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Basic Linux Systems for the Home User? 366

Michael J. Kitchin asks: "I'm trying to configure a machine for my 89-year old grandfather, who's never even turned on a computer. His living situation led me to a little slimtop (a Gateway Profile) that I could probably slide another OS into if necessary. Trouble is, the entire pointer-window-desktop metaphor is proving hard to get used to, even though the trackball he settled on is easy to maipulate. His needs are few: writing some, maybe surfing the web, and reading eBooks. Has anybody written some kind of basic GUI that would meet his needs? Any tips/references for how I should lay out such a thing, if I had to? " This should be easy using a fairly simple X11 desktop with buttons to launch the small set of applications mentioned. What suggestions do you folks have?
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Basic Linux Systems for the Home User?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    it looks like an iMac may be the way to go. If *anything* goes wrong with a X11 setup, anything at all, your grandpa will be dead in the water.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is a nice lightweight customizable shell replacement for Windows called LiteStep. By using this you could create a simple button interface and adjust the desktop area so that the buttons are always visible, or you could use the Wharf to launch programs. This way you could use the windows accecability options to maybe make it easier for him to do things. Check it out at floach.pimpin.net, www.litestep.com, www.litestep.org, tinomen.chunkymunky.com -B
  • by Anonymous Coward
    these "linux is the solution, how can i make it fit my problem?" posts are exactly the reason linux users have such a bad rep :-(.
  • I just put together an old pentium 75 with Linux, WP and Netscape for my sister who only has used Wordstar and WP for Dos untill now.

    Used Window Maker for it, simple interface with just 5 buttons on the right of the screen and a menu under the right mouse button with stuff like customize, mount floppy and shutdown. I also took a look at KDE and other but they have way to much extra options, buttons and other nice things for power users (for example multiple desktops).
    Also put in dial in options and VNC so when she has question I can either telnet and trouble shoot or start a shared x-windows session to show stuff. Really works great! Don't think another OS can beat Linux on this part.

    The downside is the load of work I had to put in to make everything work. I'm used to su'ing and do the shutdown thing. But sorting out this stuff for normal users (without opening the box to the rest of the internet) and putting it in a nice menu structure took quite some time.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Remember At Ease? If it still exists, it makes a mac MUCH easier thlan windows, KDE, CDE, etc.
  • Why not share the wealth? Put your scripts, work, notes etc on how you did it up on a Web Page somewhere.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ever tried to get support for windows?

    its much harder than getting the same for linux. there are a TON of people online with very good ideas/suggestions/etc for linux, as well as an overwhelming amount of documentation online.

    windows? no. tech support personel will confuse, the cute octegenarian won't be able to help any more than he can...etc

    and with a properly set up unix box, he probably won't need much tech support at all. point -> click -> any questions?

    add to that that netscape is netscape, a word processor is a word processor, and beyond the OS, advice works nearly as well on all systems.

  • Since the person asking the question did not once mention "Linux" in his question, I'm somewhat confused as to why the title of this Ask Slashdot is "Basic Linux Systems for the Home User?" Unless Cliff's biases are coming into play here, I don't see how this question could be interpreted in that way. The poster is asking how to set up a good system for his grandfather. He does not appear to care whether it is Windows, Mac OS, Linux, FreeBSD, or BeOS, as long as it works nicely. That's the proper question to ask anyway - asking "how do i set up a easy-to-use Linux box for my grandfather" is a stupid question, since you are unnecessarily limiting yourself to a single OS which may or may not be the best choice for the situation.
    Trepidity, you do have a point here, I shouldn't have used "Linux" in the title and used "X11" instead primarily due to the fact that X11 desktops are infinitely more configurable than anything coming out of Redmond. Mainly, I posted this question because I wanted folks to think...REALLY think about how one would set up a Unix based GUI for someone who is not computer literate.

  • Linux is actually a good choice because it's so configurable. The things that the "average" user will have problems with (for example, downloading and installing new software from the internet) will probably not be an issue for him. He'll probably have two or three apps that he uses all the time, and he won't be interested in downloading the latest game demo or anything like that. And best of all, if he's having problems and needs an upgrade to one of his apps, you can easily telnet in and do it on the spot.

    I recommend Afterstep 1.0 (nice, big, visible buttons) set up with three or four colorful icons for his favorite apps. Maybe the telephone icon for PPP-connect, the pen/paper for the word processor, and the netscape icon for netscape. (Don't forget to turn off Java; without Java on, netscape 4.5+ is actually quite stable.)

    You should probably get rid of the "quit X-windows" button, as well as the desktop menu that comes up when you right-click.
  • Win98 seems to handle poweroffs nicely. In Win95, if I was in the middle of a download when the power went out, the file would be corrupted, with the wrong file size, and when ScanDisk fixed the filesize, it'd usually have a few KB of junk data appended to it. With Win98, for some odd reason, when the computer reboots, without even running scandisk, the filesize is correct, and the file is exactly as long as it needs to be. No corrupt data or metadata, and the download resumes fine. I've also tested this by powering off the computer while chatting on an IRC client set up to log the chat. In Win95, the logfile is corrupted, while in Win98 the logfile abruptly ends right after the last text that was typed before the poweroff.

    Anyway, that was sorta off-topic...
  • I have had quite a bit of experience in getting linux systems easy to use. I'm alone in my little world for the most part as a linux geek, and the people around me rarely figure out even the simplest concepts in windows.

    But it only takes me 10 seconds to show people windowmaker. There are only 2 ways within the GUI to launch applications, the stable versions RARELY, if EVER crash, and it's one of the few linux gui's out there that really can smoothly be configured from teh desktop. (I have had numerous problems with KDE and GNOME segfaulting when I try to configure them from the GUI)

    If he has vision problems, Windowmaker is default setup with large icons and fonts.

    The best thing would be to try this, and many other windowmanagers out there and ask him what he thinks is best, as what is best for one is not for another.

    -Erik-
  • The elderly probably don't have the reaction time (or inclination) to play doom or quake, but some good games can really ease the learning curve of whatever you do. It is no accident that Microsoft always has solitary in windows. Almost everyone knows the rules (and several varations so that they know to figgure out if the 10 of hearts goes on the jack of hearts or a jack of clubs/spades) Once they start playing the mouse becomes second nature, and no long teaching was needed.

    Blackjack, solitary, skat, sheephead (my grandpa's favorite), cribbage and more all fit for card games. After they have done a few of those introduce them to a few adventure games.

