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Protecting Our Parents' PCs? 778

Frustrated Son asks: "I assume that many Slashdot readers must serve as the IT staff for their parents. My folks get my old machines and just enough software to be productive. I try to protect my parents from the forces of evil by installing automatic OS updates, virus checkers, spyware blockers, pop-up blockers... But still I find that my parents end up with unwanted applications and dangerous software. What software or strategies do you use to protect your parents' PCs? Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?"
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Protecting Our Parents' PCs?

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  • Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Informative)

    by MoxCamel ( 20484 ) * on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:55PM (#8515476)
    Get mom an iMac. Install OS X if it doesn't have it already. You can pick up a decent iMac on eBay for around $300, but make sure it's at least 300Mhz. Enable auto-updates. Install Mozilla or Firefox, ensure popup blocking is turned on. Done. You will instantly become the favorite child.

    No thanks necessary, it's what I do. :)

    (and yes, I know he said PC. I consider this a PC solution.)

    • either a mac or install mozilla and open office and other alternatives to the standard ms garbage. if you 'train' them to not use microsoft applications, the chances of them becoming victims is significantly reduced...
      • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Informative)

        by sniggly ( 216454 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:25PM (#8516423) Journal
        We migrated my mom from a win98 pc with openoffice/mozilla and a yahoo mail account to a fedora core 1 with openoffice/mozilla and the same yahoo account :) It now runs kde 3.2. The nice thing about linux distributions is all the great software that comes free on the cds.

        It's also nice that kde 3.2 runs even faster than 3.1 and that when we upgrade the kernel it'll run even faster still... What else can you ask for on old hardware.

        An upgrade to windows xp would have required a serious hardware upgrade and I don't know how long it would take to download all required patches over her internet connection.

        We did consider a mac (the new ibook g4 with wireless internet would be awesome for her) but while below $999 she doesn't want us to spend that money on something she doesn't use that often anyway. If money is no object osx is the way to go.

        • by sunbeam60 ( 653344 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @04:16AM (#8518935) Homepage
          Do we "migrate" our parents.

          I can just picture the whole scenario. A note hanging on the kitchen wall:

          "Notice! On March 18, parents will migrate to the new service as discussed in internal family-meeting on February 06. Should parents still have any questions, please feel free to contact the sys-admin (your son).

          And, oh yeah, can I have some more pocket-money?"
        • by WorkEmail ( 707052 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:15AM (#8519411)
          I completely agree with this thread. I usually serve as a 24/7 tech support for anyone that I know who owns a computer. I think the most annoying thing is that my parents click on things they are not supposed to. Here are the rules I have outlines for my parents.

          I will come and fix your computer when you have problems, if and only if....

          You do not open any Email attatchments unless they are from me.

          You do not download any free software unless it is cleared through me first via phone or email.

          You do not click on anything suspicious! You computer already has all of the updates and software it needs, and it is not at the mercy of attackers (any more than the rest of the MS machines I guess. :P), and you don't need to know the weather all the time and have 50 million things in your task bar, etc. You will use default screensavers and wallpapers, and use only default windows color schemes, etc.

          Should you think you need to upgrade you will do so with hardware approved by and installed by me.

          Do not put any disks or programs in your computer that you got from "a buddy at work" or anything like that.

          And last but not attention to file names!!!!!!! Something called MS_Word_Document_doc.exe IS NOT A WORD DOCUMENT MOM!

          And no you cannot install Kazaa.

          • Wow...

            I'd call you a control freak, except I know that, essentially, that's the only way to be safe from viruses and spyware. It just seems like The Totalitarian's Guide to Home Computing or something.

            (And then it makes me think of systems of government, and wonder whether giving people unlimited freedoms is a good thing or not. I'm all for it, in theory. But I see that, applied to computing, the consequences are things like viruses. There really are people that need to be protected from themselves... or
      • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tolan-b ( 230077 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:33PM (#8516479)
        We just got a new housemate who works for our local cable supplier (hello half price broadband!). After setting up a Linux router / fileserver and LAN, the first thing I did was insist he install FirefoxBirdEonix, AVG, and Adaware, cleaned all the trojans and dialers off his machine and set up XP auto-update (yeuch.. but if he's going to have XP's 'lovely' new features, they may as well be to date).

        Regarding my folks PC, they live in Ireland, although I'm in the UK, and after many a long tech support call, I'm seriously considering putting Fedora on their box, setting them up a webmail account on my server (spamassassin, clamav, several DNSRBLs), and installing Firebird, OO.o, some basic utils (GPDF etc), and locking down the desktop as much as possible.

        That way, if they want stuff installing they can just mail me, and it's 2 mins with apt-rpm to set up whatever they want (I'm online about 12 hours a day on weekdays anyway).

        In the mean time, there's far less chance of them breaking things with a mis-click here and there, and far less maintenance required because no more trojan cleanup is required, and my younger brother and sister are pretty much completely protected from porn spam.

        I'm seriously tempted :)
    • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Miguelito ( 13307 ) * <> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:01PM (#8515553) Homepage
      Yeah.. after hand cleaning beagle.j off my dad's laptop this weekend, I'm about ready to tell my family "I don't do windows anymore." Would really like to move them all to macs. Since I bought my 17"pb 9 months ago or so, I've just grown to love it. ...and yes, before anyone says anything, I already have them off of all windows mail readers (they use mozilla and my horde/IMP install to read mail, in fact) but my dad opened an attachment from a friend manually, even though my procmail system had defanged the filename so he had to rename it. What're ya gonna do?
      • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Daytona955i ( 448665 ) <> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:13PM (#8515729)
        I did that for my in-laws... We got them an iMac and the only questions I've had to answer are one's like "How do I burn a cd?" It's not bad... no more virii and they've gotten used to it. I did get Word because switching them to a Mac AND OO I think would have been a bit much.

        I've told everyone "I don't do windows!" I have caved in once or twice but only to set up a wireless network and then it was only to install a wireless card. Now when people get the latest virus I just sit back and say "That sucks..." I mean, I kindof feel bad for them but if they don't listen to my suggestions to buy a mac/ use linux (I've offered help) then it's what they get. They know it's a problem and choose to use it anyway.
        • What's problem? (Score:5, Informative)

          by trezor ( 555230 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:14AM (#8519408) Homepage
          • I kindof feel bad for them but if they don't listen to my suggestions to buy a mac/ use linux (I've offered help) then it's what they get.

          Dood, I know this is /. and that we be abunchazealots, but still...

          You can run Windows in a secure fashion. First thing: Disblable useless services (like Universal PnP, Remote *anything* and so on). Second: Setup separate user and admin accounts.

