June 05 2010
About 15 years ago, I wrote a feature on two switched-on ladies in their 80s, one in Stoke-on-Trent, one in Huntsville, Alabama, who were regular e-mail pals and had forged a very real friendship despite both being housebound. My modest contribution to the English language came out of this story – the phrase “silver surfers”. I predicted that silver surfers would become a potent force in the digital economy. This did not quite pan out, though. For while media channels such as QVC are besieged by credit-card-wielding, mortgage-free oldsters, many of these still find computers too daunting to contemplate.
But some recent gentle stirrings may just prove me right after all, as a quiet battle is taking place to get the millions of older people online. Last year came a computer called SimplicITy, fronted by Valerie Singleton. It was an awfully British effort, not in a good way. And on Technopolis TV I featured new American software, Big Screen Live, which turns any PC into a workable, ultra-simple computer.
Now, however, you can forget all the above because of this, Alex, an incredibly polished, professionally conceived and presented PC for the older user from an impressive young company in Newcastle. Alex is absolutely outstanding; I would have no hesitation in giving one to any older person and expecting them to become a complete geek in weeks. OK, that’s a lie; I would still stop short of giving one to my mother-in-law.
Alex is a smart laptop adapted from an industry standard. Although it’s Linux-powered (the spoddiest, yet stablest of PC operating systems), you wouldn’t know it from the clarity and thoughtfulness of the user interface. This is real genius at work.
The Alex laptop is activated by a USB dongle that opens up the user’s own account; each Alex can accommodate several individuals’ keys. All maintenance and backup is automatically handled online by Alex HQ. Once your Alex is fired up, you can do all the usual PC stuff – web, e-mail, document creation, photos, calendars, games, music – but just better than anything Windows does. If Microsoft saw it, it would have an embolism – or buy the company.