  • Almost 2 years ago I set up a PC with Win95 for my mother-in-law. She had no experience with PC's, but had a dumb terminal hooked up to an AS/400 at work. This is what she thought a computer was, and how all computers worked. She has been totally lost with Windows and MS Office because of the paperclip help system, minimizing and maximizing windows, pretty little icons in the toolbar, the start menu (that she says shouldn't be named START if you use it to shutdown) and everything else.

    I can't count the number of hours I have spent on the phone trying to figure out things she has done in MS Word. I think the best thing that I could have done for her is set up Linux, and the most minimalistic window manager I could get, like plain old FVWM with Applix and Netscape and EzPPP for Internet access.

    I would choose Applix over StarOffice because it is faster and SMALLER. No stupid features she doesn't need. Features just get users like this lost. That don't care about formating tables or columns, they are typing Christmas or birthday letters to the family. Applix also doesn't open multiple windows inside itself for multiple documents. I don't have a problme with this, but users like her do. They just get her LOST.

    I would chose EzPPP for the internet dialer because it is small, simple and it works. Teamed with Netscape, this is all she needs for the internet.

    FVWM gives me a simple WM that can't be screwed up and if I use xv with it I can still put my son's picture on the desktop for her. Minimizing an app gives a nice big icon on the desktop that she can easily find. I would then probably use kfm for the filemanager, because I think tkDesk would be too hard for her to understand. She really almost never uses a filemanager anyway. She just saves her word processor documents.

    I would have done this last year, except my son plays his games on ths PC when we visit. I think it's time to dual boot this system now. I'm tired of tech support calls that last hours because of a paper clip and MS Word.

    Quicker

  • Sounds like you've already bought the hardware -- sorry about that. You probably should have considered a Mac (PowerBook or iBook if grandpa doesn't mind the color), since there is considerably less to worry about there. If not MacOS, consider Linux CLI, or WindowMaker, or Afterstep (too bad NeXT Computers never made a laptop...).

    For those people suggesting he go with Windows: no. There's a hell of a lot more to learn in using Windows graphically than in using X graphically, since Windows has a richer and more in-depth metaphor to work from. If the guy is 89 years old, he doesn't have a lot of time to learn the desktop paradigm, and once Linux and X are set up it's pretty damned simple. Click or double-click (one click for afterstep, I think?) on the picture over on the right side of the screen, your program pops up. Click on the program's top edge to move it around, click on another program to see the whole program. In the apps he's likely to use, Using the File menu to exit would work and and the little buttons on the top of the program can safely be ignored. In fact, most everything can be safely ignored, and papers can be typed and the web can be surfed.
  • my roomate, who has previously only watched her
    girlfriend on her mac. she was as computer
    illiterate as they come. gave her a simple
    menu on mlvwm (mac like window manager) with
    netscape, aol toys (instant messanger etc) and
    a couple other such things, thus a simplified
    version of the mac interface. she never had a
    problem with it.
  • First off, he's apparently in a business environment, so there should be someone (probably him) to admin the machines. I've never seen a problem like your #1 (but I've never used Red Hat either), but that sounds like it's due to a bug in one of the programs which, hopefully, will get reported and fixed.

    2) You click the foot menu and go to "pick an app that wasn't installed by the sysadmin." You click the list item and nothing happens.
    For one thing, this is the sysadmin's responsibility. The users shouldn't have anything on their menus that isn't installed on the system. I probably have it easy. I just told GNOME to use the Debian menuing system. Regardless, the admin should know how to keep the menus up to date.
    3) You come in one morning after a power outage and the computer is on, at a login prompt. Many services don't work right: you have no sound, CD-ROM, and/or impaired network functionality. You call your sysadmin over, who types:

    lsmod
    insmod -a
    Now stuff works again.
    This is definitely the sysadmin's responsibility. A well-configured system will load the needed modules in the startup scripts.
    4) You want to cut and paste from Kedit to Netscape, from Netscape to Gedit, or from Gedit to Kedit.
    How is this a problem? You highlight the text, go to the other window, and middle-click. The buggest hurdle here is people who are used to the way Windows does cut-and-paste.
    Make no mistake, I love Linux and I try to get it used where it will shine. But as a desktop it's strictly for power users and hobbyists like you and me, unless it's locked down and minimalized to a degree that makes my hackles rise regardless of the OS being controlled.
    I'll have to disagree with you a little here. I don't think that Linux is quite ready for the average user's desktop yet. (I do think that it's moving in that direction.) For use in a business, Linux, properly admined, is quite useable now. As long as someone else is worrying about the system setup, users can just log in, run their programs, and do their work. Locked down and minimalized? Maybe somewhat. Mortal users can't go mucking with the majority of the system. In a business environment, that's for the better. It keeps them from damaging things and lets the computer run much more smoothly. The users can still create and manage their own files. They can even play with their desktop themes. They just can't accidentally delete /usr/X11R6/lib/libX11.so.


    --Phil (And yes, I've had to deal with windows users who have accidentally deleted important system files.)
  • Trouble?

    Win9x is presumably already installed on "Grampa"'s system. Is it more trouble for you to replace his operating system with one you've spent a few hours customizing for his tasks, or is it harder to go into the control panels and enable the "one-click" activation?

    You need to look at the big picture here.
  • Why would this be easier? You could spend an equivalent amount of time setting up a decent Start Menu or a few desktop icons for his use and he wouldn't have to do any more learning than under Linux.

    In fact, as most all Windows apps have a consistent GUI, I imagine it'd be *easier* to learn Windows apps simply because that's all that would be left to learn: the apps.
  • ...and when you're not available?

    What if you're in class? On a plane? On vacation? At work? Having dinner?

    There are reasons people are paid to answer tech support questions. If you want to be the typical masochistic Linux user and be everyone's "sysadmin" instead of the guy that installed their PC, that's your decision, but it's a decision you're going to have to live with for the entire time they're using Linux, as it's doubtful they'll find anybody else who can or is willing to answer their questions when you can't.
  • How is this any better than Windows? Spend a moment to strip down the Start menu or the icons on their desktop and you've got a system that's just as easy to use as your hypothetical WM setup, with just as nice of a "button gui that goves over the windows."
  • Generally, you want people to learn about their computer and how to do simple administrative tasks on it. This isn't a problem if you want to lock yourself into a "sysadmin" role for the rest of their life, but for those of us that want to set them up with something they can use, be comfortable with and *learn*, Linux is not the solution here.
  • 1. The requirement for "Linux skills" is precisely why Linux is a bad choice here. One should not need to have "skills" to work with an operating system.

    2. Can we avoid calling people names? If you have a point, come out and present it, but don't disrespect people because you have nothing valuable to offer to the discussion. Typical AC.
  • So don't use Windows!

