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2012 February 20 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: There is Computing Help for Technophobics

Do you have a parent, grandparent, or other relative who wants to join the computer cognoscenti but who doesn’t know a mouse from a rat? Are you such a person, with no computer experience but who really wants to go online to see what the fuss is all about?

Various efforts have been made over the years to help technophobes master what many of us take for granted, using a keyboard or other input device to direct a personal computer to do our bidding. Apple was only the first company to make a name for itself through ease of use.

The newest effort may be the best yet. Venture 3 Systems, a startup in Chalfont, Pa., has recently released a touch-screen desktop computer called the Telikin (www.telikin.com). It comes with a standard keyboard and mouse, but the main way to move around is by simply pressing icons, or small pictures, on the screen.

You can exchange email, surf the Web, share photos, compose and print letters, even video chat by pressing the large icons with labels identifying them that are always to the left of the screen. When you turn on the computer, you’re also presented with news, local weather, a different photo and inspirational quote, and whether you have new emails, including those from Facebook alerting you to new posts.

I’m testing out the device with my 84-year-old father, who I first outfitted with a personal computer back in the 1990s but who hadn’t got past using a word processor to keep a list of books he had read to prevent him from rereading.

The Telikin comes in two models, one with an 18-inch screen that at the time of this writing was selling on Amazon.com for $669, the other with a larger 20-inch screen selling at the same venue for $999. It’s also available online from Best Buy and Sears and in select stores from Radio Shack and Fry’s Electronics.

This is considered an “all-in-one” computer, meaning that the central processing unit, memory, hard drive, and DVD/CD player are all built into the back of the still relatively thin computer screen. There’s no separate case for these components.

Along with its touch screen, another distinctive feature is that the computer isn’t based on Windows or the Mac operating system but on Linux, which is typically considered an operating system for computer geeks. Venture 3 Systems has taken Linux in the opposite direction, going for extreme ease of use, and largely succeeding.

As the brief instructional manual points out, if you’re also having Internet access installed, you may need to have the technician installing it talk over the phone to a Telikin technician. In our case, we did, discovering that we needed to first connect the computer with a cable before connecting it wirelessly.

Another phone call was required to learn that we had to turn the computer off and on again to establish the Internet connection. Each time after that, it connected to the Internet flawlessly.

The Telikin is targeted to seniors and others less technically sophisticated, so you shouldn’t expect to do serious number crunching or video editing. With the word processor and spreadsheet program that’s included with it, for instance, you can have only one document open at a time.

Besides ease of use, another of its commendable qualities is the way it lets another person control the computer remotely to help teach the owner how to use it. The Telikin calls such a person a “Tech Buddy.”

The Tech Buddy has to first create a username and password in person using the Telikin. Then, when back at his own location, whether across town or across country, the Tech Buddy downloads from the Telikin Web site a remote-control program to his computer.

The software lets the Tech Buddy see on his own computer’s screen what the owner sees on the Telikin’s screen and to control the Telikin’s mouse pointer and keyboard with his mouse and keyboard. You can’t use a regular monitor as a touch screen, but moving the mouse pointer to an icon and clicking approximates this closely enough.

All of this is extremely useful in giving lessons over the phone. You don’t need to have the owner tell you what he sees on his screen since you see it yourself, which greatly speeds up the learning time.

My father is still getting used scroll bars and other computer concepts. But at this point, he’s well on his way to being a regular Internet user.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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