Do you have a septuagenarian in your life who has asked for your help in either purchasing a computer for the first time, or maybe finally replacing that Commodore (because it's getting a litle heavy to tote to the library and Starbucks)?
You're in for an adventure (and hopefully some good memory-making and bonding time). Obviously grandmothers (and grandfathers) are all different, and have individual needs, wants, and desires, so there's no one computer that's going to be "perfect" for all of them. Here are some things, however, to consider.
Weight: If your grandma is going to be traveling with her laptop, you really need to take the weight of the machine into consideration. Make sure it's not any heavier than her purse. And if she's planning to carry the laptop IN her purse, remember, this will at least double the weight of the purse. What might not have seemed heavy to her twenty years ago might be a very uncomfortable lift and carry, now.
Keyboard and Monitor Size: If your grandma is having any trouble at all with arthritis or stiff joints, you're going to want to get her a full-size keyboard. And get the largest monitor you can for your money - this applies to everyone, not just Grandma.
Operating System: Unless your Grandma lives with you, and really enjoy working on the computer with her every time she gets on it - you might want to keep this as simple as possible. I would recommend not getting a refurbished anything. Remember, what might be an easy fix for you is likely to be frustrating for someone just learning to use the computer. If your Grandma is a good programmer, she probably doesn't need your help picking out a laptop. Also, remember that grandmas have a tendency to talk to each other, and share tips and tricks that they've learned about technology. If all of your grandma's friends are on Windows, and she's on an Apple product, she's going to be frustrated when her friends are having a very different experience than she is. It won't matter to her, really, that you're a die-hard Apple fan boy, and wouldn't be caught dead using anything without the Apple logo. This isn't about you, Sonny - just get her a PC.
Warranty: If that first paragraph wasn't a joke, and Grandma really is trading in her old Commodore for this laptop, keep in mind that she's probably planning on using the laptop for the rest of her life. This might not be realistic, but she probably really will use it for 5-7 years, so the extended warranty will be worth it.
Memory: Keeping the above in mind - that Grandma may have this computer for a long time, you'll want to get her as much memory as she can afford, and teach her how to use an external storage device, or web-based storage for her photos. If she's planning to use the computer to play games (don't laugh - some of these septuagenarians can kick some serious hiney on World-of-Warcraft, or whatever), then you'll also want to make sure you get her as much RAM as she can afford.
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.