    Windows and Linux are not the only operating systems in existence out there. I personally do not find Linux to be the best solution for this task, and Windows is only marginally better.
  • I hadn't seen this mentioned yet, but it would be an excellent addition to the Windows/Linux/(MacOS/BeOS) debate.
  • But as I have mentioned elsewhere, if there is a user who is nervous about using a computer, and there is someone else who can handle the system administration, linux can be ideal.

    But at the same time, you're *forcing* yourself into the role of this Someone Else for the rest of their life. What happens when you're away? There sure as hell isn't going to be anybody else around that can tell them how to fix the symlink they just deleted.

    Eventually, people are going to want to expand their horizons a little bit and learn how to *use* the operating system they have on their PC. When that time comes, they're going to wish they had an easier-to-learn operating system like Windows to tinker with.
  • I give friends who want to learn Linux a telnet account on by box. One of the first questions they ask is, "What if I break something?" Ah, for those used to Windows, the concept of not being able to cripple the box as a normal user is a strange on indeed. I tell them that if they are able to mess up the box, they have advanced past the novice stage :)

    hahahahahahahahaha... I LIKE that! :-) I'll have to remember that for the guys out west.

    Andrew
  • Uh, you misspelled "Linux" as "Windows", and vice versa. :-)

    Windows: Double-click setup... yes, Grandpa, that's called a "license"... yes, it is legally binding, but nobody pays any attention to it anyway... yes, Grandpa, you want to install that program to C:\Program Files\FooBar... OK, what options were those again? No, I don't think you need fribbelized help files... no, wait, don't reboot unless you've saved all your files...

    Debian GNU/Linux: "OK, Grandpa, type 'apt-get install foobar'. Is it done yet? Good. Have fun!"
  • The biggest demographic using WebTV is the over-65 group. There is nothing to break, and one can just turn it on like a TV. If all he wants to do is read email, surf, and write letters, then this will do all of the above with minimum fuss. Having it on a big TV would help those with bad eyesight and it can be hooked up to some printers for hardcopy output.

    The only drawbacks as far as I can see are:

    • No choice of ISP
    • They keep track of all the urls visited so one can target advertising (or who knows what else)
    • You are still a Prisoner of Bill
  • I was the first in our family to get a computer (Sinclair Spectrum, 1982). Made me what I am. Anyone else here moved RAMTOP?

    My stepmother, a dealer in antique porcelain figurines (Dresden etc) was the second. In 1984 she rightly ignored my advice (to get a Sinclair QL, Christ forgive me!) and let a "consultant" sell her an Apricot running MS-DOS, Wordstar and some lashed-up database written in compiled BASIC using the BTRIEVE libs. Apricot (like DEC, Sanyo, Sirius, Research Machines and Phillips in those days) made non-IBM-architecture MS-DOS machines (640Kb limit? the Apricot had a 960Kb limit!).

    This machine, like many in this era, shipped with DOS plus a couple of early GUIs: GEM from Digital Research and ACTIVITY from Apricot itself. I showed these to both of them and they both made comments like:
    - Why would anyone need these silly pictures?
    - Don't insult my intelligence!
    - This just makes it slower...

    Skip forward to 1990. Stepmother is now on a 386sx using WordPerfect 5.1 and has junked the database, doing everything she needs with WP51 macros and merge. The machine has Windows 3.0 on it but she never uses it. Dad has inherited her old Apricot and is running a really weird implementation of Wordperfect 4.1. That year he too obtains a 386sx and in due course the household standardises on WP5.1. A year later I do a few image scans for him and show him how to manipulate them in an early TIFF editor called IPHOTO that runs in Windows 3.1.

    For a few more years they live in WordPerfect for DOS and only use Windows when the REALLY HAVE TO... Both of them are uncomfortable with the core feature of Windows, namely BEING IN MANY PROGRAMS AT ONCE. The "state cues" are poor in Windows, whereas in the old world life is simple: If the screen is black you are in DOS, if the screen is blue you are in WordPerfect.

    Skip forward to now. Dad spends most of his life in WP51 for DOS on a 90MHz Pentium. Drops into Windows 3.11 to run the scanner. Stepmother is about to buy a new machine to replace her still-functioning 386sx. She wants to use the Web and email, but not all the time. Mostly she wants to be single-tasking in WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.

    So sometime next month I shall travel to their house and monkey with her MSDOS.SYS so as to leave her, most of the time, in "Windows 98 Command Prompt only", i.e. DOS...

    Personally, I think they have a point. They like a machine to be in only one state at a time.

    george
  • I had a problem with my old Gateway machine about 2 years ago... my cdrom drive went bad. I called tech support, and after telling them that the drive was bad in all 3 operating systems (95, nt, linux), the tech support dude put me on hold, came back two minutes later, and told me that since the machine was not in its original state, he couldn't support me.

    Needless to say, my next computer was not a gateway. But back to the original point - let your grandpa be able to use the tech support that came with the machine. You might be able to reinstall the OS and fix up config files, but you won't be able to repair a cdrom drive or a busted screen, will you?

    Keep linux far away from people who just need to get stuff done with a machine. It's just not ready for grandpa yet. Maybe in a few years...
  • I'd have your granddad use emacs and twm for a window manager. I find I can do the vast majority of computeing tasks using emacs, and twm provides a simple, attractive, standard environment. It is never too late to show good taste in your choice of hacking tools.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I agree... Ive been using windows for years & havent found it to be near as bad as the slashdotters make it out to be. After reading all the anti-ms stuff on here for a few months i finally went & downloaded a couple of distros of linux (redhat and caldera) & found it was at least ten times harder to use & never could get it to operate properly. Redhat only booted once & then wouldnt get past the login screen for some reason. Caldera wont see my modem or network card & doesnt recognize the ram on my video card correctly. Of course most of this is probably my fault having never been a linux user before. Then again there was a time i had never been a windows user before. I have set up windows on systems for my brother, mom & gramma & uncle, all of which are still happily using their m$ os with no probs. I wouldnt even consider for a second trying to set one of those people with a linux box (especially since i cant even get it going right) On a properly configured machine with high-quality hardware win9x is a very stable os, i havent had near as many problems with it the folx on slashdot have (not since i tossed that %$#$% cyrix in the trash anyway) put down m$ all you want, its still the best damn os ive ever used i would love nothing more than to wipe my hd & put linux on there for good, but im not going to do that until its at least half as useable as windows
  • Has anybody written some kind of basic GUI that would meet his needs?

