For years, the mom-in-law had resisted getting a computer of her own. She just doesn't like technology. Everyone knows the old joke about people who are so slow when it comes to using technology that they never managed to set their VCR's clocks. She can't use a DVD player.
Yes, I'm serious. Oh, I know she could do it, but she really doesn't want to in the same way that I really don't want to take class in calligraphy. Anyone who's ever seen the illegible scribble I use in place of handwriting will understand where I'm coming from.
But, despite that, the combination of the allure of solitaire and the Web finally got to her, and she wanted a computer to call her own. So, what do you get someone to whom even turning on a computer is a challenge? You get them a Linux-powered mini-laptop. Specifically, I got her an ASUS Eee PC 1000 running a variant of Xandros Linux. I picked Linux, not just because I like it, but because its combination of ease of use, low-cost, and no maintenance requirements makes it ideal for a new PC user.
Mac OS X probably is the easiest of all operating systems for a new user to pick up. But, Asus' customized Xandros Linux distribution, like Linpus Linux and gOS 3, are giving Macs a run for their money when it comes to ease of use. On the Asus, for example, you're given a choice of: Favorites, Internet, Work, Learn, Play and Settings. It's pretty darn straightforward. Underneath Internet, you'll find Web Mail; Firefox Web Browser; Skype; Internet Radio; Google Maps Video Search; Wikipedia; and Pidgin IM.
Get the idea? This PC is already set up for you. I, of course, had to go in and set up her e-mail, IM, and the like, but most people, even if they've never seen a Linux system in their life, can sit down and start using it.
As for the price, you can buy an ASUS Eee PC 1000 for less than $500. For that cash, you get a solid, hard-working little laptop with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor, a GB RAM, a 40GB SSD (Solid State Drive), and a 6 cell-battery with a mom-in-law tested 4+ hours of battery life. The 10" display with its 1,024x600 resolution is powered by the Intel 915GM graphics chipset and it's very readable. Since my mother-in-law is quickly approaching 80 that was a real concern. She finds it very readable.
To connect with the Internet, the system uses 802,11g Wi-Fi. The EEE PC 1000 doesn't have an optical drive, but it does include three USB 2.0 ports and an SD card slot.
I could, of course, have gotten her a new MacBook, but the bottom-line MacBook is $999. For less than half that price, you can get an Eee 1000 PC for under $500; she has a laptop that does everything she wants and much more besides.
The no-maintenance part was also important. Unlike any Windows machine, which requires monthly -- or even more frequent security updates -- to even pretend to be safe, not to mention added-cost and trouble anti-virus and anti-malware software, Linux has security baked-in.
Linux security isn't perfect by any means. It just doesn't require the constant updating and fiddling that'srequired to keep Windows marginally secure. For a user like my mom-in-law who's no more likely to keep up on security updates than I am to start turning out perfect copperplate script when I put pen to paper, this was an important consideration.
The ASUS Eee PC 1000 isn't a perfect laptop. While we both found the keyboard to be more usable than most mini-laptop keyboards, the touchpad buttons proved difficult to click easily. We added a mouse to her kit and she was fine. Personally, I hate all touchpads and I use either a mouse or a ThinkPad-style Pointing Stick whenever possible. If you like touchpads and you're particular about them, you'll want to try the ASUS touchpad for yourself before buying one.
That aside, this ASUS model is great for a new computer user of any age and for experienced users who need an inexpensive lightweight, laptop for on-the-go computing.