          If you as a third move install third-party software for netuse (Opera, Mozilla. That kind of stuff), you'll need some pretty clueless people in order to screw the machine over.

          The fourth and probably best move you can ever do, is setup a systempartition with only the system and applications (move documentfolders elsewhere), and take a Ghost-snapshot. Then if they somehow manage to screw up, you're recovered in 5 minutes with absolutely no hassle.

          That's four simple goddamn things you need to do, and your Windows is bulletproof enough for any standard needs.

          What's the problem? No really, what is the problem?

          Yes, Linux may be better (for some things), but sometimes stuff like work ++ creates things called software issues, and VMware really is more of a hack than a solution unless you have the extra memory.

          • "If you as a third move install third-party software for netuse (Opera, Mozilla. That kind of stuff), you'll need some pretty clueless people in order to screw the machine over."

            Ah, you mean like parents and Windows users?
            That was the problem.
          • Re:What's problem? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by HeghmoH ( 13204 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @08:28AM (#8519868) Homepage Journal
            Let's assume their system starts out hosed, so we either have to clean it up or reinstall, first.

            Then we have to go through and manually disable all of these services.

            Then we have to set up separate accounts and hope that they're not going to run anything that requires using the admin account. We either have to not give them the admin password, or give it to them and pray that they don't just use it for everything.

            Then we have to download a third-party browser and somehow keep them from using IE.

            And finally, we have to buy and install ghost and set up separate partitions and make sure ghost works with them.

            How is this "simple", again? You can install Mac OS X, and have it be in a fully secure yet completely ready to use state in twenty minutes, most of which is just watching the pretty animated progress bar move from left to right.
          • You forgot to mention running a firewall. Zone Alarm [] is excellent and free. If nothing else, enable the firewall that ships with XP.

            If you as a third move install third-party software for netuse (Opera, Mozilla. That kind of stuff), you'll need some pretty clueless people in order to screw the machine over.

            Though be careful with something that has pop-up blocking installed. I've been trying to switch my family PC over to Firefox as the default browser, but the pop-up blocker frequently blocks necessa
            • Re:What's problem? (Score:3, Insightful)

              by trezor ( 555230 )

              Ok. Forgot Firewall. But I think it get's turned on by default, unless you tell Windows otherwise.

              • Though be careful with something that has pop-up blocking installed.

              Opera can be configured (very easily) to only allow requested popups. Works very well. Have yet to see it fail. And you don't have to use the pop-up blocker at all, if you for some reason fancy pop-ups.

              • So you have two choices: either reinstall everything from scratch, doing the partition as part of the XP install (a long and painfu
      • Back in the day (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Trejkaz ( 615352 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @10:25PM (#8516880) Homepage

        Back in the days of the Windows 95/98 systems there was this program called Trialblazer which would intercept any disk access done via DOS or Windows API calls, and make backups of any files which got screwed over. The end result was you could jump into the Trialblazer next boot and revert every setting back to whatever you had snapshotted, and everything would work exactly as normal.

        Some of the best tests for it were installing a whole set of viruses and spyware, and deleting large quantities of the Windows directory. The next reboot would just restore it back to working condition.

        Basically it ends up being like Ghost but where all the backed up data is stored on the same disk.

        Of course these days we have Windows NT-based systems, which Trialblazer never supported (the guy who was writing it probably rightly decided rewriting an entire application to intercept a completely different set of OS calls was too much work.)

        But these days, there are hardware devices you can get these days which are PCI IDE devices of the same type. You plug the card into the PCI, you plug the hard disk into it, and somehow they do exactly the same thing. Whereas this smacks of evil hardware RAID solutions, using this sort of thing as an idiotproofing system sounds like a damn good idea to me even now. These people don't need disk writing performance, they just need the machine to work, and this sort of backup makes that relatively easy without needing much user intervention at all (you have to perform the original snapshot when the system is working, and how many times you choose to do that is up to you.)

    • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Informative)

      by fishbonez ( 177041 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:01PM (#8515556)
      You don't have to go with an iMac. You can actually use a MS OS provided you remove/disable/hide the MS applications--that is, Internet Explorer, MS Office or Outlook. I gave my parents Opera and Open Office. They are quite happy to use those instead of the virus/worm prone MS applications.
      • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mr. Sketch ( 111112 ) *
        That's nice until they take it somewhere to get it fixed because they don't want to bother you. I setup my grandmas computer with netscape and removed the IE and outlook express icons from the desktop. She was so happy she wasn't getting 100+ spams a day anymore, but she said some settings changed or something for her e-mail provider and she took it in to get fixed, and they removed netscape told her it was only for businesses and put IE/OE back on there and then she was back getting all of her unwanted j
        • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:3, Interesting)

          by EngMedic ( 604629 )
          It's partly in fear of this that whenever i do significant work on my parent's computers, i leave a rather conspicuous "maintenance readme.txt" somewhere obvious, so that whoever else touches the computer after me to try and fix it doesn't do exactly that.
    • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Informative)

      by jbum ( 121617 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:02PM (#8515575)
      I did this a few years ago. I love Macs, but there was a *political* problem with giving Mom an IMac.

      My Mom is clueless, and even though I gave her a IMac, she needed tons of help. She would ask everyone she knew for help, not just me. All her kids, sons-in-law, neighbors etc.

      Statistically, 90% of these people had PCs and didn't know what to do with a Mac. Even though the Mac was easier to use for a newbie, it's *harder* to use for an experienced PC user. So all these people kept telling her that her computer was "hard to use" and that she should "just get a PC".

      Since I didn't want to be her full-time tech-support guy, and constantly have to fight with the in-laws I eventually (after a couple years of this) told her to follow their advice.

      Now she has a PC (probably filled with spyware and all kinds of awful stuff) but I don't have to answer the phone, or defend her choice of computer every christmas.

      • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tobycat ( 722641 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:55PM (#8516190)
        It worked for my 91 year old blind grandmother. The VA tried teaching her how to use a PC and after she got home from the 3 week course she then left a the following message on my voicemail: "This windows is good for nothin'. Terrible. Just worthless. I can't make computer go." We set her up with a Mac under Simple Finder and now she can "make computer go" just fine. If a 91 year old blind woman who is new to computers can figure out a Macintosh, I'd say it's a damned good solution!
      • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Brandybuck ( 704397 )
        She would ask everyone she knew for help, not just me. All her kids, sons-in-law, neighbors etc.

        So let them do all of her support tasks. When my mom got bad advice from her neighbor and trashed her harddrive, she came to me to fix it. I finally had to "law down the law". I don't fix mistakes made by her friends, neighbors or relatives. She looked hurt, but I made it stick. She's stopped asking me for support.