    Windows 95 should get the job done. Netscape is your best bet as far as web surfing goes. Probably the best thing I can suggest is to place all the important shortcuts (WordPad, Netscape, etc.) on his desktop, that way he won't get lost clicking through menus for the app he wants.

    --

  • Well, I have the auto-scnadisk running disabled, so that can't be doing much to help. I am using FAT32 in win98, but I was using FAT32 partitions in win95 as well. The improvement seems to have happened when I installed the win98 upgrade, not when I converted my partitions (I did that a while ago with PartitionMagic). Any other ideas? I'm frankly somewhat mystified (but it's a good thing nonetheless)...
  • The problem with creating an appliance PC is that people will tend to treat it like one. They'll turn it on when they want to use it (and not want to wait 5 min for startup). And they'll turn it off when they're done. *click!* They neither know, care, nor want to know about why drives need to be cleanly unmounted any more than they want to know or care about how their car chooses air/fuel mix ratios.

    Perhaps a Win3.1 system might be better. On modern hardware, 3.1 starts up fantastically fast, and the hard drive is far less likely to be hosed if you just power off (and 3.1 won't nag on the next restart). Netscape is still available for 3.1 as is software for all the other rudimentary stuff you want the machine to do.

    Go with what works. That's always the best solution.

  • Is it really worth all of this construction? With Win98 there really isn't all that much damage done if they just hit the switch. I mean if you want to spend 3 or 4 days burning CD's, setting up your logging system, filesystems and configuring applications and desktop for your grandpa so he can use an OS that isn't really any better suited for his tasks than the OS that's already on his system, feel free. I don't understand why Linux users are always so masochistic when it comes to this sort of thing. Set him up with something he can use and won't take you a week to install.
  • but why bother when all you have to say is "This is your username and password, use them to log on."

    Or "When you see the screen asking for your logon, just type 'go.'" No password needed. *shrug*.

    I'm also pretty sure it'd be a small matter to hack up xdm/xlogin/whatever it is and just have it automatically login without prompting.
  • I've been using BeOS for a while now, and while typical "control panel" tasks are handled very nicely, application installs still have a bit of work, and typically require some Unix knowledge to get right (as most everything I've seen is done in Unix style).
  • There is a difference between expressing pride and trying to use something for tasks for which it's not yet suitable.

    Windows is already there. Windows works as-is. It's trivial to buy software and get it installed. It's almost as trivial downloading Setup.EXE from the web and installing programs from the Internet. These fundamental tasks are nearly impossible under Linux without you there helping.

    I too have nothing against Linux. In fact, I'm *usually* the one out there advocating for Linux instead of Windows or Macintosh, but there ARE tasks where Linux is not suitable, and I believe this is one of them.

    A lot of you are refusing to acknowledge other operating systems as feasible alternatives for a task when it's precisely the opposite mentality that opened yourself up to using Linux in the first place. Use what's most efficient for the task.
  • But the idea of sticking with whatever OS comes with it is probably a mistake, since the machine probably came with MS Windows.

    It has a lot to do with the time-cost of making the change.

    If you have 6 hours to blow replacing his operating system with a basic function Linux, or 3-4 *days* as some people are suggesting to spend time doing a major stripped-down-custom-configured Linux system for him, that's fine.

    I can't possibly imagine any additional productivity he would gain from your insistence upon Linux than over Windows or Macintosh that would even remotely outweigh the time you invested setting that system up.

    So if there's no appreciable productivity gain for him, it's simply "techie pride" that's forcing you to force Linux upon him, not any desire at all on your part to give him a "better" system. I think that was what he was trying to say. Basing an operating system decision upon what you think is "cool" and the amount of flexibility that operating system gives *you* is not good way to make a decision. Use what's best for the task, where best != what you like most.
  • don't want to have to drive a half an hour, just to fix an icon or something.

    That's why you tell them, "check out the manual and the help pages and see if you can figure it out." Do you honestly think they'll be able to figure out a symlink issue under Linux before they'd figure out a similar problem under Windows? Please...

    If you really want your friends to think of you as their "sysadmin" instead of "the guy that set up my PC," that's up to you. I personally set up machines so that the people using them are free to customize them as they need and can learn, break and fix things on their own. What people are proposing here for Linux make that impossible (or at least very difficult, especially considering the learning curve for Linux administration).
  • I think we're straying away from the major point against.

    Sure, you *can* do all of this nifty automation and scripting for Linux, but do you really need to? Is it really worth all of that effort for such a small gain on grampa's part? Chances are, the differences he's going to notice between learning a stock Windows system (or one minimally configured to remove unnecessary icons from the desktop or start menu) and your souped-up-AC-ified-mega-scripted Linux system are going to be negligible. Plus, with the OS he has on board, he has an OEM he can call if you're not around to answer the question (and, likely a CD to re-install the OS back to its original factory defaults).
  • Can't you people ever have a real discussion on here without calling people that disagree with you a "moron" or "idiot" or "asshole"?

    I'm thinking it's time to raise my score threshold to 1...
  • A look at two troubleshooting efforts with identical problems, and two solutions:

    "Hi, whenever I start up Program X the window appears for a split second and then disappears. I have no idea what's wrong."


    (troubleshooter gets client to console view, elapsed time: 1 minute)

    "OK, it says slash-u-s-r-slash-b-i-n-slash-p-r-o-g-r-a-m-dash-x segmentation fault."

    (troubleshooter, properly suspecting a library incompatibility (introduced when the system ran your nifty scripted behind-the-scenes auto-RPM upgrade), runs through program-X dependencies, walks client through listing library versions, through some miracle discovers a newly upgraded library is currently incompatible with the latest version of program-X, walks client through re-installation of libsomelib.so, elapsed time, including download: 45 minutes)

    "Nope, didn't work. It did the same thing again."

    (you remember to have them run /sbin/ldconfig, elapsed time: 45 seconds)

    "Ah nifty! Thanks!"
    Now for the alternative

    "Hi, yah, when I click on Program X I get a window that says something about a general protection fault. It happened after I installed Program Y."


    "OK, take the Program X CD, put it in the drive, and re-install it."

    (elapsed time: 3 minutes)

    "Ah, OK, great, it seems to be working now."
    Things may seem perfectly logical to YOU, but your average computer novice will disagree. With the current desktops, everything is abstracted to simple, easy to learn objects, each with its own functions. Contrast that with the current state of Linux. For someone that "knows" computers, sure, Linux is going to be logical in places, once you learn the basics. The problem is that learning the basics under Linux takes considerably more time and effort than learning the basics under Windows.

