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Ask Slashdot: How Best To Set Up a Parent's PC? 418

Posted by Soulskill
from the be-a-dear-and-install-the-cloud-on-my-computer dept.
CodingHero writes "My mother uses a recent enough PC running Windows XP and has a broadband connection, but her primary method of interacting with the online world remains the AOL software. She also likes to download and use various seasonal wallpapers, screensavers, etc. Usually all this works fine and I don't get family tech support calls, but occasionally something big goes wrong. Since she lives 400 miles away, that means I get to provide phone tech support. While I can usually get something fixed through simple instructions, sometimes it's just too complicated to properly diagnose and explain over the phone (e.g., a trojan infection that anti-virus won't get rid of on its own). I'd like to set up the system so that her account is not an Administrator and that I can easily (and securely) remotely connect to fix problems, install stuff she really wants to use (after proper vetting of course), and so on. Moving to Linux or a Mac is not an option. Upgrading the system to Windows 7 and breaking the AOL habit, while seemingly the best course of action, is going to mean a lot of my time up front to explain how to do things all over again, time that I don't have a lot of right now. Has anyone else had a similar experience? If so, what did you find was the best way to re-educate a parent and/or set up a method to securely and remotely manage a system, or at least lock it down to better protect it?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Best To Set Up a Parent's PC?

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  • iPad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Radres (776901)

    Get her one.

    • Re:iPad (Score:5, Funny)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:57PM (#43083529) Homepage Journal

      But what advice do you have for those of us who don't hate our mums?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by alen (225700)

      yep, my mom just got one and loves it

      i have 2 iphones and an ipad in the house along with 3 laptops. the laptops rarely get used anymore. even the macbook

    • Re:iPad (Score:5, Interesting)

      by raehl (609729) <raehl311@yFREEBSDahoo.com minus bsd> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:59PM (#43083563) Homepage

      The article might as well be me... except it's 270 miles, and my dad does provide some front-line tech support. But my mom is still on AOL.

      This Christmas we had her try various tech devices from smart phones to tablets (Android and iOS); the end verdict was she is still most comfortable in front of a monitor with a keyboard and mouse. Tablets worked OK for some of the things she wanted to do, but the lack of physical keyboard was problematic, esp. when it came to email. And it's also more comfortable for her to be sitting in a chair NOT having to hold the screen. Tablet screens also suffer compared to larger monitors when you're old and want a large font.

      So while mom might end up with a tablet as an accessory, they are NOT desktop replacements. And don't solve the AOL problem either.

      To the article submitter, what does your mom use AOL for? The AOL experience isn't necessarily much different than the browser experience, for certain activities, so you might want to try setting up Windows 7 and then seeing if the browser is "close enough".

      Ultimately I got my mom a new PC (her old one was OLD and took days to boot (ok, 20 minutes)) and put windows XP on it. Fortunately she doesn't feel the need to download the screensaver du jour, so with virus software XP is OK and what she's familiar with. Did end up having to put AOL back on it but dad is working on weaning her over to a browser. If she makes that transition probably on to Windows 7.

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        so with virus software XP is OK

        Only for one year. XP will be EOL in April 2014. No more security patches.

      • Re:iPad (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:44PM (#43084241)

        Ditto. My mother couldn't even transition to a laptop, since she uses e-mail a lot and demands a full-sized keyboard (preferably far from a trackpad, since it's easy to touch or rub it by mistake and move your cursor and/or click to somewhere it's not supposed to). A tablet left her profoundly disgusted with the experience of typing on an unergonomical hard surface, so a PC it is. And, after lots of time spent maintaining her XP machine, I did the unthinkable: set up Debian stable for her. Works like a charm, breakage of whatever kind is nonexistant and I don't have to worry about viruses. It did take a while to set up initially (while I figured all her use-cases and adjusted the machine accordingly), but from there it has been smooth sailing.

        For the submitter, that's what I'd add: any sort of transition will demand lots of your time, don't fool yourself. You can either try to instruct her, which will take very long, or pull an Apple and lock her machine down in a way that she can only use whatever you want her to. As long as you do a good job of predicting her needs, it's far less hassle in the long run.

