Computers have become considerably simpler to use over the years, but there’s still a lot to learn if you haven’t used one before. Picking up new skills can be a particularly daunting task for the elderly, so if someone you know is keen on becoming a ‘silver surfer’ but feels intimidated by Windows, there are some solutions.
Although it’s designed to be simple to use, the Windows Desktop and other software is built upon ideas that may be completely alien to someone who hasn’t used a computer before. Things like menus and icons may also be difficult to grasp by someone with failing eyesight or poor fine motor skills, for example, where it’s difficult to click on small on-screen objects with a mouse or trackpad. Fortunately there are a number of solutions to help you out...
Windows desktop shells for the elderly
Desktop shells replace the standard Windows desktop with one that’s simpler to use and much more user friendly. Some shells also change the look and feel of built-in Windows applications to make them easier to use, too.
Eldy is an example of one simple Windows shell, which is free to download from the Eldy website.
It runs as just another Windows application and can be minimised when required, but completely hides the Windows desktop with its own large and simple interface, called The Square. This has six buttons for common tasks, including email and web browsing, and little else - so there’s little to get confused about.
Large fonts are used throughout Eldy, and the interface is clear and clutter-free. The supplied applications are easy to use, too, with the email application in particular being very user friendly - there’s even the option to register for a free Eldy email address.
Deliberately designed to be simple and straightforward, Eldy is a solid choice when access to only a handful of basic computer tasks is needed.
Emerge Desktop is also free to download. Although it is no longer in development having last been updated in 2015, it should still work on Windows 7.
By default it only replaces the Start menu and Task bar, but its power lies in the many different themes that can be installed. These can change its Desktop in dramatic ways, but not all of them are easier to use than the standard Windows Desktop.
Once Emerge Desktop is installed and running, the best place to start with Emerge Desktop themes is the Themes section of the Emerge Desktop site.
Download the theme Zip file, and then import it into Emerge Desktop via the Start menu - Settings - Theme Manager. Click the Import Theme button, browse to the downloaded file and then enable it in the Theme Manager dialog box using its drop-down list.
Emerge Desktop is heavily customisable and works with other desktop replacement tools, so be prepared to invest lots of time to understand how it works and set it up the way you want. That will be too much effort for all but the most enthusiastic, though, and there are better options if simplicity is the key requirement.
Replacement desktops for Windows 10
Although Windows 10 has a fresh and easy new look, it may be harder for the elderly to get their head around after Windows 7. This doesn't mean that you have to miss out on Windows 10 though, you can also use shells and other techniques to make it feel more like Windows 7 as well.
Consider a Chromebook
The Chromebook is Google's take on a PC device and they are very easy to use thanks to a clean layout and stripped-back features. To top it off, Chromebooks are relatively cheap.