    Once you know the basics in Windows, it's very easy to start branching out and learning other aspects of your system. With Linux, the learning curve remains high and undaunting.
  • Yes, but installing the operating system would be just as difficult with windows as with Linux.

    The operating system is already installed on the PC. The only work involved would be to dump it and install Linux. That alone should be a factor in making the decision to switch. It's already there, and it works as-is.

    And, is it a good or a bad thing that things install easily? What happens when "some malicious user" makes a CD which auoinstalls a nice little virus? Grandpa things "Hmm.. whats on this CD" puts it in the CD-drive.. and wham.

    As another poster mentioned, this is pretty far-fetched. People don't go around breaking into homes and putting trojan CD's on elderly folks' desks.

    Yargh. NO! If its something I really HATE its trojans and autorun functions. I've been cleaning some hundred dmsetup / netbus infections the last year (maybe thousands).

    This is psychological, and any halfway-decent virus scanner would detect these attempts regardless.

    Again, I have never in my life had a computer virus or have been "backdoored" by any form of trojan. Just tell grampa to take heed to the warnings about unverified software that IE spits up. Again, background virus scanners work wonders in these situations as well.

    You call that stable? I don't have problems with my computers except hardware trouble.

    So what? My personal best is about 130 days with my Linux system (currently at only 49 days). "Grandpa" is going to be turning his PC off when he's done using it for the evening. Uptime doesn't mean squat in this instance.

    The background virus-scanner needs to be updated.

    Not all good coders are part of the OpenSource gang. My virus scanner updates its data files automatically over the 'Net at pre-arranged intervals.

    Furthermore, what if old grandpa decided that "chatrooms" (irc..) is a nice thing, and what does good old grandpa do when some chick send him a "video of herself"(in reality, 17 year old male playing around with netbus)? Well, of course - he opens the damn thing.

    We can come up with all sorts of hypotheticals here that would leave grandpa's PC vulnerable REGARDLESS of the operating system.

    They could just as easily DCC him some script or program, have him /exec it which installs a back door of some sort (granted, it will likely only be under his user, unless it makes use of a root exploit straight away).

    You think Linux isn't vulnerable to tricks like this? It's not a virus, no, but it can be just as unpleasant.

    In case you haven't figured it out, Linux provides no tangible benefit under this situation to using Windows. If grampa never wants to learn or expand anything further about his operating system, there is virtually no gain either way for him. There is a loss, however, in administration time on your part.

    It all boils down to "techie pride". Lots of people just HAVE to install Linux everywhere because they think it's cool. You're blinding yourselves to the pro's and con's of Linux and refusing to acknowledge acceptable alternatives.

    In my opinion, this makes for *poor* Linux advocacy. If we keep advocating Linux for unsuitable tasks, people will begin to notice this and it will leave them with a bad taste in their mouth. Promote Linux where it will excel.
  • Oh, please.

    I'm fully aware of what Lynx is capable of (I've recently discovered w3m, which is much better, in fact).

    Unfortunately, you only attacked one point I was making for IE. The remaining points (superior CSS and XML rendering abilities) obviously still stand.

    The day that Lynx renders graphics, CSS, does XML and does it faster than IE in a more standards-compliant fashion will be the day I use Lynx for my daily work.

    That's not going to happen any time soon.
  • bzzt! wrong answer.

    What you should have said was, "If *anything* goes wrong with *the computer*, anything at all, your grandpa will be dead in the water."

    I've thought about this for my mom every time she calls to have me fix her Win95 installation.

    She can't fix the computer, PERIOD. It does not matter what OS is on it (she couldn't figure out how to put files on a floppy (on a Mac no less)). Therefore, it is to the benefit of the user to have a rock solid OS underlying the few simple applications that need to be run, and basically to lock them into those apps.

    Of the applications that I see being necessary (email, web browser, and word processor), Linux is very competitive.
  • That probably has more to do with the fact that Win98 runs scandisk when it comes back on. Also, are you using FAT32 partitions in '98? As nasty of a continuing hack of legacy filesystems as it is, at least FAT32 doesn't die nearly as badly as FAT16 (mostly since the clusters are nice and small again).
    ---
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • There's a major problem with this thinking. I don't know about StarOffice, but Netscape for Linux crashes if you even look at it funny. So, the 3x5 card stops working if he alt-tabs and Netscape never comes up...
    ---
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • well, you could install Back Orifice, the ultimate remote administratin tool, but that opens the user up to all sorts of other problems. :)
    ---
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • Mainly because it is intuitive and harder to mess up, as (last I checked) it comes with no GUI configuration tool to be accidentaly clicked on.

    Just make a backup of the ~/GNUstep/Library/AfterStep directory so that if it does get hosed some how, you can just copy it back over. If you would like help setting up Afterstep, you can mail me and I'll help you with the config files.

    And, while I love Linux, for the less computer literate, an iMac might be the correct solution. Logging in and out can be an alien concept to people. Not to mention error messages in Linux are usually scary (ie. messages that begin with Panic:).
  • Hmm, if you want a "Community of Users", I think MacOS would be my first choice. Linux would be my second. Maybe BeOS would be the best solution - at least once Mozilla becomes sufficiently viable to work with it.

    Windows wouldn't even be on the map - the only thing I know Windows users have in common is frustration.

    D

    ----
  • What happens in a few months when he wants to download some screensaver he heard about, and it doesn't work on Linux. Or someone he knows tells him about this new chess or cribage (or whatever) game... There are a million downsides to Linux in this situation.

    There are a million downsides to any OS. The minute you give someone Windows, they'll be calling you up because they can't get Gadzuper 99 running on their computer. Of course, it only comes in a Mac version. Or you give them a Mac, and now they want to install a Windows program. Or they just *have* to have this cool program. But it only runs under Linux.

    You can't have everything. Especially when it somes to applications. For an extremely "idiot" user, where they just want to do a limited number of things, I'd put applications far down on the list to evaluating a solution. Near the top I'd put, Can the user easily get "lost"/corrupt the system, and can I easily maintain it.

    -Brent
    --
  • Just keep/put Win98 on it. It does everything he wants it to do, and has the added benifit of lots of books and sites about it.

    Grandpa doesn't want to *do* anything with the OS. He wants to surf the web, get e-mail, and other similar standard applications. Grandpa isn't interested in the registry, he isn't interested in virtual memory, or other settings. He isn't interested in installing software on his own. He just wants a computer that he can turn on, click an icon, and go.

    The Linux How-To's are a joke when used by a complete newbie, and most of the computer articles in the newspapers,

    Grandpa doesn't want to learn become a system admin, for heavens sakes. He just wants to get his e-mail and surf the web. He's not going to be reading any how-tos, or even any books on Windows.

