About a year ago my came to me and told me he was thinking about getting a computer and needed help and advise. Before I continue let me first tell a bit about my dad, he is well in his 70's, retired 10+ years ago and never used a computer. In his professional career he avoided computers with an early retirement. On the more positive site he is technical and can operate a mobile phone including text messages. All together I wasn't too trilled and was a bit worried when he asked me for advice. I wasn't looking forward to provide continues support.
The good thing was that my dad likes to take time for everything and this gave me time to think over the options. Based on other experiences I at first thought about getting a Mac, they are simple to use and always work. Moving part of my own household to a Mac significantly reduced my support pressure. However it would a higher investment for my dad and I wasn't very sure if he would stick to using the computer. Alternatively I could just upgrade at home to a new 27" iMac and give the old Windows computer to my dad. Yes this was the way to go!
I also realized was that my dad likes to read and study manuals so I started to search for some books, especially written for elderly that start to use a computer. I found two excellent books: Windows 7 voor senioren (Dutch) and Internet en e-mail voor senioren met Windows 7 (Dutch). Both books are based on Windows 7 and that immediately determined the requirement for Windows 7.
Less software would mean fewer updates and less changes of something going wrong. I create a web based email account, explained the concept and told him not to worry about back-ups etc. This worked out great. You would be surprised how many stories these elderly people tell each other on mail boxes that get full and the need to regularly clean mailboxes. I figured he wouldn't fill several Gb that quickly.
He is working on the computer for a few months how and he is doing great. The system is stable and my support has been minimal. He studies and constantly learns, sometimes he has a question, but most of the time he can figure it out himself. The key challenge is that he sometimes asks my brother for advise and of course he explains stuff different from me and this sometimes causes confusion. There are too many different ways to achieve the same result, good for the power user, but confusing for the starter.
The title of this post explicitly mentions Windows 7. This is not only because the study material is based on Windows 7, but mainly because I learned that the task bar improvements have proven to be very useful for my dad. While surfing the web, often new browser instances are opened, causing troubles navigating back. The little previews in the task bar are a real rescue here. As a power user I never noticed this, but observing other usage patterns opened my eyes.