Multiple Generations, One Technology

Windows superfan Annie Gaites.
By Larry Carroll

Every morning the sun comes up, the birds start chirping — and people of all ages begin their day with Windows 10.

“I am 69 years old, and I think technology is the most wonderful thing,” marvels Annie Gaites, a tireless sexagenarian from regional Australia. “When I get out of bed I go into the lounge room, switch the computer on and get my breakfast.”

Annie fell in love with computers in the early Eighties, teaching herself to code on a Commodore 64. “I ran my business with that program until Commodore became obsolete and we got Windows 95,” she remembers fondly. “That welcomed a whole new world; it opened many exciting new windows for me.”

Across Australia, 14-year-old William Roberts is waking up to an alert; he’s on the verge of forgetting a chore. “I have reminders set up to put the trash bins out,” smiles the 9th grade student. “I also have it set up to remind me when a homework assignment is due. It’s really handy how the notifications work in Windows 10.”

William is primarily a gamer, so a selling point for him is the Xbox App that he uses to stream games from his Xbox to his PC using a home network; such technology made him so enthusiastic, in fact, that he signed up to be one of the youngest Windows Insiders. “I joined because I like testing out new stuff; I had looked online and seen photos of Windows 10, and it looked so much better than Windows 8.1,” he reasons. “When I heard about the Xbox app, that’s what drove me to join, it was like opening up a cool new toy.”

“I enjoy being an Insider because we get to try out new features and apps that other people won’t get to use until they get released,” William explains.

“I enjoy being an Insider because we get to try out new features and apps that other people won’t get to use until they get released,” William explains. “I can offer my feedback, then tell my friends ‘Hey, I helped build that app!’ With Xbox One backwards-compatibility, I up-voted a heap of games on a thread, and now I can play those Xbox 360 games. It’s buggy at the moment, but when I play ‘Borderlands®’ I can leave feedback about it and help get it fixed.”

Built with the feedback of 5 million people just like Annie and William, the Insider Program represented a new frontier for Microsoft; never before had an operating system been built with such user participation. Windows 10 was delivered as a service and offered as a free upgrade that aimed to bring about a more personal computing experience.

“I like first-person shooters, I mainly play those on Xbox One,” he says of his personal need for a fast-paced, entertaining experience. “I use the Xbox app on a daily basis, it’s very useful, and I like to sit in front of my PC set-up while I’m playing video games.”

Annie, meanwhile, enjoys paying her bills at 1 a.m. and uses notifications to remind her when it’s time to take her medication. On the surface, Annie and William could not be any more different. But when you dig a bit deeper, you find a young man wise beyond his years, an elderly woman who is irrepressibly young at heart — and a technological revolution embracing them both. “I love Facebook and Twitter,” says Annie, who attended the Windows 10 fan launch in Sydney after being selected in a Twitter competition. “My friends all over the world count on me to post updates so they know about things. I have friends in London, Canada, all over Australia and New Zealand.”

“I have about 70 Xbox friends on Xbox Live,” William says of his social circle. “They’re from America, New Zealand, the UK, local Australians. They’re spread all over the world.”

Of course, in many ways Annie and William are quite different: She has most likely never heard of his favourite musical act (YouTube sensation Monstercat), and the games he plays online are a bit more fast-paced (she keeps her mind sharp with crossword puzzles). Nevertheless, Windows serves them both equally.

“It’s so innovative, it embraces everything. And it’s quite easy to understand once you’ve learned it,” says Annie, who credits her early embrace of technology with opening numerous doors, including a special one to her heart.

“It’s so innovative, it embraces everything. And it’s quite easy to understand once you’ve learned it,” says Annie, who credits her early embrace of technology with opening numerous doors, including a special one to her heart.

“I’ve always got Skype up and running, so I can talk to my boyfriend every day,” she smiles. We’ve got a wonderful relationship. Sometimes, if he comes home from work early, he’ll Skype me three times in a day! He’s 71, and he’s also pretty good on the computer.”

Annie knew her now-boyfriend Tim when they were young, but after they lost touch, she assumed he had died flying fighter planes — little did she know, he spent many of those same years looking for her. “I knew him when I was eighteen; I adored him, but I had a boyfriend,” she remembers. “Then, 42 years later, somebody writes to me on Facebook and says they just went to dinner with him. I found him on Facebook, wrote him a letter, I didn’t think he knew I existed. He wrote back and said ‘I’ve never forgotten about you.’”

“I went and met him, and it was like we’d never been apart,” chuckles Annie, who has now been with Tim for 6 years. “If not for Skype, it never would have happened.”

Windows 10 is familiar to someone like Annie, but also fast and fresh enough to keep up with William. Windows Hello lets someone like Annie log-in without password hassles, Skype makes sure she never misses one of Tim’s calls, and William loves Snap and Task View.

“On my screen on the left, I usually have my Internet browser,” explains William, who built his own custom-made PC with 3 monitors. “My middle monitor has my desktop, and on my right monitor I have my Steam® friends, my chat program on the same screen so I can see what’s going on while we game.”

“When you put a window in the corner of the screen and it becomes a half-window, Windows 10 comes up with other windows you can put on the other side,” says the teenager. “That saves a lot of time fiddling around, especially with three monitors, because you can’t do the same on the edge between two monitors. It’s really handy, and it gives you the option to put windows side by side.”