    Use whatever is best for the job. In my personal experiance, Linux isn't exactly the most user friendly OS, which is what your Grandfather would need.

    In this case, Linux is best for the job. Set up KDE with the icons on the desktop. Grandpa turns on the PC, clicks the e-mail icon, and reads his e-mail. *That* my friend is real user-friendliness. He doesn't have to worry about breaking anything, because Linux has real security. And when something breaks, or he wants something changed or added (which will happen on Windows too), it is a simple thing to remotely administer a Linux box.

    Which is summed up as, Grandpa will be happy, not only because he can do what he wants, but also because he can call grandson to keep it that way with no hassles.

    -Brent
    --
  • Since you've already bought the Gateway (with Win98, most likely), I say stick with that and don't bother to go with Linux. Your grandfather doesn't need much more than the basics and all of those have been provided. It's good enough as is.

    This is actually not bad advice. If it's good enough, why change it, right? However I don't see the point in this...

    then hand him your pager number and say "if you ever need help, give me a call Grandpa."

    When Grandpa calls, what are you going to do? If you had installed Linux, the problem would have been solved because you could log into the box and fix it. But there's no remote administration with Windows. So when Grandpa calls, there's not one thing you can do. No, sorry, forget about walking him through anything, it's not going to happen.

    Usually, if they have to have Windows and they call with a problem, the best I can tell them is 'reboot and take two asprin'.

    -Brent
    --
  • Use win9x, and setup a very simple Litestep shell. easy as cake.

    What benefit does litestep give you over the regular WM? Litestep is suppose to give you *more* complexity, not less.

    Second, you still have to problem with no remote administration tools.

    -Brent
    --
  • these "linux is the solution, how can i make it fit my problem?" posts are exactly the reason linux users have such a bad rep :-(.

    So wise guy, my grandma calls, she's having a problem with Outlook Express. It has the wrong return e-mail address. Yes, she messed this up and didn't know what she did to fix it.

    I can

    • a) Try to walk her through the accounts menu and fix it.

    • b) Drive an hour, one way over there and fix it.
      c) Log into her computer and change it.
    Oh, I can't do 'c' in Windows, can I? She could get e-mail and surf the web in either Windows or Linux with no real difference to her. She doesn't care the least what an OS is, or what OS she uses as long as she gets her e-mail. So, what's the better solution? I'm sure you'll be able to figure this simple logic out, eh? -Brent
    --
  • A number of people have been citing lack of remote administration features as a reason to not choose Windows. However, if you preinstall VNC on the computer, you have about all the remote administration you need.

    VNC might be an *okay* solution. At least you have *something* to work with. But what about copying new files to the box. You've got to install an ftp server. How about if you are someplace that doesn't have a graphical console? Now you've got to install an rsh server. Maybe you want to use ssh for security? How do I tunnel VNC through an ip masq box?

    I still think that for real remote administration you can't get Windows to perform. And that doesn't even get down to other issues like scripting. A lot of tasks can be automated in Linux with scripts. And more can be set up in a web page so that you can have bookmarks for all the improtant tasks. Instead of teaching a user how to connect/disconnect from the internet using to different places, you've got a bookmark to a page that let's them manage the internet connection

    -Brent
    --
  • That's why you tell them, "check out the manual and the help pages and see if you can figure it out." Do you honestly think they'll be able to figure out a symlink issue under Linux before they'd figure out a similar problem under Windows? Please...

    No, and I don't expect them to fix their problems with Windows either. There are 2 types of people. People who want to learn the OS, and how it works and stuff. And people how don't want to (and shouldn't need to) know what to do when something breaks.

    For the first group of people I'd teach them Linux. And for the second group of people I'd set up Linux, configure, and support it for them.

    -Brent
    --
  • 3) Remote administration.

    Actually, this is the most important "feature" an OS should have that is going to be used by newbies. If I am going to get a friend set up on a computer to do e-mail or something, I don't want to have to drive a half an hour, just to fix an icon or something.

    2) Complete lock down of all necessary components so that Grandpa can feel free to go crazy on the computer and be assured that it won't break.

    I give friends who want to learn Linux a telnet account on by box. One of the first questions they ask is, "What if I break something?" Ah, for those used to Windows, the concept of not being able to cripple the box as a normal user is a strange on indeed. I tell them that if they are able to mess up the box, they have advanced past the novice stage :)

    -Brent
    --
  • I've thought about this for my mom every time she calls to have me fix her Win95 installation.

    Exactly. The conclusion to the logic of the first statement (If anything goes wrong with X11...) is that either a) nothing goes wrong with Windows, or b) the user can fix problems with Windows.

    Both of these are incorrect conclusions. Things *will* go wrong whether you use Windows or X. The difference is, how will *you* fix it, when you don't have physical access to it. It's not a problem to fix X. Windows is just slightly more complicated? (Can anyone tell me how it's done? ...)

    -Brent
    --
  • Linux is great for all those techies and wanna-be techies. But this is going too far. Just imagine if something goes wrong, he wont be able to fix it.

    Okay, *you* explain how Grandpa is going to "fix" a problem with a computer that he doesn't know more about then how to click an icon and type?

    Sorry, it doesn't matter that it's an iMac. Computers don't magically become easier to fix, just because they were designed for the consumer.

    Young grandson is going to get the call to fix whatever is wrong with the computer whether it's Linux or MacOS. Which do you think is the easier OS to remotely support?

    Remember, Grandpa doesn't know what the OS is, and doesn't care. All he wants to do is to browse the web and get e-mail.

    -Brent
    --
  • Why bother with Linux for your grandfather? Is it some techie pride that you must install Linux everywhere possible?


    I'd suggest just sticking with whatever OS is there and letting granddad rip.

    It is kinda weird that he'de choose Linux before he had chosen an interface, so you sure have a point there.

    But the idea of sticking with whatever OS comes with it is probably a mistake, since the machine probably came with MS Windows. Windows is very bizarre and totally unsuitable for casual users, so I can understand why his first instinct was to put something else on there.

    Since he apparently had some reason for not getting a Mac, it looks like the x86 platform needs an OS with a user interface for "normal" (non-geek) people. Apparently the iToaster folks think that BeOS is there, and a lot of people are suggesting some Linux answers too, so it sounds like things worked out ok.


    ---
  • It's already there. This is probably the best reason. Sure, you could show us all your nerdly prowess turn your Grandfather's really cool new flatscreen PC into a Frankenstein's monster, but would that better? Everything you need is there now, and there's little to be gained by a move as drastic as ripping and replacing the OS.