        So if you buy your mom a Mac, and her neighbors say to get Windows, then make her neighbors provi
    • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Carnildo ( 712617 )
      Get mom an iMac. Install OS X if it doesn't have it already. You can pick up a decent iMac on eBay for around $300, but make sure it's at least 300Mhz. Enable auto-updates. Install Mozilla or Firefox, ensure popup blocking is turned on. Done. You will instantly become the favorite child.

      Worked just fine for my grandmother. She'd never used a computer before in her life, so something as easy to use as an iMac was perfect.

      As a side note, Safari with popup blocking turned on is as good as Mozilla or Firef
    • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pxtl ( 151020 )
      Under windows, the frequent complaint I get from users is the difficulty in installing plugins into FireFox. For example, I some versions often don't come with some of the Macromedia products that are pretty much necessary tools these days. Users consider that pretty much required.

      The only other trick is explaining if a site has pop-ups that you actually want, you have to click the little "unblock site" icon.

      And thunderbird has its problems. I still don't find it as nice as OE (OE has better IMAP suppo
    • by AHumbleOpinion ( 546848 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:06PM (#8515636) Homepage
      Install Mozilla or Firefox ...

      Stick with Safari, it comes with Mac OS X, it gets updated automatically like the OS, and frankly will get better support when a company blows it and produces a page that doesn't render correctly. Apple is actually somewhat helpful on that last point when the offending site is somewhat important, say online banking, they may contact the offender. I believe Safari has a built in reporting mechanism for bad pages.
      • I agree for the most part, but Mozilla's evangelical department has done quite a good job on contacting offending sites. It is 99% mom-friendly now (as in my mom uses it, and only complains like once every two months). Case in point, Capital One. The dedicated folks behind Mozilla's evangelism campaign pestered them for no less than a year, and they finally broke down and started permitting Mozilla-based browsers. Also, for my part, I contacted, and they fixed their screwy product forms... al
    • by mesach ( 191869 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:09PM (#8515671)
      I am 31 years old, and I beleive I don't say it enough "I apprecieate my parents"

      Dad's a Programmer, Mom's an Admin.

      It's where I learned it all the first place, I guess it helps having technically savvy parents.

      GIRLFRIENDS on the other hand... I just dont let her on the net except to check email, and then I have vigorous virus checks, She knows "under penalty of loosing the laptop" that she is not to open any attachments, She doesnt have any need to get any from the people that work for her(email is only to send information TO them). But I still get the Weekly, "how do I send this email again?" she is about as technically UNsavvy as I am on the other end of the scale.
      • by squidfood ( 149212 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:41PM (#8516041)
        Dad's a Programmer, Mom's an Admin. ... GIRLFRIENDS on the other hand...

        Dude! Don't dilute your gene pool!

        • by mkmoose ( 759477 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:55PM (#8516673)
          I bet thats what his girlfriends friends are saying to her :)
        • Bad Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

          by magnum3065 ( 410727 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @10:57PM (#8517120)
          Yeah, I know this was meant to be funny, but actually it'd probably be a bad idea for him to have children who is also quite technically-oriented. My mom is a special education teacher and she's constantly telling me that I can't marry anyone technical since it strongly increases the chances of autism in children. This was partly discovered by Microsoft who started looking into why they were having so many insurance claims for autistic children amongst their employees. It seems that with more women in technical positions now that more co-workers are getting married. Then, when you combine the genes of two very analytical people the child's genes may be too strongly concentrated with this analytic thinking which results in Autism or Asberger's syndrom. They may be very intelligent, but have many difficulties dealing with everyday social situations.

          So, go ahead and marry someone intelligent, just not too technical.
          • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Informative)

            by master control progr ( 654310 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:17AM (#8518186)
            Unbelievable. I was sure this was a troll, but discovered that Wired Magazine [] ran a story in December 2001 called The Geek Syndrome [] addressing this phenomenon. Amazing.

            Lucky for me, my wife has a degree in Communications, and is about as non-technical as they come. :)
            • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

              by McDutchie ( 151611 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @02:19AM (#8518521) Homepage
              Unbelievable. I was sure this was a troll, but discovered that Wired Magazine [] ran a story in December 2001 called The Geek Syndrome [] addressing this phenomenon. Amazing.

              It's a crock of shit. I happen to have Asperger's syndrome (i.e.: "high functioning" autism), diagnosed and all, and my parents are not particularly technical. There are also plenty of completely non-technical people who have autism and related conditions, I am helping one of them with his computer, he is as clue-resistant as my NT [] co-workers. The idea that autistic people are statistically better with computers and technology than the general population is a myth.

              In addition, the idea mentioned in the grandparent post that you should not have children if you have a slightly elevated chance of having a child with a disability smacks of eugenics and is reprehensible. Even on the off chance that it does happen, a disability is not the end of the world, although it can be the beginning of a different world.

              • It's a crock of shit. I happen to have Asperger's syndrome (i.e.: "high functioning" autism), diagnosed and all, and my parents are not particularly technical. There are also plenty of completely non-technical people who have autism and related conditions,

                But the article didn't say that. It said there was a statistically significant difference. Big difference, and plenty of room for lots of "completely non-technical" to be affected.

                The idea that autistic people are statistically better with computers an

              • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

                by zabieru ( 622547 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:16AM (#8519417)
                Perhaps you confuse "statistical correlation" with "ironclad guarantee." You give two data points, yourself and the friend you were helping. That's not enough to do anything with. All you've shown is that now all Asperger's people have technical parents, which we already knew, and that not all autistic people are good with computers, which we also knew. Or at least, I knew. The surprising thing is that many technical couples DO have children with Asperger's. Note the "many." This research doesn't address the other side AT ALL, which is how many Asperger's kids have technical parents. It may not be many at all, but it's still significant from the perspective of a possible parent. To put it another way, being stabbed by a mugger is not a leading cause of death among the population at large, but it may be a serious consideration when a shady character is eyeing you and reaching for his pocket.
    • Grandma Runs Linux. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by robochan ( 706488 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:14PM (#8515750) Homepage
      And has for quite some time [].
    • by kollivier ( 449524 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:20PM (#8515817)
      I used to do what the OP did, give my parents old machines and clean them up for them. Up until November this worked OK, probably because they were on dial-up, but it was basically just an email/web access for them. In November, my parents decided to get DSL cause they had a deal where it was only $10 more than dial-up (and they no longer needed a second line, so its actually cheaper).

      I kid you not, within 4 hours of getting online with DSL my mother had gotten a serious virus that Anti-virus was saying had infected kernel32.dll. OUCH. I didn't know exactly what had happened, but the computer was basically DOA until a certified geek could get working on it. I was NOT about to walk my parents through the process of formatting a drive and reinstalling the OS over the phone.