William loves the built-in photos app, while Annie prefers using the Films and TV app to watch movies like the Oscar®-nominated “Unbroken,” which Annie is quick to point out that she appeared in.

“It was because of Facebook that I was an extra in the Angelina Jolie movie ‘Unbroken’,” she explains. “You might spot me if you keep your eyes peeled!”

When Annie saw a post on the computer that one of her favourite actresses was filming 30 minutes away and needed background actors, she began one of the best journeys of her life. “I went for a car ride and got to be an extra in the movie,” she remembers fondly. “I actually met Angelina and have photos of her when she came out and talked to me — it’s terribly exciting, and it’s all because I was on the computer.”

As various celebrity magazines ran photos from the set, Annie’s friends couldn’t believe that they knew a Hollywood insider. “Famous magazine posted 8 or 9 pictures, and I was in the back of them all,” laughs Annie. “I photo-bombed Angelina Jolie!”

Instead of meeting celebrities, William prefers to build up his own budding career in entertainment, uploading increasingly-popular videos to YouTube. “I have 140 subscribers,” he explains. “I upload my gameplay because it feels like I’m entertaining other people. They can see my gameplay and hear what me and my mates are talking about. People enjoy sitting down and watching other people play these games. It also helps give you advice on how to get past certain levels. I do it live, record it and upload.”

“At the moment, my goal is to complete all of the Easter Eggs,” William says of hidden treasures buried deep within favourite games including “Minecraft” and “Halo.” “First-person shooters make you feel like you’re actually there. You feel like you’re a badass.”

Although it’s doubtful that Annie would describe herself using such a phrase, it would indeed suit her. Diagnosed with cancer nearly twenty years ago, she has since lost the use of her legs; chemotherapy took a toll on her memory, but she credits the computer as assisting with her amazing recovery.

“They told me I’d go to hell and back and I did; I didn’t think I was going to get back, to be honest,” Annie sighs. “I can’t explain the tiredness you get. But I made myself do crosswords, and not just ordinary ones, but cryptic ones, to wake my brain up.”

“My memories were all still there, and they slowly came back,” she says. “In 1998 I got the cancer, but I’m still alive.”

And with her newfound lease on life, Annie spends a lot of her time thinking about young people like William. “If I were a teenager, I’d want to do a blog,” she laughs.

William feels blessed to be part of the first generation who will spend their whole lives with this sort of technology. “Computers, Windows and all that, it’s about putting everyone’s heads together, putting all our information together, and then creating ways for people to learn that information,” he reasons. “It’s going to make a huge impact.”

“Until I was into my late Thirties, I never really had much of a life. I didn’t have any interests,” Annie says of the years before she fell in love with computers. “Now, I keep myself up-to-date on whatever’s going on, and I do that on my computer. If I didn’t have it, I don’t know what I’d do.”

“I am filled with such a sense of wonder over what I can do. I can look up anything, anything at all that I want to know about. It’s such a teaching tool,” she explains, saying that when she thinks of someone like William she is reminded of Louis Armstrong’s old lyric that “I hear babies crying, I watch them grow/They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.”

“I use Windows a lot while looking for recipes, I use it for games, for homework,” William says, saying that to his generation the world feels like one big neighbourhood, not the sort of place where you’d lose track of a loved one for four decades. “The Internet really brings people together, it feels like a smaller place. It’s really cool that you can be on the other side of the world from someone and talking with them and playing zombie video games together.”

“That wasn’t possible a long time ago,” William says of the days when Annie was his age. “And zombies bring different cultures together.”

As the day winds down, Annie is notified that she just received a photo: It’s her daughter, sticking her tongue out playfully. William is staying up late, streaming a movie on his PC while he chats on a different screen. Both are among the 5 million people globally who participate in the Microsoft Insider program, providing feedback that helps improve the Windows experience.

“I love being an Insider,” smiles William. “I left feedback on Game Streaming, because it was stuttering, and they fixed it within a month. The Insider program is community-based, so people in the general public can sign up and help build a version of Windows. I didn’t think that a company as big as Microsoft would listen to my feedback, but they do. They actually care what people say.”

“I wake up with Windows every day, and shut Windows down when I go to bed,” says Annie. “When you get past forty, a lot of people look down their nose at you. They don’t think you know anything, they think you’re a silly old fart.”

“But I have learned so much from my computer,” she adds. “It’s always been Windows, and it always will be.”

Windows 10 was designed to empower people to do great things — and to these two people, the best things are yet to come.

“I applied for the Windows 10 upgrade download, and wow,” remembers Annie, who says she felt like a kid on Christmas morning. “I was on it two days straight, non-stop, getting everything set up, changing passwords and everything; I could see right from the start how incredible it was and how much you could do with it.” On the surface, two different lives. But as Annie and William go about their day, technology makes them more similar than one would think. All over the world, from each sunrise to sunset, it is a technological phenomenon that plays itself out time and again.

As Annie shuts down her computer, she looks forward to a brighter tomorrow. “I am convinced,” she says with pride of the operating system she and 5 million of her closest friends helped build. “This Windows 10 is going to change the world.”

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