    I don't usually disagree with people just to disagree, but let's play devil's advocate here. What is there to be gained?

    reliability Let's face it. No matter how carefully planned and installed by the Gateway folks, Win98 is simply not very reliable. The guy's grandfather is more likely to become frustrated and give up if he's faced with an illegal operation exception five times a day. (Not unusual with any Win98 configuration)

    Hardware Issues. The Gateway Profile, while not a laptop, uses laptop-ish hardware, and would similar challenges to Linux on a new laptop. Linux is very good, but it still has a ways to go before it's for serious laptop use. Keep in mind that things like ACPI and USB won't work, and things like sound not work for a long time, if ever. He might really enjoy a USB camera for Christmas!

    True to some extent. USB may or may not work, some experimental support is available in the Linux kernel, but few, if any drivers for devices exist. However, USB support might not be an issue. Sound should work on at least a partial basis if it SoundBlaster compatible.


    He will actually be able to get Gateway folks to help him so long as the software bears some resemblance to what they shipped.

    True, but is grandpa likely to call Gateway for technical support? I think grandpa's most likely to call our illustrious poster, and expect him to fix it. If he's more comfortable with Linux, then there is a real advantage to using Linux over Win98.

    In general, don't change things unless there's a *good* reason, and figure out how *he* would like it to before you start the serious twiddling.


    That's the most intelligent response I've seen anyone on this thread say... :) (Agreed)


  • I totally hear you, reciently I've been trying to help and ender man learn how to use his computer. (He has a win95 machine, and I'm just barly getting to the point where I can set up myself with a decent linux config) And I learned all kinds of things from teh questions he asked. For example. How exactly do I know when to single click or when to double click? It always seemed quite obvious to me, but in retrospect its really difficult to explain. I finally gave up and told him to double click if single clicking didn't seem to do what he wanted :( hehehe
  • From a baseline (i.e. no computer knowledge), there is probably no difference in the ease of learning Windows or Macintosh or Linux running X11.

    Here's the catch: the above statement is only true in a vacuum -- i.e. no other computer users around.

    Out here in the real world, Grandpa is going to have access to A LOT more help with Windows than he will with Linux. His neighbors, his pals at the senior center, the cute octegenarian across the street, TECH SUPPORT AT THE OEM, etc. -- practically everyone EXCEPT his well-meaning Grandson -- is going to be using Windows. They will be able to provide some form of feedback for Grandpa. Grandpa will be able to be part of a community of users (perhaps frustrated users, but a community nonetheless). That means it's going to be a lot easier for grandpa to get help with Windows.

    Probably the ONLY person who is going to be able to help Grandpa with Linux/X11 is Grandson . . . so unless Grandson has some deep-seated psychological need to make Grandpa dependent upon him and isolated from any of his computer-using peers, he would being doing Grandpa a favor by leaving the Gateway set up with Windows instead of installing Linux/X11.

    Wipe off all the icons from the desk except the Windows applications he needs to use (what? a word processor, an email program, and a web browser?). Set those Windows applications so their default save/open directories are all pointed to C:\GrandpaDocs or whatever. Boom. Next to nothin' for him to learn. Click on an icon to start the program, open the file, do the work, save the file.

    Linux is great. I've set it up several times, I use it, and when I use Windows I sometimes even run Emacs or the Gimp on Windows.

    BUT ... everything has its place, and -- GIVEN THAT EVERYONE ELSE IN GRANDPA'S LIFE PROBABLY USES WINDOWS -- you're going to have a hard time convincing me that anything but Windows is the right choice.

    fixion
  • I hesitate to think what these users (a particularly impressive bunch -- where do you work?) would do under these situations, all of which an out-of-the-box RH 6.0 will do:

    1) You open your home directory by clicking the desktop icon. You drag some files around, then open some other application. A few minutes later, when you close the other application, your home directory window has disappeared. You click the desktop icon again and there is a new file with a dead-smiley-face icon, labeled "core."

    2) You click the foot menu and go to "pick an app that wasn't installed by the sysadmin." You click the list item and nothing happens.

    3) You come in one morning after a power outage and the computer is on, at a login prompt. Many services don't work right: you have no sound, CD-ROM, and/or impaired network functionality. You call your sysadmin over, who types:
    lsmod
    insmod -a
    Now stuff works again.

    4) You want to cut and paste from Kedit to Netscape, from Netscape to Gedit, or from Gedit to Kedit.

    Make no mistake, I love Linux and I try to get it used where it will shine. But as a desktop it's strictly for power users and hobbyists like you and me, unless it's locked down and minimalized to a degree that makes my hackles rise regardless of the OS being controlled.

  • Just keep/put Win98 on it. It does everything he wants it to do, and has the added benifit of lots of books and sites about it. The Linux How-To's are a joke when used by a complete newbie, and most of the computer articles in the newspapers, which your grandfather might read, usually deal with Windows. What's with the ego thing that everyone has to use Linux? Use whatever is best for the job. In my personal experiance, Linux isn't exactly the most user friendly OS, which is what your Grandfather would need.
  • granpa can tell which is easier.
    bring him to your computer (or it to him) and let him look at windows (emulate if you don't have), linux (load up a couple of different wm's), and emulate macOS. Then ask him which he thinks would be easiest to learn. Assuming you're relatively competant, you can set up any of the above systems easily for his needs.

    And for those of you that are talking about locking him out of config stuff, granpa will always find a way to blow it up. on any system. so you might as well have an os that someone else can help him with if you're not around.
    ----- --- - - -
  • I don't want to be a naysayer, but Linux just might not fit the bill in this case. Although I'm personally a fan of the cutesyness of the Mac OS GUI, I'd have to say I would suggest it over Linux or Windows. Heck, install BeOS.

    The Mac/BeOS is simple enough that one can turn the box on and off and not have to worry about what's going on under the hood. Your grandfather should not even have to know what "log on" means.
  • I really hate to ask this, but why would you even consider an OS other then windows for this specific user (80 year old grandfather). I bought a system from Dell for my grandparents and I found that Windows 98 works well for them. I simply bought them some step-by-step books and put everything they would need on the desktop. This allows them to do everything they bought the computer for without having to navigate any folders or file systems. And after a brief explanation of the notion of "C:", they began to understand how to install new programs (well, games) that they bought in a store. Of course they have called me or emailed me with questions, but they're usually easy to answer.
    So in my personal experience I would just say go with the direct mail order flow; that way he gets the tech support and all the other "hey, look at this cool feature" goodies.
    -thanks
  • A lot of others have beat me to it here, pointing out that Linux stability is a win, etc. etc. But, there's one point that I would like to address.