        A final thought: educating an elderly citizen to use VMs is easier than one might think.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by weilawei (897823)
      Not sure why this isn't modded higher. For the vast majority of users, an iPad fits the bill. Let's face it, most people don't want a full-blown computer. They don't even care to think about the fact that such things exist and support modern society. All they want are funny cat videos and Facebook (or insert-your-own-favorite-time-waster-here).

      For technical users, especially developers, this is unacceptable, but a technical user generally also has the patience to wade through hours of mysterious errors,
    • Re:iPad (Score:4, Insightful)

      by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:34PM (#43084097) Journal
      Aside from it's brevity, I don't see why this is modded troll. An iPad is a perfectly suitable replacement for a computer if the user only uses it for e-mail and web browsing, and will have a far lower need for long distance tech support calls.
  • Get TeamViewer (Score:5, Informative)

    by twilight30 (84644) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:42PM (#43083227) Homepage

    Walking a parent through steps over the phone can be a frustrating experience. Even after moving my father to a Mac I still found myself having to deal with his issues for the first couple of months on a near-daily basis. Using TeamViewer helped this immeasurably. Free for personal use.

    • Re:Get TeamViewer (Score:5, Informative)

      by rwise2112 (648849) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:50PM (#43083391)

      Using TeamViewer helped this immeasurably. Free for personal use.

      Even remote desktop connection will work fine in most instances. It's built into Windows XP and newer versions.

      • Even remote desktop connection will work fine in most instances. It's built into Windows XP and newer versions.

        But only for Pro versions of Windows, so for most off the shelf PCs, RDP isn't an option.

      • by racermd (314140)

        RDP works great when you've got the router/firewall rules set up for it. However, it's a bit of a security risk to set it up and leave it.

        TeamViewer is nice if you can get them to walk through the steps to get a connection going. Same goes for all other types of "request help" options.

        I prefer the free version of LogMeIn. The agent is small and it generally stays out of the way when you're not using it. If you get a support call, you can just jump into the computer without any action on their part. If

    • Re:Get TeamViewer (Score:5, Informative)

      by dejanc (1528235) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:01PM (#43083613)
      I second this. TeamViewer is a fantastic piece of software, and best of all it's cross platform, so whichever combination of OS's you and your mom have, it will work. You can even do it from a tablet or a phone and it's pretty much zero configuration, no need to set up forwarding on the router, etc.
      • Yep, I've remoted into my XP/7 machines from my Android :) A bit of an issue to deal with the resolution change and not exactly slight changes in how touch screen tries to mimic a mouse, but over all pretty easy and worked first time.
        • Re:Get TeamViewer (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:35PM (#43084103) Homepage

          The one problem I had with Team Viewer (and it was a fatal one) is that it didn't work with the wonky network set up in my mom's assisted living home. It's run by a company that mostly does TV distribution and it's a total fuck up with anything that needs a router or firewall. Can't recall the name correctly, but it;s apparently a popular 'solution'.

          Ended up with an iPad for her which works for 99% of what she does. The tech support issue was solved by giving my nephew another iPad and, as the price of the machine, he's responsible for the occasional physical support calls. This has the added bonus of actually getting him to see his grandmother in person.

    • by Bigby (659157)

      I recommend an option for remote viewing. I have TightVNC on her system and trained her on how to open the ports in the router to let me in. This way I can do just about anything...as long as she doesn't have connection problems.

      In some instances she has run into connection problems. For those, she needs to know where the router/routers are located. And on them, put post-it notes as to where to unplug/plugin to restart the router.

      • Re:Get TeamViewer (Score:4, Informative)

        by Synerg1y (2169962) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:20PM (#43083897)

        What you said, except for an SSL tunnel instead of opening ports. Once you're in the network, vnc will work just as well. Surprised nobody else has mentioned VNC, it is THE solution for family remote support lol.

      • by Cimexus (1355033)

        Yep this is the way to go.

        I have DynDNS + TightVNC on quite a few of my non-techie relatives' computers (scattered across more than one continent, no less) and it works great. Tunnel it through SSH if you're paranoid, but I usually don't bother - I run the service on an odd port and the password itself is encrypted when transmitted, even if the session data thereafter is sent in the clear. Noone is going to be sitting there sniffing my VNC traffic on the one or two occasions per year that I might actually b

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:43PM (#43083239)

    "Recent enough PC running Windows XP."