      The earliest chance I had to look at this problem was when I came back for Christmas. So I told my parents this and suggested that they consider getting a new computer - and I recommended a Mac. My dad was totally against the idea, until he saw those new flat-panel iMacs. Then he actually thought they should get that OVER the eMac, which was much cheaper. =) That's what they came home with.

      They took it home, set it up, and didn't once call me for help. They called with some internet setup problems, but it was actually the provider's server being flaky. My mom has been really happy with the new machine. She's talking with family via iChat, has figured out email and web just fine, and is even figuring out things I never really taught her. Just a couple weeks ago, she called asking me if she can burn more songs onto an iTunes CD she created. =) I had only introduced the programs like iTunes to her, but never really showed her how to use them, so this was rather surprising to me.

      Anyways, they are much happier with the new machine, and honestly my mother in particular feels empowered by the fact that she can do this stuff. I would recommend that everyone at least consider the option. I know it's a bit more expensive, but chances are they'll get more out of the machine as well.

    • Re:Get mom an iMac (Score:4, Informative)

      by Red_Winestain ( 243346 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:21PM (#8515830)
      Did the exact same thing. They basically use Mail, iChat AV, and Safari. The peace of mind they get not worrying about viruses, trojans, worms, etc, was priceless. They're amazed at the lack of pop-up ads! They now laugh at their friends who keep getting infected.

      I've trained them to log in as administrators only when they specifically need to do something. The system itself downloads Apple updates and notifies them. About all I did was set up a firewall, and a script to let me know what their current IP number is. I do tech support either through iChat AV or via OSXvnc-server and Chicken of the VNC.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Tell them to buy an iMac. It's especially built for idi-" (long pause) "for mommies and daddies."
  • OS X (Score:5, Informative)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:55PM (#8515479) Homepage Journal
    What software or strategies do you use to protect your parents' PCs? Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?"

    Well, the solution is pretty simple actually. Since OS X [] does not have the virus/worm issues that Windows has, is easy to use and set-up, does not have the malware issues that Windows has, I purchased iBooks [] for my mother and my sister to use. They are cheap, quite effective, durable as can be and since they live many hundreds of miles away from me, I am not always having to do tech support over the phone (or video iChat). Quite frankly, I really don't have the time these days to do computer support so this really is the best solution. Additionally, I would much rather spend the time I have to interact with my family on more fulfilling topics than computer support.

    • One addition... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trillan ( 597339 )

      In addition to this, make sure to not set them up as an administrator.

      I'm not saying you shouldn't leave them with administrator access, just make sure that it isn't their day-to-day user account.

  • Just Say No! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mod_critical ( 699118 ) * on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:55PM (#8515480)

    I run into the same problem at my college which distributes laptops to all students. I have come up with a motto that has made life easier for a great many people...

    "JUST SAY NO!"

    No matter what it's asking, just click no. I've never run into a time where this can cause a problem. If it comes back a few times, (do you want to go to this encrypted page), read it. Then if you're really sure, click yes.

  • by Metallic Matty ( 579124 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:56PM (#8515483)
    Before they were controlling what I should and I shouldn't watch, now I'm controlling what they should and shouldn't download and install.

    Ahh, the life cycle.
  • Ghost the system (Score:5, Informative)

    by pvt_medic ( 715692 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:57PM (#8515507)
    I just create a ghost of the system with everything installed and every so often just wipe the computer and reinstall things. Takes a little doing to get the parents trained well enough to save files correctly, but it works well, and every 6 months i sit down for a couple hours and reinstall everything. Maybe over doing it but I dont have to do anything in between except change ink cartridges
  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <slashdot@spamgoe ... g ['m.o' in gap]> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:58PM (#8515510) Homepage
    If my Mum ever wanted a computer, I'd set her up with NT4 (SP1), IIS running, no virus scanner or firewall, and her logged in as Administrator.
    I've mentioned Linux, and how nice it is, and once she became frustrated with Windows, I'm sure she'd agree :)
  • VNC (Score:4, Informative)

    by after ( 669640 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:59PM (#8515522) Journal
    I use VNC to do check ups on my fathers computer a few times a day. This is real usedull because you can check the computer as if you were sitting in front of it in a very short ammount of time; You dont have to stand up and phisicaly be at the computer.

    I also installed Mozilla on his computer so that he does not install anything he really neads.
  • Firefox! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:59PM (#8515524)
    Remove that blue "e" from the Programs menu, and teach them to click on the little red fox circling the globe. That'll prevent a lot of this from happening...
    • Re:Firefox! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by getha ( 97821 )
      Even better, just replace FireFox's icon with IE's... They'll just think IE changed its look and feel and thank Microsoft for making their life better.

      It's what I did...
  • Siblings (Score:5, Funny)

    by _Sharp'r_ ( 649297 ) <`sharper' `at' `'> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:59PM (#8515526) Homepage Journal
    How to deal with tech support requests from parents?

    That's what my two younger brothers are for! I just had to teach them enough so that I could send my parents to them.
  • No. (Score:3, Funny)

    by domodude ( 613072 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:59PM (#8515531)
    No. Plain and simple, no. I once tried to fixed a computer for a friend. He "clicked" on the AOL icon, and claimed his computer was broken. And by clicked, I mean that he picked up the mouse and "clicked" it against the monitor. I was unable to help him due to the excessive laughter I was experiencing and still do when I think of that day.
  • Education (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pestie ( 141370 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:00PM (#8515533) Homepage
    My mom's pretty clever, and she listens to what I tell her when I talk about computers. So, in addition to using AdAware, AVG Anti-Virus, Zone Alarm and Mozilla (web and mail), she knows enough to install all the WinXP updates ASAP and never, ever believe anything that arrives in her inbox. Thank god my father rarely touches that machine... Oh, and I have VNC installed there, too, for when I need to do some remote administration from 1100 miles away.
  • VNC (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Deimios ( 317819 ) <jamie@donut s f o r d i n n> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:00PM (#8515535) Homepage
    Install VNC or remote desktop, saves tons of money on gas for trips to their house to fix it everytime they bollocks it up with spyware or other garbage like that. Also, install AdAware and set it up to automatically scan.

    Another trick that I find useful in XP is to set them up as a limited user, and encourage them to use it for day-to-day stuff (like in *nix), give them the password for the administrator account, but make sure you stress that it should only be used to install software.

