E-mail made E-Z
Presto's printing mailbox aims to connect boomers with their PC-phobic parents.
By Peter Lewis, FORTUNE senior editor

(FORTUNE Magazine) - The phone rings. It's your mother. Her computer is acting up again. Her friend Evelyn says it's probably a virus. Did you ever send the new pictures of the grandchildren? No, there wasn't an attachment on your last e-mail. By the way, what's an attachment? The computer must have deleted it again.

Evelyn's kids send her real pictures that she can put up on the refrigerator, you know. But you're so busy. Maybe you can fix the computer when you come visit.

Presto printing mailbox: $150 plus $10 a month or $100 a year, www.presto.com
Presto printing mailbox: $150 plus $10 a month or $100 a year, www.presto.com
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Wouldn't it be great if you could send e-mail and digital photos to your parents without requiring them to learn how to use a personal computer? And wouldn't it be great to retire yourself as their personal computer-support technician?

A new company, Presto Services, thinks it has found a solution to the technological generation gap. Starting this fall Presto will sell a printing mailbox and digital delivery service that will allow non-computer users to stay in touch with their Internet-generation family and friends.

According to the most recent Pew Internet & American Life survey, only 32 percent of American adults age 65 and older go online regularly. And it doesn't require gray hair to be confused occasionally by such tasks as downloading photos or using online photo services.

The Presto system consists of two parts. A $150 Presto mailbox, made by Hewlett-Packard, is basically a color inkjet printer attached to a phone line-sort of what Mom and Dad might remember as a facsimile machine, only updated for the Internet era.

The Presto Service, meanwhile, is a thoroughly modern web-based application that costs $10 a month or $100 a year and allows boomers to manage the printing mailbox remotely, making sure that their parents aren't afflicted with spam and the printer hasn't run out of ink or paper.

Although the system could change between now and general availability this fall, a recent demonstration suggested that the Presto is the simplest solution since the telephone for connecting the generations. The grandchild who was born with an Ethernet umbilical cord and who now lives in the wireless world can snap a digital photo with her cameraphone and instantly send it, along with a text message, to Grandpa.

Grandma, meanwhile, can print and hand out cards with her own e-mail address, sure to impress her tech-savvy friends. And you, in between, can manage the list of friends and family who are authorized to send e-mail and photos to the Presto printing mailbox. Any other mail is blocked, eliminating spam and other unsavory messages.

The HP printer uses regular paper, producing photos far short of the quality of a glossy drugstore print but good enough to put up on the bulletin board. Text can be blown up in size to accommodate failing eyes. And if you forget to write - guilt! guilt! - Mom can sign up to receive puzzles, craft and hobby ideas, recipes, news stories, and other packaged e-mail content.

Alas, the Presto printing mailbox is a one-way device. Mom and Dad can receive e-mail and photos, but they have to pick up the phone to respond. Presto says it hopes to add two-way capabilities in its next generation. Now if they'd only make the TV remote control as simple to use. Top of page

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