  • by dgharmon (2564621) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:44PM (#43083253) Homepage
    "My mother uses a recent enough PC running Windows XP and .. Moving to Linux or a Mac is not an option"

    Why are you asking here and not on a Windows forum?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:46PM (#43083311)

      "My mother uses a recent enough PC running Windows XP and .. Moving to Linux or a Mac is not an option"

      Why are you asking here and not on a Windows forum?

      Because a true nerd is platform-agnostic.

      • by acariquara (753971) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:51PM (#43083423) Journal

        Just because we are agnostic doesn't mean we don't run like hell away from the Devil.

        Yo no lo creo en las brujas...

      • Repeat (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SuperKendall (25149)

        "Moving to Linux or a Mac is not an option" ..
        "Why are you asking here" ..
        "Because a true nerd is platform-agnostic."

        Then the original question stands, doesn't it? Platform agnostic does not mean "single platform only" any more than it means "you have to like everything".

    • by arth1 (260657)

      Why are you asking here and not on a Windows forum?

      For BSD advice, of course. Windows forums don't have much of it.

    • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:56PM (#43083523) Homepage

      My thought as well. Seems like the OP goes something like this:

      I want to set up a system where the user by default has no admin privilege, and that can be administrated remotely. Using a system designed for users with no admin privilege and designed to be administrated remotely is not an option.

  • Walk away. Just walk away.
  • by cpm99352 (939350) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:46PM (#43083319)
    I've done this. Set your parent up in XP with a non-admin account. Ensure you can have her sign in as admin when necessary. Worst case, she signs in as admin and there's a big icon on the desktop (make the background color red or something to make ti really obvious) for running joinme session, and nothing else. On her default desktop, all the usual icons (as well as joinme). I also set up FIrefox w/ adblock, and the PC has been virtually problem free. Only had to walk through setting up a new printer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You can also do screen sharing sessions in Skype. So you can converse at the same time. I have found this very helpful for providing a variety of assistance.

  • Why not linux? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:47PM (#43083325)

    If you're willing to move her to Win7 and away from AOL software, why not just move her to Linux? The best thing I did for my parent's computer (they are 6000 miles away) is to replace their WinXP computer with one that runs Linux that's configured to open a web browser immediately upon startup - no login required.

    The computer also ssh'es to my public server and opens a tunnel back to their computer so I can connect via VNC if needed.

    When they got a new camera, I was able to remotely set up a script so If they plug in a memory card from their camera, it copies the images from the card automatically and uploads to an online photo album.

    This covers 100% of what they use a computer for, and completely eliminated their recurring virus infections.

    • by dmbasso (1052166)

      I have a similar experience. Seven years ago, when my brother couldn't stand anymore giving support for my parents' computer running Windows XP, I took over and installed Ubuntu. Using dynamic dns + ssh + vnc, any problems they have I can solve easily.

    • Re:Why not linux? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jabuzz (182671) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:02PM (#43083623) Homepage

      I would suggest that this is the perfect market segment for a Chromebox or Chromebook. The HP Chromebook with the 14" screen is ideal for those with ageing eyesight, they boot up really fast and do everything many "parents" do. The only issue is the lack of Skype, I think Android tablet is the solution there. You can fix the camera issue with an EyFi card. Printing will probably require a new cloudprint capable device or using something like a Raspberry Pi as a smart print server.

      I remain convinced that the ChromeOS has it roots in a senior Google exec sick and tired of doing tech support for a parent :-)

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        I would suggest that this is the perfect market segment for a Chromebox or Chromebook. The HP Chromebook with the 14" screen is ideal for those with ageing eyesight, they boot up really fast and do everything many "parents" do. The only issue is the lack of Skype, I think Android tablet is the solution there. You can fix the camera issue with an EyFi card. Printing will probably require a new cloudprint capable device or using something like a Raspberry Pi as a smart print server.

