Alex – another computer for novices

This week saw the launch of another computer aimed at novices. Called Alex, its a Linux based laptop with broadband and USB stick (for security.I’m sure these will get lost – will this render the laptop useless?), and is designed for people who have never used computers before. Now I’m all for helping people to use computers, but I’m not convinced that these simplified interfaces, including Simplicity, are the answer.

Why on earth not?

Well, there are two main reasons: First is, there is a lot of help out there already for people who want to learn how to use a computer. “Dummies” books (or “… Made Simple”, “Beginners Guide to …” etc etc) abound, and some companies even have videos on their web sites that explain how to do things. Most colleges do courses for people wanting to learn, or there are other organisations to help more senior people learn not just how to switch it on but desktop publishing and the like. (My dad is doing really well on these courses, even though he’s never touched a computer in his life before).

Which leads me to the second reason. If my dad has a problem with his computer (running Windows 7, which he is getting used to after Windows XP), he’ll either speak to me, or to others who know about these things. He can then be told how to resolve whatever issue he has, because I would have come across it before, or computers have a set way of doing things. Alex has a helpline, but if someone I know has a problem, I could try and resolve it, but because the interface is different there won’t be the menu options/control panel settings in the usual place so the person needing the help would need to use the helpline. If I send a file to someone, and they can’t open it, I can direct them to install software or change a setting. How would this work with Alex/Simplicity (especially as the interfaces on both are completely different)?

Maybe the investment would have been better spent on making training even more available to everyone. That would be the better way to help novices.