PC Buyer's Guide: Does a home computer earn its keep? Definitely, one family tells Steve Homer. But it can be baffling for adults
If you try hard, you can usually make a good case for buying a computer for business. But how about for the home? Is it worth paying a lot of hard-earned dosh for an overgrown toy?

Richard and Alison Trinick are a typical mum, dad and 2.4 kids family. They bought a Packard Bell computer last February for around pounds 2,500 including service, back-up and a printer.

"We bought it to get the kids into it," says Mr Trinick, who uses a computer in his job as director of a south London architectural ironmongery company. "Now when the kids come across Windows '95, it won't be like looking at something new."

And the children, Rosie, three, George, five, and Thomas, seven, certainly rate it. Ask George what he likes most about the computer: "all of it 'cos I love it," he says. Ask if they would rather have the computer taken away or the television and pensive furrows form. "We should keep the TV so Mummy and Daddy can watch TV," pipes up Rosie.

George comes down on the side of throwing out the computer. Thomas, however, wants to keep it. But it is obviously no trivial decision. The computer is now an important part of the household.

And it has served the Trinicks well, allowing the children to learn through play. When The Independent called, the boys were reading along with the Tortoise and the Hare from Broderbund Living Books. "They can play it in German, French or English, which they really enjoy, especially as they have started doing French at school," Mrs Trinick says. French lessons, fun?

"George gets more out of the computer educationally as he finds it quite exciting and is fascinated by the educational programs. Tom likes the games, often ones that are too old for him, but honestly I think he would like a games console like a Sony Playstation or a Sega Saturn. But having the computer is better than a console. I don't think there is any educational software for a Sega.

"At least this way there are more opportunities. Also he can't take the computer up to his room and disappear for hours. It's better to have him playing happily on the computer where I can see how much time he is spending on playing games."

As for Rosie, Mrs Trinick believes that she is only just old enough to use a mouse. "Rosie was a bit young when we got the computer, but she is starting to grow into it." Ask Rosie if she likes anything on the computer and she fires back: "I like the [Fischer Price] Dream Doll House."

"I like the computer for the children's education," Mrs Trinick says. "I enjoy choosing programs for them that they might like." After initially being swayed by impressive packaging, she quickly learnt her lesson and now buys from companies she trusts, especially Dorling Kindersley and Broderbund, on recommendation from friends or after reading reviews. "I think [Broderbund's] Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego is wonderful. It helps the children's sense of geography, but it is still fun. I think their titles are brilliant."

Another great hit is Dorling Kindersley's Children's Dictionary. "It is useful for their homework and it has some fun games that they like, which helps them learn to spell," Mrs Trinick says.

Microsoft's Creative Writer has proved popular. "I use it for writing thank you letters," Thomas says. The title has lived up to its name. The boys co-operated on writing a story called "The Cowboy" simply for fun. "They used different handwriting, pictures and lots of illustrations," their mother says.

Much of the pre-installed children's fun educational software has proved a hit as well. But she is not so happy about some of the adult software. "You don't get enough information on how to use the programs that are pre-loaded," says Alison. "And I would like to know more on how to use the computer. I don't really know how to get the most from it."

So would they advise other families to buy a computer? "Definitely," Mr Trinick says. "Everyone will eventually have one. We have a foothold on the future"