        I remain convinced that the ChromeOS has it roots in a senior Google exec sick and tired of doing tech support for a parent :-)

        At the time, it was the price of a tablet that kept me away from Android, but also mom claimed that she had to use a printer for printing recipes. However, last time I went home, the inkjet cartridges had dried up from lack of use and they didn't want to buy new ones because they print so rarely. I'll consider a chrome book the next time they need a computer, but I haven't seen any 17" chromebooks -- they need a big screen for visibility, resolution doesn't matter, but they need big fonts. An external monit

  • Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ritchie70 (860516) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:47PM (#43083337) Journal

    1. Install logmein (logmein.com) - the free edition is just fine.
    2. Make your mom a standard user. Non-administrator.
    3. Create an "Admin" account. Do NOT tell her the password.

    It's working so far for my mother-in-law. Her old computer was so badly infested that I just gave up and gave her one of my spares. (She had no reload media.)

    Now, even with her teen grandson surfing porn (yes, I caught him at it, yes, we had a long talk about it but I doubt he's stopped) it seems to be clean.

    She has Windows 7. Maybe it won't work as well with XP.

    • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:59PM (#43083571)

      Getting a teenage boy to stop looking at porn makes no sense. How about you explain to him how to do it safely?

    • by Bigby (659157)

      Did you ridicule him; or did you teach him safe surfing?

    • by Digicrat (973598)

      I second logmein free edition. I have it set up on literally half a dozen or more family computers, evenly split between XP, Vista and Win7. This is by far the easiest way to fix 90% of issues. The rest of the time the answer is normally to instruct them over the phone to reset the modem and/or router to fix connection issues.

      You do have to tailor your usage to the family member. If they are completely computer illiterate, then setting up a separate non-administrator account is a good thing. Otherwise,

  • If the machine gets infected, then have her restore from the clonezilla partition and she is back to where she was. For added fun, you could teach her how to make subsequent backups.

  • Linux (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Peter Simpson (112887) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:48PM (#43083349)
    I know you said it's not an option.

    But I converted my brother and a friend to Ubuntu. Both extremely reluctant to move. So I saved their old Windows hard drive, told them they'd never have to worry about a virus again, and that I would help them figure out anything they didn't understand. It's been a resounding success. Support calls have dropped from several per month to one every six months.

    "downloading seasonal wallpapers and screensavers"

    I can't think of a quicker way to get my Windows system infected. Seriously, if you're going to break the AOL habit, move her to an iPad or Linux. You won't regret it. Actually, you owe it to her and yourself.
    • by swillden (191260)

      Even Linux isn't enough for some users.

      I've given my father-in-law a series of increasingly locked-down configurations, and he still manages to screw them up occasionally. The last time he made his Chrome window larger than the viewable area and slid it so the controls were all off-screen.

      I think the next step is a Chromebook; the only problem is that they come on tiny machines and he wants a bigger display. The Pixel would probably work, but it's too expensive. Next time I visit I'm going to look into

      • by jabuzz (182671)

        The HP Chromebook has a 14" display with the same number of pixels as a the 11" Samsung. Ideal I think for older eyes.

        You could also try a Chromebox, and stick any display that works on it. They are not "cheap" but they are unbreakable as far as I can tell.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Sparticus789 (2625955)

      told them they'd never have to worry about a virus again,

      Said every Mac OS X user circa 2010

  • by tloh (451585) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:52PM (#43083431)

    Shame Linux isn't a option. Not only can my father not deal with an English only user interface, he has no sense of online security at all. So I installed Ubuntu with Chinese on a second hand P4 for his email and web-browsing habit. There is very little maintenance on my part because he doesn't do much of anything else. Occasionally I will go in and delete the unexecutable crap that gets downloaded unintentionally, but that's it. That was more than 3 years ago. Haven't had a serious problem yet. Haven't looked back since.

  • Ultra VNC can be run as reverse vnc and will even build a little self-contained executable that is preconfigured. Install the remote on her end and all she will need to do is doubleclick. You can point it at a ddns resolver if you don't have a static IP. There is also the old school remote assistant built into windows which works ok. That said, I would suggest moving her from xp to windows 7. It is much more secure and you can change most things to "classic" mode to make them look XP like to make learning
  • Setup her system with windows xp with steadystate. When she wants to make changes once a month come in as admin and make the changes to the system. But remember it is dangerous to have your parents on the internet. Do your best to Keep your parents off the internet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9R-2X9Bl5w [youtube.com]
  • you want her to be able to install without occasional trickery and not have admin? and you think malware cares about her not running as admin?

    setup remote access, do it with that(not so nice when you have to reboot a lot though). use logmein or whatever.

    if you don't want to setup that then get her on skype, dead simple screen sharing, let's you at least see what you're trying to explain to her to do.