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:00PM (#8515536) Homepage Journal
    ..educate them, just a little bit.

    just little things, like DON'T use ie on pron sites. don't install little helper applications they didn't spesifically went on to look for(bonzi buddies&etc - just not using ie puts this down pretty well though).

    then lock down the computer from any outside access(firewall) but please, don't make it so that the firewall gets in the way since they will figure out how to disable it if it is very annoying(the whole point of why it was there was to remove annoyances, so if it is set to so aggressive that it really becomes an annoyance with a person who doesn't even understand the "allow connection blabla" dialogs it isn't fulfilling it's purpose).

    though, these tips are quite obvious. just get it around into their heads that it is good for _them_ to use something else than ie for almost anything if they don't wish to get popups in the middle of doing some spreadsheets.
    • by barzok ( 26681 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:38PM (#8516011)
      like DON'T use ie on pron sites
      Not a conversation I've had to have with my parents. Thank $deity. I do not want to go there.
    • A sketchy middle-aged guy came into the computer shop a week or so ago with complaints about his cable Internet being intolerably slow. His provider said it was a problem with his machine, and since he was under warranty I took a look at it.

      The first thing I noticed was that half the icons on his desktop were Internet Explorer shortcuts named "100% Hot Young Sluts," "Barely Legal Semen Sippers," etc. Whatever-- my job is to fix his computer, not to be judmental about his affinity for Shaved High School

  • Swap parents! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hondo ( 77902 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:00PM (#8515537) Homepage
    I actually swapped tech support with a buddy of mine. Its so frustrating trying to tech support your own parental unit machines. So, I tech support his parents, and he tech supports my parents. This has helped a lot in terms of stress and getting annoyed at the "stoopid" questions.
  • by CTho9305 ( 264265 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:00PM (#8515538) Homepage
    It's not often that users like that legitimately need to install software. Change their account type from "Administrator" or "Power User" to just "User", and they'll be much safer. For when they DO need to legitimately install something, you could let them have the administrator password.
    • This is the best advice I could give.

      Create a plain user account, tell them if they want to install anything
      to call you and stick to your guns. I would not give my mom root. why
      give your parents administrator?
      • by ameoba ( 173803 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:56PM (#8516198)
        The problem is that a lot of (poorly written) Windows software refuses to run properly unless the user is at least made into a Power User; a level where they can start a lot of problems.

        Secondly, most of your viruses that come in through IE or OE (as well as anything that relies on exploits and comes in without any assistance) can do quite a bit of damage even when users don't have access to damage the machine directly.
  • by Sick Boy ( 5293 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:00PM (#8515551) Homepage
    I spend hours locking down the box, turning off their permissions, setting up virus and spyware scanners with automatic updates and run-times and admonished them to run Firefox. Took a long time.

    They still got infected. I still got calls. LOTS of calls. "Slow!" "Hijacked homepage!" "radioactive monkeys!" etc.

    Then I got them a used G4. Works a charm. They're happy, I'm happy, the web is safer for them and from them.
  • by madprof ( 4723 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:02PM (#8515579)
    My father has never used the Internet before and has just started browsing EBay for antique glass. I've printed out, in 48-point lettering, "EBay will never ask you for your password by email" and pinned it to the wall next to the PC.
    I'm thinking of replicating this for other tricks that some people try to pull.
  • -1 Troll (Score:5, Funny)

    by Johnny Mnemonic ( 176043 ) <> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:02PM (#8515582) Homepage Journal

    Rule of thumb: I'll support you for free if you buy a Mac. If you buy a PC, you use the Yellow Pages. Problem solved.
  • Sure you can (Score:5, Informative)

    by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:04PM (#8515599) Homepage Journal
    I have a small checklist I go through at each visit to my parents and my in-laws.

    This includes updating virus protection(AYG, so they don't have to worry about keeping it paid), running windows update, a full defrag, and I make sure their and mozilla are up to date.

    Hakkuna friggin' Matata. :)

  • What i do (Score:5, Informative)

    by Paddyish ( 612430 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:05PM (#8515608)
    Obviously, the automatic updating is a must. I also gave them the google toolbar with popup blocking (they've been unable to effectively learn Mozilla), and I use Spybot's Seek and Destroy software to protect against the more common malicious adware (immunize option). As a last-ditch failsafe, I can VNC into the PC with their permission and attempt to fix it that way.

    My mother has actually started taking a few basic computer classes, which have yielded an improvement in her basic usage skills.

  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:05PM (#8515617)

    What software or strategies do you use to protect your parents' PCs? Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?

    I demoed him my laptop (with Debian). He liked it, so I got rid of WinME that had become riddled with spyware and installed (this was about a year ago) Woody, a GNOME2 backport, a 2.4 kernel, Firebird, Thunderbird, OOo, and Shoreline firewall with rules to deny all incoming connections expect for SSH from my personal machine's MAC address. Never had another problem. In fact, his job issued him a laptop (Compaq w/ XP) that he hardly uses because he finds Debian so much easier. To keep him up to date, I log in remotely and do the apt-get upgrade for the security updates.

    I also did something similar for my brother with an old Dell P-II laptop he had with Windows 2000 that kept getting viruses and spyware. Only, since my brother is on the road alot, I taught him how to do the security updates himself.

    The number of support calls I get from my family has dropped from one a week to almost none.

  • Windows is fine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Patik ( 584959 ) * <cpatik&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:08PM (#8515651) Homepage Journal long as they use Firefox [] and Thunderbird []. My mom used to get crap all over her PC. Finally I installed FF and TB and made them the defaults for everything. She hasn't had a single problem since. Norton and Windows update themselves.

    She doesn't have to learn Linux, no one has to spend $$$ on a Mac, and she can still watch those stupid WMV video clips her friends send her links to.

    Chances are your parents already have a Windows PC, just keep it and install the right free apps and you'll be all set.

  • iBook (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mj_1903 ( 570130 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:08PM (#8515657)
    I simply bought my parents an iBook and visit it every 6 months to make sure their software is up to date (aka Mac OS X 10.3, updates to Safari, etc.)

    They have yet to have any major problems with it and my mom is astounded that she is achieving things with her computer that she never thought she could, like organizing her photos and e-mailing them off to friends.
  • Educate them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bobulusman ( 467474 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:11PM (#8515703)
    My parents are both in their late 50s. They do not to computers readily, nor do they learn quickly. But they do learn. I've shown my parents, carefully, the results that happen from each action. Install spyware or adware? The computer is slow. Open unknown attachments? Get a virus. Fail to update Windows/Norton/AdAware, get taken advantage of. By now, they can operate pretty close to self-sufficiency. About once or twice a month I'll get an e-mail or an IM if they want to double-check a course of action with me, but 90% of the time they choose correctly with my input in those cases anyway.

    In short, stop underestimating people just because they didn't grow up around personal computers. A little bit of time and help can go a long way.
  • Education (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nastyphil ( 111738 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:11PM (#8515706) Homepage
    Well, neither of my parents are stupid, so I explain to them what it is I am doing and why.

