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spacer features > > remote tech support > > Internet access

Remote Tech Support: Grandpa's New Computer

Internet Access

The biggest change between the earliest PCs and today's models, is the Internet. Whereas early generation PCs derived their value from the software that ran on them, computers increasingly derive their value from the information they can access and transmit. So what is the best way to set up your grandfather's new computer to access the Net? And where should he go when he's there?

The decision on Internet access actually has three different questions that must be addressed in designing a solution:

  • Dialup vs Broadband. This is an easy decision, if DSL or cable access is available at an acceptable price in your grandfather's neighborhood. With broadband, it becomes simple and fast to share photos, send slide shows, or utilize a webcam. On dial-up connections, these are either impossible, or take unbelievable patience. In addition, automatic updates of the operating system and antivirus software on dial-up connections will be problematic at times, because of the massive size of some of the files they transmit.

  • Wired vs wireless. Wireless adds another level of potential tech support calls for you to field, but may be the easiest way to enable access with a new broadband connection. In one of our test installations, the highspeed cable modem was not located near the desired computer location, so we added an inexpensive wireless router to solve the problem.

  • AOL vs a browser + email tool. There are two questions here: what does your grandfather already know how to use? - and what will be easier to use going forward in time? In our test cases, we split; one user was a longtime AOL customer, and felt more comfortable sticking with what he knew. In the other case, AOL's screen-filling collection of promotions and pop-ups was too confusing, so the combination of the Firefox browser and Outlook Express for email was the solution of choice.

Once the "how" question is answered, the next step is to set up the browser to be easier to use and read, and to provide some favorite locations that will be helpful to your grandfather.

Select and set up the browser

In the Windows world, there are two primary browser choices -- the default Internet Explorer browser provided with Windows, or the free, downloadable Firefox browser. Again, our tech support driven recommendation is to go with whatever you use. However, if you are ambivalent, we would recommend Firefox, because it is less prone to attack by hackers, and hence will be less likely to be a pathway for viruses and worms into the machine you will be supporting.

Once you've selected the browser, and established it as the default choice, you can start customizing it.

  • Homepage. Set the homepage to something useful, e.g., hometown newspaper, Google, Yahoo, etc. To do this, go to Tools > Options and follow the simple directions there.

  • Browser toolbar clean-up. Remove any unnecessary tools on the toolbar. To do this, right-click on a blank spot on the toolbar, click on customize, and follow the instructions there.

  • Browser font size. Set the browser font to a larger size. To do this, go to the View item in the top toolbar, and select text size. This will work on most sites, except those that explicitly pre-define a fixed font size for their web pages.

  • Bookmarks. Set up a few useful bookmarks, of trusted sources. Here's the list we settled on:

Finally, remember to setup email, using the user's existing email account, login, and password.

Next, Software Applications.

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