"OK," I said in a slow, deliberate tone. "Let's start from the beginning. Click on the Mail menu. A list should appear. Do you see it?"
A pause. "Yes," my mother said.
"What do you see in that list?" I said.
"File ... About Mail ... Preferences ...."
"Good. Do you see 'Quit'?"
"Excellent. Click on 'Quit' and we'll start again."
Welcome to my personal hell, circa 2006. Pull up a chair. Get comfortable. We're going to be here for quite a while.
That was the night I snapped; the night I lost my mind explaining Mail to a person for whom the concept is more arcane than a Dennis Miller reference. The night that would have been so much better if only we had Leopard.
If you're the person in your family who is often called upon to provide free tech support (or, as I call it, the "sucker"), this post is for you. If your parents/aunties/sister/parole officer are running Mac OS 10.4 or earlier, you must convince them to upgrade to Leopard. Here's how.
iChat screen sharing. There's a story in Christian tradition about St. Paul, who was a grumpy old sourpuss until the day he decided to take a road trip to Damascus. That's when the Lord himself showed up and, to make a long story short, turned that frown upside down.
This is precisely what iChat 4.0 has done for me. Soon after Leopard was released, I upgraded my parents' iMac and created an AIM account for them. Now, remote trouble shooting is so simple it's almost ... divine.
To initiate a screen sharing session, simply create a chat with your intended target. Next, select "Ask to share remote screen" from the Buddies menu. At this point, you can see and control that remote Mac. There's no additional configuration required, no determination of your partner's IP address. It just works.
Open the sky and queue the choir.
Video Chat with the kids. I live in Massachusetts and my parents are in Florida. It's tough for them to share in their grandkids' lives across that span (or, as I call it, my Eleven-hundred Mile Sanity Buffer Zone). Video chat helps to bridge the miles.
It couldn't be easier to create a video chat. When your target comes online, simply click the green "camera" icon next to their name in iChat. They'll hear an old-style telephone "ring" on their end, and see a button prompting them to accept the call. That's it! We have a laptop at home, so it's great fun to "carry" my parents around during a birthday party, holidays and so on. Plus, the kids get a real kick out of it.
Here's where it gets good. iChat for Leopard includes iChat Theater. This allows you to select an album of photos in iPhoto and display them as a slideshow to your chat participants. It's a great feature for this situation.
Time Machine. I don't know about your folks, but my parents' backup plan is about as reliable as Britney Spears' career. With Time Machine, you know their machine is being backed up at regular intervals, and they don't have to lift a finger.
Simply purchase a USB or Firewire drive and connect it for them. A simple dialog box will ask if you'd like to use that device for Time Machine backups. Say "yes" and you're done.
Mail Stationery. I know, I know. HTML email is evil. It's a bandwidth-hogging assault on your inbox. Here's something you don't know: Grandmas love it.
First of all, they'll think you're immensely clever for creating such a "beautiful" email message. Secondly, they'll save that message to show to all their buddies (I'm speaking from experience here).
So there you have it. Armed with this information, $129US (or $199 for the family pack) and a couple hours of free time, you can make the Mac experience more enjoyable ... for everyone.