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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) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:41PM (#43083203)

    Get her one.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Re:One word (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rwise2112 (648849) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:51PM (#43083411)


    Have her buy something from Best Buy or wherever, and direct her to ask them for support.

    Seriously, why do you want to be her 24/7 tech support? DON'T DO IT!

    I was going to suggest the same, but then I thought 'he might actually like his mother'.

  • 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...

  • Re:One word (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:52PM (#43083439)

    I'll glady be my parents' tech support for as long as they live. Why? Because they were my complete life support for about the first 16 years of my life, setting me up with the opportunities to learn skills I need to make triple my parents' income doing "tech support" for nameless faceless companies like Best Buy. No way in hell am I going to tolerate my own mother to drudge her way through tech support at places like that.

  • 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

  • Repeat (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:56PM (#43083521)

    "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 pipatron (966506) <> 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.

  • Re:iPad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:58PM (#43083541)

    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: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 Myopic (18616) * on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:00PM (#43083581)

    Yeah but an IT support dweeb isn't a nerd. Nerds have better sense than that, enough to judge platforms for what they are. I wouldn't put my mom on OS/2 Warp in 2013, and I wouldn't put my mom on Windows in 2013. Let me spill out a little prejudice here: any nerd who doesn't hate Windows isn't a nerd.

  • by tian2992 (1690038) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:02PM (#43083619)
    Chrome OS just screams out for usecases like this.
  • Re:"Not an option" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DutchUncle (826473) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:02PM (#43083621)
    Just consider, for a moment, that accepting one's parent's foibles is a kindness. Karma-producing, even. Just like not getting upset about baby drool.

    Then remember that the reason this is such an effective infection vector is because there are SO MANY PEOPLE like this. There are entire industries creating wreaths, and window stickers, and seasonal decorations.

    Now go back and attempt to consider the original question with more compassion for the ignorant user, and less snark for the helper. You can count it as your good deed for the day.
  • 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 :-)

  • Re:iPad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by weilawei (897823) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:07PM (#43083707) Homepage
    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, misinformation, etc.. Case in point, I spent several hours this morning trying to get Brother to tell me where to find a particular firmware file instead of using their special downloader tool, all so the SO could print from an iPad. I was told by tier 3 support that the file didn't exist... facepalm. The solution turned out to be slapping a debugging proxy in the middle. Turns out it exists, is publicly accessible, and took a very short amount of time to download. (Caveat: I would have done this sooner, except that this actual issue was confounded by a simultaneous issue with the ISP-supplied modem, which had to be solved first.)

    TL;DR: The average user does not stand a chance when things well and truly go wrong, especially when confronted with confounding factors involving multiple technologies, and very rarely do they have any sort of patience beyond 30 seconds, if that. The iPad, however, was the one part of the equation that DIDN'T make me swear under my breath. Just buy the iDevice and let Mom be happy with it--she doesn't share your concerns about Open Source, privacy rights, etc., and is unwilling to learn anything more complex than "oooh, shiny".
  • Re:Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:07PM (#43083709)
    Yeah, I jokingly suggested getting something in trade for my tech support and Mom helpfully reminded me of who funded my college ;-)
  • Re:iPad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:24PM (#43083953)

    Your TL;DR paragraph is TL. DR.

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

    by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:24PM (#43083963)

    You put a lot of effort in instead of just buying them a Mac. Do you have hobbies or a sex life?

    An afternoon of software setup wasn't a lot of effort.

    Keeping my wife's parents happy enhances my sex life.

    What's the cheapest 17" macbook cost? $700? The refurb Dell I sent them cost $250. And I'd still have to do tech support even if I sent them a Macbook.

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

    by HappyHead (11389) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:30PM (#43084037)
    I moved my parents to Linux from WinXP, and they required zero retraining, zero tweaking, and zero time recovering from malware. Also, they decided they liked the games it came with better than the ones that came with Windows. I set them down in front of a laptop with Win7 on it, and they had problems right away. They looked at Win8 at an electronics store, and couldn't get it to do anything at all. Moving to new editions of Windows frankly requires more retraining than moving to a properly set up* install of Linux.

    *Properly set up for new users involves not using Gnome3, which I find just confuses most Windows and Mac expatriates into sitting there waiting for the desktop to finish loading, since there's nothing on it.
  • 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.
  • 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 AmiMoJo (196126) * <> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:01PM (#43084471) Homepage

    Not all of us are OS nerds. I code in C/assembler for a living and do electronics as a hobby (as well as model trains). I use Windows because it works well enough and I'm familiar with it. I used to be familiar with AmigaOS and I don't really have much inclination to figure everything out under Linux just because there are some theoretical benefits that don't affect me.

    Actually there are some down sides to Linux too. My mum couldn't get much done and would require even more tech support on Linux. Windows does have some security issues but she has been fine for years with Windows 7, Chrome and Security Essentials. Take your pick, one way or another the support calls won't stop coming.

  • Re:Why not linux? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:35PM (#43084919)

    If you're willing to move her to Win7 and away from AOL software, why not just move her to Linux?

    No one ever posts a story here explaining how and why trying to move his Mom or Dad to Linux blew up in his face. But I am betting it happens more a lot more often then the geek is willing to admit.

    There is nothing that cuts deeper or wounds the elderly more than being treated like a snot-nosed kid.

    Fix what needs to be fixed.

    Do it quietly, do it simply, Leave everything else alone.

  • Because it's not. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:16PM (#43085465) Homepage

    An iPad is a poor PC replacement for most old folks. They don't need to be doing tasks like email on a small screen with a touch "keyboard".

Is a person who blows up banks an econoclast?