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A long-standing friend of my mother’s asked me to take a look at their PC this evening. It’s the sort of thing that happens once in a while when people know that you “do computers”, and to to fair I quite enjoy it in the same way that I quite enjoy a Sudoku puzzle once in a while.

The challenge was that Jackie’s old laptop had bust, and so she wanted me to set up her new one – a cheapish (¬£350) Asus job.

The first challenge was getting the old (HP Windows 7) beastie to do anything at all. On powering up the fan came on, a light, and then nothing. Booting into the BIOS, running a hard-disk check, and then rebooting seemed to ungum whatever it was that was preventing the thing from booting.

The next stage was to get the new PC up and running, switch over the data, and then tidy up. I gave myself a couple of hours. The Asus, a model that was launched in October of last year, four hours later is still installing update 70-something of 84, having already run another dozen updates over four reboots. And all of this will hopefully get me to the point at which I can run the Windows 8.1 update from the Windows Store.

If the first few moments that you have with an object set the tone for the life of the relationship, this user experience is going to seriously sour Human-Computer interactions for some time to come. I’m only glad that Jackie, not a particularly IT-literate person, is shielded from this.

Through this painful process I’ve been reminded again about how different my life has become since starting to use Chromebooks… because, for the most part, I just don’t have to worry about things like systems updates like the ones I’m currently experiencing. People like Jackie really don’t need to be worrying about such things either, but I’m still not convinced, quite, that the browser-only simplicity of ChromeOS is quite ready for the retiring baby boomers.

The Windows thing is painful because Windows tries to be all things to all people: for end users it tries to be both a tablet and a PC whether you like it or not; to OEMs it tries to be a platform that can be tweaked and customised to provide some sort of product differentiation; to Microsoft it provides the base of their platform proposition, a standard experience, but also a tool for their OEM partners. The net result of all of this is a fairly unpleasant user experience. I bet that the number of Microsoft folk who ever unbox a year-old model third-party device and take it through the new user experience can be counted on one hand.

A couple of days ago I read a nice summary of where ChromeOS fits: if you’re the sort of person that does stacks of heavy spreadsheeting, are dependent on the power of the local processor, then at the moment it doesn’t. But if you are somebody for whom the majority of your computing now is through mobile devices, ChromeOS might provide the bridge when you need to do a bit more typing or need a bit more screen space. In a work environment these days I’m in that category. I reckon that a large proportion of home users are these days as well…

UPDATE:

And then this happened…
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