to use their computer, would save you a lot of time and many headaches. They’d likely be doing things with ease that they never would have imagined doing on their PC.

PC with Ubuntu Linux

Your parents probably wouldn’t be able to set this one up on their own, but once you complete the setup for them, it’s much simpler than what they’re used to (Windows). Just beware of driver issues. Try the live CD and make sure you’ll be able to get their stuff to work, including wireless Internet and their printer.

Linux viruses are very rare. It’s something that your parents likely wouldn’t have to worry about and it’s something that you wouldn’t have to resolve.

Ubuntu has a software center that allows you to download free applications with just the click of a mouse, similar to the Mac App Store. Your parents won’t have to call you to find out where and how to download a specific application.

Ubuntu comes with Firefox by default and if your parents don’t like it, they can download Chrome from the Software Center. Let’s face it: No matter how many times you install a Web browser for your parents and explain how to use it, they’re going to go back to using Internet Explorer 7 eventually. I’m not sure if they can’t tell the difference between the two or simply forget what Firefox is for, but it happens.


Sometimes a touch interface is easier to interact with. It may feel more natural for your parents. If your parents already have experience with another touch device, such as an Android phone, you may want to consider an Android tablet rather than an iPad. Change is scary. Just make sure that, if you go this route, you set them up with Amazon’s App Store because it has an approval process similar to Apple’s, so they won’t have to worry about downloading anything malicious. But back to the iPad.

  • It will do what they need it to. They can browse the Web, take and organize photos, play games, use Skype and/or FaceTime, etc.
  • They won’t get viruses. All apps have to go through Apple’s approval process before they’re available in the App Store. You don’t have to worry about malicious apps.
  • All of the apps are downloaded through the App Store, so you won’t have to tell them what website to go to, to download what they’re looking for.
  • They can use Apple’s $99 One to One program to learn how to use it.
  • If something goes wrong, they can contact Apple.


If your parents are like my dad, all they use is a Web browser. If that’s the case, a Chromebook would be the perfect solution for them. It runs Chrome OS, which is basically just a Web browser and Web apps.

  • The setup is extremely simple. Turn it on, connect to the wireless network, and begin using it. It also boots up very quickly (in about eight seconds).
  • It does what they need it to do. From the Web browser, they can check their favorite websites, look at family pictures on Facebook, check their email, browse YouTube, etc.
  • They have a 3G option. If your parents decide to get a 3G plan, they’ll be connected everywhere that has coverage. They won’t have to deal with connecting it to their wireless network.
  • Security is excellent. It is automatically kept up-to-date. It runs applications in a sandbox, meaning that a virus cannot affect anything outside of that sandbox. While it may affect the browser, it will not affect the OS. It also encrypts the data, so if you share your Chromebook with someone else, they won’t be able to access your data.

Change can be hard, but it can improve your parents’ technology experience. If you’re considering one of these options, try one out first. Go to an Apple Store; talk to the staff there. They’re usually very friendly and will answer any of your questions. Use the computers there. Use an iPad. Try an Ubuntu live CD. Find what is best for you/your parents.

What do your parents use? Do you know of any other user-friendly options?

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  • Ryan Munday

    The menu bar in OSX is far more confusing than the task bar in Windows. Closing an application’s window in OSX still retains the application’s menu bar which means closing really isn’t closing at all; one still needs to exit. I use a Macbook Pro running OSX Lion daily along with Windows XP and Windows 7. The only reason I have a MBP is because of the hardware. (Patiently waiting for a MS Surface Pro).

    • Darren Persad

      That’s not necessarily true; all you have to do is hold down the command key + the “q” key and that exits the application. Besides, it may just be what you’re adapted to; I got an older 24″ iMac for my mother and she learned the basics of the machine within a few hours and was able to pretty much run and manage everything on her own withing a day or two and that’s mostly because much of OS X relates in some way to Windows, or the other way around. When she upgraded from Windows XP straight to Windows 7, she was unfamiliar with many of the layout changes that rolled around in Windows Vista, but she was able to get the hang of it within about thirty or so minutes since she was already familiar with Windows.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000447218003 Jaack’ March

    OSX Is simple but confusing, I can’t imagine my parents getting used to
    it, however, when the Microsoft Surface comes out I’m sure it will be at
    the top of your list!

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      Ha. a bifurcated user experience is less confusing? Please. Windows 8 doesn’t know what it wants to be.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000447218003 Jaack’ March

        I think most people would get confused having the toolbar in the same place, and they would get confused not going to the start menu to open programs, my parents would always forget to use gestures, however, it’s a matter of getting used to.

        Okay well Windows 8 is very simple once you tell people 2 simple things: The Hotkeys & The Charms menu, with OSX it’s a completely different Experience!

        • http://twitter.com/benwatkinsart Ben Watkins

          agreed, windows 8 is simple but hard to work out at first, they need to have a how to guide that you have to go through on the first boot and option to re-open if you forget how to use W8.

  • N0F3AR

    I struggled with what to give my 79 yr old father—I had given him a PC years ago and when WordPerfect 5.1 got upgraded to 6.0 and the text from white on blue to black on white, he was convinced all the keyboard commands had changed (they had not) and called me at work in a seething rage. While I have 3-4 pc’s lying around my house at any given time, I chose instead the iPad for a few reasons:
    1. The pictures of his beloved grandkids couldn’t look better than they do it that device.
    2. When something besides the internet goes wrong, he knows I don’t support Apple products.
    3. Because it’s Apple, I don’t have to maintain antivirus solutions for him.
    4. He has even picked up how to use some facets of it himself.
    5. Have I mentioned I don’t have to support it like I would a PC?
    Anyway, he has adapted well to it now and even though he considers the internet the modern day root of all evil, harboring people who lie cheat and steal from you, he still misses the internet when it’s down.
    THAT alone is my yardstick for success.



    • http://twitter.com/benwatkinsart Ben Watkins

      Why hurt our eyes with caps?!!?!?!? :'(

      • TOM BOYLEN


    • Darren Persad

      For some I believe that this is completely relevant, however, OS (operating system) has stood for the same thing for over twenty years now, MP (mega-pixel) for over ten, Mac OS X (Macintosh Operating System 10) has been the same for ten, but the Mac OS part has been there even longer. Most terms are pretty universal now so once you learn them you should ever have any issues after that.

  • BertVisscher

    One way to keep people from going back to Internet Explorer, is to remove it. I’ve done just that on my own computer – not that I was tempted to go back to Internet Explorer, because I prefer Firefox. I tried Chrome, but that was unstable.

  • http://twitter.com/benwatkinsart Ben Watkins

    Joli os is a great linux distro and would be perfect, it is simple in fact way more simple than using ubuntu while ignoring the terminal and themes & wine even! it even keeps up to date with a online back up. if your parent/grandparent messes up the system you can just re-install joli os and it will be all back to normal (as long as you back up files) you won’t have any problems of things like a icon being in the wrong place or not finding your old wallpaper. joli os would be perfect!