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spacer features > > remote tech support > > usability

Remote Tech Support: Grandpa's New Computer

Usability enhancements

New computers are great! They're clean and fast!
New computers are a pain! They're littered with unwanted programs and trial offers that slow them down to a snail's pace!

It depends on your perspective. But in this case, it's not your perspective that matters. Instead, you need to look at this machine through the eyes of the intended user. And they may have older eyes, and a more limited interest or set of needs, and your goal is to make this new computer as easy to use as possible. That means eliminating unnecessary and distracting features that apparently made some marketing person happy, as well as adjusting settings for improved reading and interaction. Let's start with clean-up, then move on to adjusting various user interfaces.

Cleaning up a new computer

Set it up at home, where you can work on it, with access to the Internet on another machine in case you need to look for additional information, or compare settings with aother computer.

  • Delete unneeded software e.g., games, online signups, free trials of things your grandfather will never use. Computers come preloaded with a plethora of come-ons and time-limited offers. Call it "Marketing Gone Wild" or software litter -- whatever it is, delete everything your grandfather will never use. These things take up space, add clutter, and increase the odds of a tech support call to you due to an inadvertent or misdirected click.

  • Clean up the desktop. Only leave important and frequently used icons. The minimum list might consist of icons for the browser, mailtool, calculator, antivirus software, and recycle bin. In our case, we also ended up adding shortcuts for My Documents, Microsoft Word, and Hearts. If you're not sure if you want or need to keep something that comes on the default desktop, create a folder called 'Odds and Ends', and drag the questionable icons into it.

  • Clean up Start menu. Marketers not only clutter the screen with special offers, they helpfully pre-populate the Windows Start menu with their products. Unless you know they will be used, get rid of them now, before they lead to another tech support call! You can either remove just the names from the list (right click to find the delete option) or go to the Control Panel, and the Add/Remove programs tool, to completely eliminate them from your computer.

  • Clean up All Programs list. Same thing.

  • Clean up Favorites list. Same thing.

Interface optimization

Okay, now that you've eliminated the clutter, it's time to make it easier to interact with the computer. How do we 'interact' with the computer? Typically with a mouse, and our eyes.

  • Add an external mouse. Depending on the dexterity of the user, the various built-in cursor moving devices used on laptops can prove to be challenging. No problem, add an optical mouse for less than $10. It plugs into one of the USB ports on the computer, and instantly provides an easier-to-use interface machanism. Why an optical mouse? They work on almost any surface, rather than only on a mouse pad, and have no moving parts to get clogged by dust, lint, and hairballs.

  • Mouse settings. Ever watched someone with limited dexterity carefully try to position a cursor over an icon, and then have trouble double-clicking it? This common challenge can be made easier by adjusting the speed of the mouse's double-clicking action. In Windows, go to Control Panel > Mouse > Buttons, then slide the speed control indicator all the way over to Slow. This allows the computer to recognize a wider range of double-click speeds as being just that, a double-click action. This worked wonders in reducing the frustration of our users.

  • Cursors. Increase the size and contrast of cursors on the screen. A common complaint by those with older eyes, is the difficulty they have in finding the cursor on the screen. Here's how to make that easier. In Windows, go to Control Panel > Mouse > Pointers. In the Scheme scrollbar, select Windows Black Large or Extra Large, rather than the Windows Default system scheme. This will increase the size of the various cursor representations used by Windows, and make finding the cursor a much easier problem to solve.

  • Background. Desktop background pictures are nice, but they make it tougher to read icons and labels. To change this, go to Control Panel > Display Properties > Desktop then select "None" for a plain blue background. Boring, perhaps, but it proved a lot easier to use for our testers.

  • Readability. Windows offers several ways to change onscreen font and icon sizes. Start by changing the screen's DPI to 120 from 96 to make icons and fonts easier to read on high resolution screens. Go to Control Panel > Display Properties > Settings > Advanced and then in the Display section, change DPI from Normal (96 DPI) to Large (120 DPI).

  • Icon size. Windows offers two size options, normal and large. To change, go to Control Panel > Display Properties > Appearance > Effects and then check "use large icons" to try the larger size.

  • Font size Fonts can be independently changed for icons, titlebars, window contents, messages, and more. Go to Control Panel > Display Properties > Appearance > Advanced and then go thru the list of items, enlarging the size of each to suit your needs.

Be warned, this is a trial and error process, and may take a litle experimentation to get the results you want.

Next, Internet access.

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