Gateway Inc. is admitting publicly what most computer makers generally try to sweep under the rug: Using a computer can be pretty darned complicated.

The company launched an advertising campaign in August to drive home that point. And it has begun offering free clinics for personal computer users—including K-12 educators, who are given training in how to use technology to improve teaching and learning.

Gateway chief executive Jeff Weitzen says his company aims to be the biggest nonvocational computer trainer in the country by year’s end.

“Technology is moving so quickly that … the industry as a whole has forgotten a little about the user,” he told the Associated Press. “It’s just become a dizzying and confusing maze of technology, and because of that, people just aren’t trying it.”

Weitzen says he wants to help people take advantage of all the capabilities of computers—and if PC sales get a boost, he won’t complain.

“We have so many ‘unidimensional users’ out there, who are only using [the computer] for eMail, only using it for the internet, and would like to be able to use it for other things,” he said.

The San Diego-based company is in a unique position among the major computer manufacturers, because it has its own network of 290 “Country Stores.” Originally just showrooms where customers could order computers, Gateway started using them for training, then added classrooms.

Beginning in August, Gateway’s own stores began providing free “clinics” on PC and internet basics, as well as more advanced topics, such as digital photography and music.

The company also has 5,000 classroom seats in its stores for more thorough classes on those subjects, as well as on software applications such as Microsoft Office. The classes cost between $49 and $175.

For K-12 educators, Gateway offers free clinics designed to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. The clinics are focused around the company’s Teacher:)Ware bundle, which includes a digital camera, a one-year subscription to more than 250 online technology courses, and Leonardo’s Multimedia Toolbox software.

The Teacher:)Ware package comes bundled with the purchase of Gateway PCs by school districts, or it can be purchased separately for $199.

In the free clinics, teachers learn how to use the tools included in the Teacher:)Ware package. They are trained to integrate digital cameras into classroom projects and to use the animation, painting, drawing, and text applications of Leonardo’s Multimedia Toolbox to create interactive lessons that include video clips, audio files, spreadsheets, and other features.

PC industry analyst Tim Bajarin said other computer manufacturers, notably Compaq and IBM, have tried to educate consumers as well—but they were hobbled by having to cooperate with retailers.

“When you have a dedicated store that’s all Gateway, that makes it easier,” Bajarin said.

Weitzen said Gateway wants to focus on what consumers want to do, like digital photography, and teach them how to tie together the components they need, such as cameras and printers.

Gateway is also sending out “technology ambassadors” to make contact with groups like fraternal orders and birdwatching clubs.

Bajarin said the Gateway initiative looks like “a very attractive proposition for newbies,” but it doesn’t solve the underlying problems of the information revolution.

“The better way would be to make PCs easier to use,” he said. “But in view of the fact that the PC industry has been very slow to respond to that issue—at least from a marketing standpoint and a practical standpoint—this is a very good idea.”

Each Gateway Country Store schedules the free clinics for teachers according to local schools’ needs. If there are a number of teachers from a particular school who are interested, Gateway staff will travel to the school to provide the free training, a company representative said.

Teachers interested in the clinics are encouraged to contact their local Country Store for more information.

Gateway Inc.