  • iPad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by loom_weaver (527816) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:55PM (#43083497)

    After trying several different hand-me-downs over the years including a 486, original iMacs (Lemon-lime), and a recent desktop Apple, I've concluded that the next machine will be the iPad with the largest display that I can find.

    Consuming content - check
    App in the same place as it was before - check
    buttons and menus not moved around even inadvertently - check

  • Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

    by caluml (551744) <slashdot&spamgoeshere,calum,org> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:55PM (#43083513) Homepage
    I set up my mother with Ubuntu, and she loves it. She appreciates the "tidiness" of the desktop, and the simplicity of it all.
    I left her set up with the ability to sudo, but with the warning that "there be dragons", and to contact me.
    I set up OpenVPN so I could always SSH on, and fix anything.

    The only time I've ever had a problem was when my sister's Windows-using ex boyfriend tried to install something, and stuffed up the firewall rules. I simply talked her through sudo iptables ... and I popped on and fixed it. And then reminded her about the dragons.

    Years of trouble-free computing.
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:56PM (#43083525)

    Buy them something that comes with phone support. Seriously.

    Sure, the support contract may be somewhat expensive, but it's a lot easier when you don't have to worry about support yourself.

    Buy them an iMac and get them AppleCare support for 3 years for 169 USD [apple.com]
    Buy them a Dell Inspiron One and get 3 Year Enhanced Support for 149 (I can't find a direct link to a description)
    Buy them an HP Envy and get an HP 3 year Care Pack149 USD [hp.com]

    Or some other company - it doesn't matter. What matters is that they can bother someone other than you about these things.

    It boils down to something like 50 dollars a year for ease of mind - both for you and them. Sure, it's easy to call you, but they also worry that they're disturbing you. Much easier to pay someone else to do it.

    It sounds callous and harsh, but honestly, having worked in phone support for two of the companies, I can tell you, that once you explain to these people that instead of having to worry about bothering their friends or family, they can simply call us and not have to worry about bothering anybody, you can almost always hear a a load being removed from their shoulders.

    Yes, we like being able to draw on help from friends and family, but we also don't want to come off as needy and helpless.

  • by LoudMusic (199347) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:00PM (#43083577)

    A) Users aren't administrators. Don't give them administrative access.

    2) No Internet Explorer. Ever. At all. For any reason.

    If you want to go above and beyond install Microsoft Security Essentials, Chrome, and some remote management tool like LogMeIn so you can see what they see. You will also need to have an administrator account (I prefer to have my OWN account with administrative access, rather than use the "administrator" account).

  • have her install a VNC server or the RDP client on her computer
    then configure her firewall to forward the ports to her computer
    then every time she calls have her look up her public IP on her wifi router so you can VNC into her computer

    or you can just have her install logmein or teamviewer to make it easy. unlike what most of the slashtarts will tell you
    or tell her to buy an ipad which is even better

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:01PM (#43083601) Homepage Journal

    - Install Teamviewer so you can fix stuff remotely

    - Install Chrome

    - Drag and drop her AOL favorites from the browser directly into Chrome's bookmark manager

    - Remove AOL from the system with extreme prejudice

    - Go have a Mai Tai, you've earned it.

  • Super easy to use for both sides. Easy enough that you can pawn off some of the IT help to other members of the family.

  • by tian2992 (1690038) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:02PM (#43083619)
    Chrome OS just screams out for usecases like this.
  • Remote Desktop is built into XP and later. It's free, secure, and has been around for more than a decade. Why not just use that?
    • by egamma (572162)
      Remote desktop isn't enabled on home edition, and he'd have to mess with her router, and that would be a security risk.

      Maybe "remote assistance" is what you are thinking of? It's very similar, but avoids the annoying router issue.