    I implement many of the same things as listed in other posts: Non-admin accounts, Firefox, auto-updating virus checkers etc. The point is that all these are solutions selected based on my product knowledge, what I try to give my parents is a good understanding of the first principals involved.

    This has equips them to deal with issues in a timely way, solve their own problems, be empowered over the computer as opposed to being intimidated by it and most importantly, not call me every time something happens, but instead call me to boast about how they solved X, Y or Z.

  • Default: User (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sheepdot ( 211478 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:26PM (#8515890) Journal
    I setup a WinXP box and set my parents up as "User". I would suggest using remote administration software like UltraVNC. I actually created little link that says "Something is wrong" and they click on it and it does a reverse connect from their machine (getting around the NAT on their router, no need to open a security risk) and connects to a VNC client in listen mode on my machine.

    It's always surprising when a desktop just pops up in a window on my computer, esp when I'm on, but there's no mistaking who it is or if there is a problem or not. Thank god they can't see MY screen.

    I usually get a phone call 5 seconds later with a message of "sorry it was a mistake" or "yeah, X won't install." where X = Kazaa or some other P2P app.

    On the other hand, I'd be interested in hearing what kinds of monitoring (packet sniffing) people do on their parent's machines to make sure they aren't cheating on each other or younger siblings aren't goofing around with Yahoo/AIM/ICQ/ETC. I'm not so much interested in the privacy issues as I am in finding out who "bigcack4u" is on my mom/sister's Yahoo friends list.
  • by hardaker ( 32597 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:26PM (#8515894) Homepage
    What I've found is that if I can talk my parents through something over the phone, the next time they'll do it more quickly and after about 3 times that problem can now be handled on their own.

    Rules of educating someone:

    • Don't do it yourself. Have them sit at the keyboard and tell them what to do and why they're doing it. They'll learn from the process (yes, even your parents). It's very easy to not do this, because you could do it so much faster. Sure, but you'll be doing it the next 100 times too. Think of the long run.
    • When you're busy and they're working on a problem give them a starting hint and have them try to see if they can find it themselves. Typically, I never ever use a windows box at home and I have never used XP except when I'm at my parents fixing their box. But given a general problem, I can say something like "find the preferences and see if you can find a checkbox that says something like XYZ or PDQ or ... Try that". 7/10 times that works, they solve their own problem and learn something in the process (and your time is saved).
  • by timothy ( 36799 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:27PM (#8515897) Journal
    My parents (not in same household, as me or as each other) ask me about computer stuff sometimes, but do different things with that information.

    1) When my mom needed a computer for college homework, around the time my sister decided my cast-off P100 was not sufficient and *she* needed a college computer, too, I told her that the smartest thing to do was get an iBook, because Apples are well-built and have a better-than-Windows interface. Or maybe I suggested it first to my sister, point is the same -- soon *they* both had iBooks, and since I was looking for a laptop at the time and was likely to be Mom's tech support (however woefully unequipped I am for that), I ended up getting one too. So, three iBooks, extra memory soon in sister's and mine (it was cheap! $35 for 256 megs, 3 years ago), airport card in Mom's and mine. (Sister didn't need it as much, college ethernet etc.)

    All three of them are still working great, have been updated infrequently but without incident, no virus problems, no dead screens, etc. The occasional lockup, the occasional crash (only on my machine that I know of), but mostly, good workhorses. Once in a while my mom calls to complain that her Mozilla icon has disappeared (why? I do not understand what could have happened to it -- couldn't have gotten far on foot ...), but for the most part, they works well. Cheap laser printer from Samsung, Bang, works.

    It's not my *favorite* laptop -- I dislike the keyboard, esp. the lack of a real page-up / page-down key, among other shortcomings -- but it seems the most robust. Strong hinge, a screen that's survived some rough treatment, a battery that's on the way out but still working as well as one can expect in a 3-year-old battery.

    (The other reason it's not my favorite is that I like Fluxbox, KDE and Gnome at least as well as I do OS X, and Linux distros come with a lot more included software that I actually use -- so I like the Toshiba I'm typing on more than I do the iBook; maybe I'll put Linux on the iBook and like it better ;))

    2) Dad, on the other hand, pays for cheap, low-end computers, then keeps paying and paying and paying ... he ignores the virus warnings, because none of the several anti-virus programs he's put on seem to fully cleanse his PC. The machine crashes frequently with Windows 98, but he thinks about like I do of Windows XP's required registration stuff. (On another one of his machines, a laptop that came pre-loaded with XP, it asks you to register every time you start up; he's tried to register several times, to no avail. It works fine other than that, though, so it seems less broken than if that part *did* work!) I pointed out to him that this could mean he's sending personal documents all over the internet, that his machine could be a zombie for DoSes, that he's probably spreading viruses to everyone with Windows in his address book. He sort of shrugs and winces, and every few months says "Y'know, maybe you're right and Apple is the way to go ..." Twice a year, he pays some local guy to expunge viruses -- if he'd just save the money from that, he could better justify getting an iBook or Powerbook and not worrying about those things so much. His Compaq laptop (my advice had been "OK, if you're going to get an Intel-type laptop, just make sure to avoid Compaq!" was of course studiously ignored ;)) has had numerous hardware problems, compounded by inadequate repair service and piss-poor customer service. What I should do is tell him "OK, just make sure not to get an Apple ..."

    Ah, well.


  • Deep Freeze (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:27PM (#8515902) Journal
    Where I work, we use Deep Freeze [] to keep people from installing unwanted software. You can freeze some sections of the hard drive (such as C:\windows), and unfreeze others. I find it useful to have an unfrozen D:, and set "my documents" etc to point somewhere there.

    Of course, this doesn't work well with XP (needs updates for those nasty worms), but in that case you'd just have to make your family members underprivileged users.

    My aunt is getting a new computer and High Speed. I'm putting strong consideration into turning their old box into a 'nix server/firewall... maybe with a proxy that blocks .EXE or .ZIP files (and a special username to download the ones they need). That gives me SSH access to their network, a way to have it call my server to update dynamic IP's, and I can tunnel VNC as needed. Email could also be fetched through here and stripped of nasties using mailscanner/spamassassin/others
  • by NetFu ( 155538 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:36PM (#8515994) Homepage Journal
    I had to laugh when I read the original post:

    "I assume that many Slashdot readers must serve as the IT staff for their parents."

