How easy can it get?

There is an ongoing debate amongst my colleagues at Digital Unite about the development of technology and how it influences the way people learn to use a computer. The advent of the iPad, introduced a whole new way of doing emails and surfing the web. You could take photos with an iPad and send them by email. With an adaptor they could copy photos from a camera, make some basic changes to them and put them into albums. Learning to do this is remarkably easy because of its touch screen technology.

The argument goes: is this really learning to use a computer or are you just skimming the surface? The pro camp says that using a computer is about using it for the things you want to do – most people want to email, browse the Internet and share their photos. The con camp says: Yes, that’s all very well, but what if you want to use a computer to do things beyond what everybody else is using for: making a poster for your walking group, keeping a track of your money, editing a video you’ve taken on your camcorder?

The crux of the matter is – how much does a user need to learn before they can do the basics? With an iPad you can be up and running very quickly. But you’re restricted to what you can do without having to move up a level. And what does that mean? Well, and this is where the con camp have their point answered. How much of the basics that you’ve learned will be useful for doing more adventurous tasks, if all you’re doing is emailing and surfing the internet?

To compound the issue – along comes the Chromebook from Google. A Chromebook is a Samsung laptop with the Chrome operating system installed. Your starting point is the popular Google page (with the search box in it) using the Chrome browser. With a Google account you have access to all the most popular services Google offers, such as email, photo editing and basic office applications. The Chromebook has a tiny 16GB hard drive which is enough for the operating system and a bit more, because you get 100GB of storage space using Google Drive (free for the first two years). I’m guessing that there will be a touch screen version on a tablet soon. Google are marketing the Chromebook as simple and secure, and before long I suspect it will be bought by people who want a hassle-free experience of computing – very like an iPad (but at half the price) and nothing like as ‘complicated’ as a  Windows 7 (or 8) laptop which needs a lot of looking after.

And there’s the rub. An iPad and eventually a Chromebook (although it may be too soon to say) are great for keeping in touch, using the wonders of the internet and sharing your photographs and will be a great boon to people who aren’t interested in how or why a computer works. And I’m talking about the vast majority of people who use their computer for leisure. For the rest of you, a Windows laptop (or desktop) will always hold a fascination (I’m being facetious) because it has a life of it’s own, and you can do so much more with it.