    • by mrbene (1380531)

      I'm not sure how AOL internet access works, but Remote Desktop only works if the target is on a public IP address.

      Software/services like LogMeIn, Chrome Remote Desktop, and (until recently) Windows Live Mesh provide server-mediated remote desktop, which allows connection to a target machine even when that machine is on a private IP.

  • First, she needs to get off of XP, and off AOL.

    Second, you MUST buy and install "Malwarebytes Anti-Malware". All by itself, it will stop most of the bad stuff from installing. Do this at the very least. I'd take away her administrator privileges, too.

  • Win 7 with the 'Classic' theme is pretty close to the XP interface...that should give her the look and feel she's comfortable with.

    As others have said, remote control software is your friend. TeamViewer is what I use and is rock solid, apparently LogMeIn.com is good too :)
  • I live about 1000 miles from my parents.

    When they got a computer, I told them in no uncertain terms I couldn't be their tech support -- because I have no idea what happened on the machine, and I can't see the machine, and them saying "it is broken, make it go" won't help me figure out the problem.

    I made it very clear to them that it isn't possible for me to tell them over the phone WTF is wrong with their computer and how to fix it.

    So either set them up with something so locked down they can't do anything -

  • by JoshDM (741866) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:14PM (#43083811) Homepage Journal

    And programmed an oversized remote, which I turned sideways. She thinks QVC is "Amazon".

  • Mac, or iPad (Score:2, Informative)

    by rainer_d (115765)
    I moved my mom from SuSE to a Mac. Best thing ever.

    The very few support calls I can solve with Teamviewer from work or home.

    Windows isn't a system for the casual home-user. It only works reliably when an army of competent sysadmins pamper it daily. There's no point in giving a relative a Windows PC or laptop if you have to maintain it yourself.

    I don't get paid enough at work to use Windows - I certainly don't want to play Windows sysadmin for free.

  • SuRun [sourceforge.net] is a program that brings UAC to Windows XP, but with a lot more granular control. I still run XP at home, and SuRun allows me to run as a limited user. It works quite well, and you can customize rules to always run specified programs with admin privs. It can also automatically prompt for credentials when required. The only main problems I've encountered as a regular user account is with Adobe's Flash Updater failing and when installing certain software--I had to log in as a true admin to install A
    1. Have your mom go to join.me [join.me]
    2. Have her save the join.me application to her desktop, and then run it and give the code to you
    3. Log in and take control
    4. Create an admin account and make her account a normal user account
    5. use RUNAS (linux translation: sudo) from command line whenever you need to run something as an admin
  • What are your parents using on the PC? My Dad uses his computer for e-mail and mostly browser based activity. What else do they need if they are basic users?

  • After multiple infestations I told her to use the public library computer, she's retired and it is right around the block.
  • I don't have much new to add other than to chime in with several other people who suggested an iPad or Chromebook. My daughter now lives 1600 miles away and solving her computer problems remotely was becoming a pain. I got her a Chromebook for Christmas and haven't had to do "phone support" since. Tranquility restored for a mere $250.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:26PM (#43083969) Homepage Journal

    You said Linux wasn't an option because she doesn't want to learn Linux. That's a confusion of concerns - the two aren't mutually exclusive.

    1) setup linux. CentOS 6 probably because it will last forever.
    1a) optionally setup VNC sharing of the root X.
    2) setup VirtualBox.
    3) virtualize her existing XP install and run it on VirtualBox.
    4) snapshot it
    5) Set it to auto-login, auto-start, auto-run the VM. Go with 'quiet' in grub if you want to.

    Now, set her loose. If she gets hosed, ssh into the box (vpn, reverse tunnel, etc.) and revert to the snapshot. When you visit, or remotely if you've setup X forwarding or VNC, install the security updates and take a new snapshot.

    This will provide her with a higher level of service than you're currently able to provide her (rapid restore to a good state) and it will make your life easier as well.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:31PM (#43084053) Homepage

    Normally, even I put Windows on machines and hope for the best. But some recent experiences I have had with some Ubuntu loads (I'm a redhat guy... I would not likely use Ubuntu for myself) have really impressed me with how well new users can adapt to it.