    Many of us are the IT staff for our kids! And I don't mean 4 year olds, I'm talking teenagers. Not all teenagers are as computer literate as we'd like to think -- my older step-kids, 11 and 15, have been exposed to tons of computer technology over the past 9 years, but still have much less knowledge than I did at age 10 (1980). I know 60 year old men who know more than young "geeks" that work for me in IT

    I think a lot of it has to do with personal interest and motivation. For most average users, they just want to do what they need to do and don't care about Windows or Mac OS X. A computer that needs constant attention from an IT guy is a less useful computer

    I'm not trying to push buying a Mac, but this is exactly why I switched to an iMac for home a year ago. It was comparable in price to an equivalent PC from several other manufacturers (HP, Sony, Dell, etc.), but I haven't had nearly the OS problems that I've had with the same kids using a PC. I just got sick of spending 8+ hours per month at home fixing the same I.T. problems we see at work.

    My kids generally get my old machines, too. My Mom doesn't just because she's not that interested in it.

    It's honestly easier to guide their use of the iMac because I'm home, so if I gave another family member (Mom, brothers, sisters, etc.) a computer, it probably wouldn't be a Mac. The biggest problem is when you look for software and the vast majority of the software is not compatible with the Mac at all. It's too easy for a newbie to buy a quickie piece of software at Walgreens and never realize it's not Mac compatible -- then they get mad at the fact that they have a Mac.

    With my kids, I just steer them in the right direction when we're shopping for software. We've been able to do all of our home stuff on our Macs (iMac and PowerBook G4), and about 85% of my I.T. stuff on my Macs (some I.T. things are easier in UNIX/Linux than on Windows, which is nice).

    Protection of the innocent is a non-issue on a Mac because I'm a dedicated parent. I don't need filter software, I just know what they're doing and control access times. The rest of the crap we deal with on Windows every day is non-existent in the Mac world.

    Yeah, it's nice being a Mac-owning parent...
  • by The Raven ( 30575 ) * on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:52PM (#8516163) Homepage
    Install XP, Win2K, whatever... anything that has real permissions.

    Setup your parents as limited users, but create a user called 'Installation' that has Administrative rights.

    Make sure the visual theme for 'Installation' is so horrid to use (high contrast works well usually) that they will never accidentally use it. Lock down the theme with a policy.

    Review their software and remove bad software that requires root access (ie, Administrative rights) to run.

    Install nonMS alternatives for the core net Apps. Install alternatives for IM apps if necessary. Install alternatives for major content apps (like QT or Real) if you don't want them installing it themselves.

    In other words, give them the power to install things, but make it inconvenient, and make sure that they don't have to install much themselves because you already covered all the bases with software you approve of.

    That's my solution. And my Mom is still spyware and virus free for two years, with only a dozen or so 'help!' calls. Father's computer is, unfortunately, less healthy... but he bought a Compaq against my recommendation, so I give it up as a loss. :-)
  • Firefox (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <slashdot AT metasquared DOT com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:52PM (#8516165) Homepage
    It's probably been said already, but the best thing I ever did for my parents' computers was to install Firefox and hide the IE icon.
  • by Annirak ( 181684 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @08:58PM (#8516207)
    It's relatively simple to keep your parents surfing in safety. As many people have already mentioned, Firefox [] is a good start. But that's not where you need to stop. While Thunderbird [] is stil in alpha, it makes a nice email client, and has fewer glaring security holes than some of the more popular clients. []

    But where everything comes together is with the last two important pieces of software. I used to be a strong supporter of The Proxomitron, but it's very difficult to find now, and is no longer supported, so I've switched over to Privoxy which runs on most platforms, incidentally.

    Privoxy is a local proxy that does filtering on all web content that you view, removing things like some ads, and all unrequested pop-ups. It filters virtually all malicious content I have seen.

    A personal firewall is important to have now, and there are some reasonable free ones around. The ones I like take a bit of configuration, but they sure beat Zone Alarm []. The two I use are Kerio Personal Firewall [] and Sygate Personal Firewall [].

    Sadly, both these products used to be completely free, but the same is no longer completely true.

    Essentially, it is important to use a good browser, mail client, local proxy and firewall. With those in place a virus scanner is often somewhat redundant, though one of those might be a good idea too.

    On the spam prevention front, I find Popfile [] to be an invaluable tool. It is, however, a wee bit advanced. I suspect that most parents wouldn't quite grok it. I've heard good things about SpamAssassin [], though, and it might be worth the effort of teaching parents.
  • Move away. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:01PM (#8516240) Homepage
    I moved away. 2000 miles.
    My mom refused to get a Mac. My brother in law, an educational consultant specializing in Lotus Notes talked her out of getting a Mac.

    Guess what? He talked himself into supporting his mother in law. SUCKER!

    Fortunately, he's fairly clueful, and does a reasonably good job of keeping the machine's virus defs updated, and keeping spyware at bay. But I haven't convinced him yet on how Mozilla will save him many hours of headaches each week.

    Oddly enough - the #1 problem seems to be ongoing issues with her crappy HP printer driver. Which is also the #1 issue with my wife's iMac! (seems as if the only way to fix it sometimes is to uninstall and reinstall the damn thing.) Note to self: next time, buy ANY printer brand but HP. well, last time it was buy any printer brand but Epson. hm.. . . .
  • Let them do it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by soccerisgod ( 585710 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:15PM (#8516340)
    I learnt from painful experience is that it's best to let parents learn to handle their machines themselves. Do not raise them to depend on you. That's the solution. Let them get a clue about what's going on and how to solve problems themselves. It's the only way :|
  • by Trolling4Dollars ( 627073 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:29PM (#8516448) Journal
    ...depending on how invested you are in your parent's computing. :)

    My parents had the luck of having me network their house before I moved out after college. So the Cat 5 went to every room. Originally my parents had two Windows 98 machines that I stuck behind a linux firewall which certainly made life pretty easy for them for a while. But was Windows got targetted more and more, my parents were getting fed up with the maintenance they had to do to keep their systems up. Finally, this year my Mom said, "We'd like to try Linux. We don't want to buy new PCs to run Windows XP, so can we try Linux"? Of course I took them up on the offer

    The plan was that my Mom would get the Linux PC and my dad would keep his Windows box for now. That way if they wound up not liking Linux or not being able to use it, they'd still have access to one machine they were familiar with. But, I had a little surprise for them. I took my mom's machine
    back to my place and found that it was a little too slow for RedHat 9. No matter, I had two Pentium II 233s in the basement that weren't being used at the moment. So, I took both of them and the iMac-wannabe cases I didn't need any more and threw together two new systems.