    I have a son, for example, who has not recently asked me for any help with hit Ubuntu netbook... not recently, not in the past year or more. Reliable as all get-out. Well I take that back... there was one thing where updates somehow resulted in the system not working. I figured it out in a few seconds and had him back on his way. But why is Ubuntu good for my son and for other users? It's all about purpose and approach.

    Firstly, in his case, it is an internet device. For most people that's all computers are. And since the MSIE-only web is ALREADY a thing of the past, that old argument is already gone. And since all of his functions are seriously easy to find, there's no learning there either even if it's not behind a start button. And yes, I encountered resistance to it not being Windows. But then I just asked him questions which guided him to the realization that it's the INTERNET he wants, not Windows. It's the functions on the internet he wanted, not the OS. And it seriously didn't take him long to get past it.

    It also didn't hurt that I had to clean his malware infested machine(s) numerous times over the years and he accepts his responsibility in all of that and would rather not have to deal with it in the future.

    Is this for everyone? Hell no. There will be people who want to go the the store and buy a greeting card maker program and expect it to run. Can't do it with Linux. You can show them alternatives and stuff... heck, lots of web sites do that now. But they probably already bought the software before they asked you to help install it. So it's not for everyone and establishing eligibility and suitability is paramount.

    And does my son use Windows? Yup!! It has his Ubuntu netbook but he also has a Windows 7 machine too... for games mostly. But that's the beauty. He now ONLY uses it for the games. Where do we get most of the malware? "The Web" "Email" Right? Well those things are under Ubuntu. I've never heard of anyong getting malware from the games themselves. (Not to say it doesn't happen, just that I never heard of it.) In any case under this usage configuration, he now has reference data on his Ubuntu and the action on his Windows. And NEITHER trouble me all that much at all!

    I couldn't be happier.

    Also, in the more distant past, I did something similar -- the purpose approach -- and set up Linux for my older step-father. He was running strong for a very long time on RedHat... before it became Fedora. It was good... though I seem to recall on one visit his desktop had a LOT of "setup.exe" "setup(1).exe" and the like. I smile when I saw them. Knew what they meant and was glad it didn't happen. That old machine has undoubtedly been replaced by other relatives and most likely Windows... and you know? That's THEIR problem now and I'm quite sure that step-dad was thinking "I never had that trouble with his [Linux geek step-son] set up..."

    Linux is a tough fit because Windows is so pervasive. It's out there and it's very, very expected. But even online banking and the like work perfectly with Linux as the host OS while using a browser other than MSIE. It's still bad enough that you have to nearly make apologies for the state of the industry while you are explaining how things work. But the most important thing to me is that the things which work under Linux WORK. That's email, web, skype, chat, printing and all that. They work.

  • by gnu-sucks (561404) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:05PM (#43084511) Journal

    You need to get over windows.

    Windows is THE main reason you are having trouble supporting your folks from 600 miles away.

    I would install linux (Debian if you're pretty seasoned with linux, Ubuntu otherwise), give her a non-admin account, import her "My Documents" folder and "Pictures" folder from windows (and put desktop shortcuts in). Set up a browser, install the same plugins (flash, adblock, what have you), set the homepage and bookmarks up identically, and believe me, an AOL user will be just fine with this.

    Explain that at her level of computer knowledge, it's dangerous to go any other route. It is worth giving up the ability to install any one of the thousands of "seasonal screensavers" (spyware with pretty pictures) for windows xp in exchange for peace of mind and reliability.

    If you do this, and give them exactly what they need, which is probably a web browser and skype, everyone wins.

    As a bonus, remote admin is a snap. Don't ever install any updates (your mom can't anyway without admin access). Keep it simple! Linux (especially Debian and by extension Ubuntu) has come a long way on the desktop and is very user-friendly. My five-year-old son uses it every day and has yet to complain about it.

    "windows and mac are not an option": Well what are you really asking then? "How can I keep my mom using windows and aol without having any problems?" Good luck with that. Don't kid yourself.

  • by dskoll (99328) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:02PM (#43085291)

    I put my parents on Debian Linux and didn't give them the root password.

    For web browsing, email, word-processing, it's great. And that's pretty much all they do anyway.

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