    I installed RedHat 9, but left off the bundled versions of Mozilla,, Xmms, and a few other apps. Then I worked on custom compiling the kernel to get smoother operation out of the boxes (including the pre-emptive kernel patch). The latest Samba went on for file sharing and interoperability with their Windows box. I also designed a few very professional looking icons for the suite, and "M" icons for Mozilla and Mozilla Mail (to mimic the "e" for Explorer). I layed out a custom Gnome Panel with all the possible buttons and drawers they would need. I installed the latest CVS W.I.N.E. and brought over a few of the Windows apps that they still wanted. I built the latest MPlayer for video and Xmms with MP3 support. Put a nice logout/shutdown button on the Gnome Panel at the far right and imported all the old Windows documents (Word, Excel, IE Favorites and some BMPs and GIFs). The simplest, but nicest (according to my dad) touch was some really nice desktop backgrounds of scenic shots from Australia that I took myself. To make things easier for them and myself, I also set them up with ssh connections to my server at my house that automatically log in with Public Key Authentication and set up tunnels for the x0vncserver and ssh. This makes remote support of their systems very easy. All they have to do is click on an icon when their dialup connection is up and I have access to their machines. They also have access to my private Jabber server and mail server over the tunnel as well.

    I started on the project in late October and polished it through to X-Mas. My parents were only expecting one computer, but I brought both of them and boy were they happy. I told them that they could try them out for a few months and if it didn't work out, I had no problem helping them look for new Windows XP machines. I also told them that I coud provide "tech support" any time they needed it as long as I was near a computer. So far, I've only had a ew remote support sessions because the machines are easy enough for them to do most of what they need. After I got them set up with a Netgear TCP/IP print server, RedHat's printing setup mechanism got things going in less than 15 minutes. So my dad has been working with's Calc spreadsheet app and printing out what he needs. He told me, "This is just like Office"!

    My birthday is coming up at th end of the week. I got a birthday card from my folks that they printed up using Mozilla on Linux to access a web based card designing app hosted by American Greetings (I think). So far it's ony a few months in, but my parents are happy. About the only problem they've had is the occasional IE only web site. They love the fast performance and stability of their new systems compared to their older
  • by imr ( 106517 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @10:40PM (#8516995)
    I installed mandrake 8.2 on a pc I built for them. They hadnt touched a computer before, they just stared blankly at me the first time I said "press escape".
    They use it ever since, I did an upgrade with 9.2, they thanked me because "it became faster" (new kde). They also thank me whenever a virus wave hit their friend, because ALL OF THEM are hit in some ways every time and SOME OF THEM even disappear from the net for weeks "until their computer is fixed".
    The praises I get for a simple install once a year, and a few updates here and then: PRICELESS!
  • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @12:00AM (#8517689)
    Getting a Mac, moving to Linux and switching to Firefox etc... are all excellent suggestions, but I've found that they aren't always practical. Many people learn by rote, and switching between all-MS products at work and other applications at home may generate even more confusion (and thus work for you) than the security problems they solve. And although Firefox is getting really good (it's my full-time browser), I do encounter bugs and incompatible pages more frequently than I did when I used IE, and have not had good luck with semi-skilled users I've switched to it.

    This is all a long winded way of saying that *if* for some reason you're in a situation were you need to leave the machine in basically "pure Windows / MS" form, here are some ideas:

    If you're cheap: Keep virus protection current (look to AVG or Panda if you need something free). The google toolbar for IE is a decent popup blocker and will take care of most of the spyware popups as well as make searching easier. Install both Ad-aware and Spybot Search & Destroy... manually update and run them when you visit, and use the Spybot "innoculate" feature. If they've got XP, demote their user accounts so that they aren't administrators, and either install all software for them or teach them to change accounts to do it themselves. VNC is nice, but the built-in remote assistance also works, and the full-blown remote access built into XP Pro works well over low-bandwidth connections when configured properly.

    If you / they are willing to spend a few bucks and don't have a complete allergy to commercial software: Norton Internet Security isn't a bad package (if you turn off the parental controls crap) and will do most of what you need. The Antivirus and firewall are reasonably solid and very easy to use, as is Norton Antispam, which takes care of popups and browser-based spyware installation as well as mail filtering that's well-integrated and easy to use with Outlook and OE.

  • by Anonumous Coward ( 126753 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @12:31AM (#8517917)
    My father got his first computer last year at age 73. Fifteen years ago he used a couple of custom DOS programmes at work for a while, but that's all. Now he had to start from the very bottom basics, things like how to use the mouse and what the shift key does.

    For a man who doesn't know what the shift key does, the learning curve is equal in all common operating systems. There was no legacy here, nor any acquired bad habits to take into account. So I installed Redhat on his machine.

    The first major advantage, for the both of us, is that I can do everything on his machine remotely. We live some 3000+ km apart, so dropping by to do an update or fix a problem is not an option. However, as long as sshd runs and he can connect to the net, there is no problem that can't be fixed remotely.

    The second major advantage is that we could skip most part of the security litany. No Outlook there. No MSIE. No spyware that comes in easy click-here-to-install rpms. Mozilla is secure enough for clueless use all by itself and, if he ever tries to run Netsky, all he'll get is a question he can't answer.

    The third major advantage is that he is protected against himself. He can't ruin the system no matter what he does. Yes, he does have the root password, but he has no concept of what root is and no wish to find out. A little bash scrip backs up his home directory on CD every once in a while and that's all it takes to keep that system sane.

    After eight months, the net result of this is only positive. All the probems he has had so far are of the kind he would have had on Windows too. Of all the problems mentioned in the main article, he has had none.

    My short advise is: if your parents are new to computers, don't waste their learning efforts on Windows. Go straight for your favourite OS, as long as it has a good-looking and well-functioning GUI on top of it.
  • by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @12:47AM (#8518007)
    The consensus was to get the inlaws an older computer or a cheap one from dell, load it with win2000 and all the software they would *need*, and then give it to them.

    Oh, and not give them the admin password.

    Want to install something? Too bad.

    Yes, this seems harsh, but you don't know my inlaws. I've already fixed their win98 machine once. Symptom: so much malware that windows would freeze when trying to open IE -- I opened the taskmanager to see what was running and there were three pages of processes. Most of which were adware and spyware, and a few viruses. Many many hours later it was good as new.

    Later we get another call. Laurie is in her room crying, mom wont talk to dad, dad is screaming and swearing: the computer is broken, it's our/her/their fault, it wont print, and on top of that the land phone line wont work. We tell them, after an hour of his ranting, to call the fucking phone company. He does, the tech shows up, pulls the USB printer cable out of the phone jack and leaves.

    Well, they've called again. Opening IE freezes up the computer, and we've been informed that they have visited us enough and it is time to visit them, now (they live four hours away in the anus of Texas) and we should fix the computer while we're there.

    I may bring a gift.
  • teach them how to use XFree86 and GNOME or KDE. No more spyware, worm, virus, dangerous program threats. Use Evolution for Email, and for Office software. Use Mozilla or Firefox for web access.

    Either that or don't give them an account with Admin access to install programs on their Windows system.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!