    Is it some techie pride that you must install Linux everywhere possible?

    And what, exactly, is wrong with "techie pride"? In most fields of endeavor, pride in your work and those things you are familiar with is thought to be a good thing. You know, Pride in craftsmanship.

    Is this some subtle kind of anti-geek bias here? Don't think for a minute just because you are a geek that you don't look down on them (and yourself).

    I think wanting to try and meet an unusual need should be encouraged rather than jeered at from the sidelines. Must we surrender the beginner's desktop to MS or Apple or wait for some big corporate sponsor to do the work necessary to make Linux easy-to-use for the beginner?

    As others have pointed out, there are a lot of pieces that can be put together here to make a system that's just the thing for Grandpa. Let's see how it works.

  • Just a few things.
    1) where do you work, those people sound like utter morons. I deal with 100's of users a day, most of whom are college students and staff though so the clue level is around average.

    2) I recently gave my father (50) a new machine. I never put a second thought into puting win98 on it. All the reasons have been stated already. (I dont want to be tech support all the time, Its actually more stable then some of the zealots here believe, As long as you are just using it for web surfing and the occational word processing session your fine.)

    3) My father jsut went out a bought a new digital camera (USB) what if ol' grand-dad does that? There is no support for all the varients out there. And no tech support in the world will try and help him with that. Also what if he wants to use something like quicken??? or maybe something else??? What about going to sites that require a plug-in??? The win98 machine can do this ok (not 100% but ok) the linux machine........well no you have to manually do some stuff.

    Bottom line: It aint broke, dont fix it. Any OS requires the requisite training. Spend the time training him now, or face a myriad of headaces later.
  • you need to remote admin grand-dad's computer?

    you need to lock down all nec. components so he can "go crazy"? So now you're treating dear old grandpa as a 5 yr old kid or an invalid. Why not let him tinker away and learn how to reinstall a system when he messes it up? It's what I did with my mom...

    Or why not just buy a macintosh? you plug a few things in, and it's all icon based. Set up the desktop with aliases, and if it breaks, you can teach him how to fix it without having to go into command-line. really, an iMac or iBook is IDEAL for these situations.

    honestly, there are some things that a pc and linux are good for, and this just ain't one of those situations. consider the alternatives.
  • I need to amend this... I re-read the original post a little more carefully...

    You didn't mention which OS was on the Gateway, but I would assume it is win98. There is no reason that you cannot configure the desktop so that it has only the 3 or 4 icons that your grandfather uses.

    The standard X-variation GUIs are just as hard to learn as Win98, and still require the user to know such things as windows, scroll bars, maximization and minimization.

    Stuart
  • First of all, I'd like to point out that I am NOT hugely experienced with Linux; I have played with it a little, but I have been an OS/2 user all my life.

    I was recently asked to do something similar to this for a friend's father: all he wanted was a simple office suite and e-mail and the web. In the end, I just got a spare 486/66 with a 100MB disk and put PC-DOS 2000 and Windows 3.1 on it then added Calmira (http://www.calmira.org/) to give it a Win9x-like look.. I also did things like adding WIN to autoexec.bat then, after it, adding

    echo Please switch me off now
    ctty null (lock the keyboard)

    Calmira is fairly flexible; you can disable all the fancy stuff and just have some nice big icons on the desktop and a shutdown button, which quits Windows and takes you back to my locked-up DOS.

    I put on MS Works 3.0 (since we had that lying around and friends would be able to support him with that) and Netscape for web browsing and e-mail; to dial up I installed IE4 with as little as possible just to get the built-in dialer thing (which is quite nice, BTW).

    The end result is a very easy-to-use system which is fast and simple - he seems pleased with it.

    Just a thought.
  • While it might not seem the easiest thing to start with at first, maybe the command line might help?
    If the whole window/desktop/menu thing's not working, than I'd reccommend simple bash. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say you should try to make him become an expert unix command-line guru, far from it. It just seems that, rather than trying to get him to accept the abstract concepts of a particular GUI, it might be simpler to just say "Okay, type 'Netscape'".
  • It's not often I say that Windows may be a better alternative to Linux, but I think that Win98 may be a suitable choice for a few reasons. The scope of your grandfather's computer use, to my understanding, includes surfing the web, reading e-books and typing. Here's why I think Windows would be the better choice:

    • 1. Configuration: You could set up everything you need on the Windows desktop in a matter of seconds. This makes it a little easier on you.
    • 2. Plug and Play: I know Linux has autoprobing etc, but if your grandfather wants to get a new printer or something, all he'd have to do is plug it in and turn it on. Windows would take care of the rest.
    • 3. Support: If something were to go wrong with the computer or a question about one of the programs and he couldn't get ahold of you, it's likely that there would me more people able to help him out with Windows than Linux. A lot of people out there are doing well if they know what Linux is. :P Also, if he wants to download something from the 'net, he won't have to worry about Linux compatibility since many things out there are Windows compatible or have versions for Windows.
    • 4. Task Manager: You can schedule tasks to be performed whenever so that he won't have to worry about running Defrag or Scandisk (You may be able to do this with Linux. I dunno, I haven't got around to playing with that stuff yet).
    • 5. No login: Having your own user account is great for many situations. However, I don't think this is one of them. If he run's Windows, he can just turn it of, go drink some coffee or go do something while it boots up, click a dial-up and go. He won't have to worry about any username or password. Just one less thing he has to worry about.

    My experience with people who have never touched a computer is that the more times you have to click and/or the more things you have to type in, the more turned off they are towards computers. It's like the more they have to click, the more they have to remember. The more they have to remember, the more they have to work, which sometimes will turn someone off to computers. Not everyone's as into computers as us /.-ers. ;) My point with this is make the interface as easy as possible. For example, if he wants to run something on a CD, chances are he won't want to type:

    # mount /mnt/cdrom

    He'd probably rather just click the D: icon.

    Of course, there's the obligatory once a week BSOD that comes with Windows, but I don't think it'll matter to him that much.

    Also, I'm not saying you shouldn't look into other systems like iMAC etc... I just haven't played with them enough to talk about them.

    .....I mean do what ya want man, that's just what I think...

  • Tried this type of thing for my wife's computer a while back. RH 6.0 with KDE, worked fine except you must be root to mount floppies and she's learned over time to back up everything to floppies. Had to go back to NT Wks 4.0... Main rule K.I.S.S (keep it simple stupid) I love Linux too, but for some situations it's "not ready for prime time". (Now if I could just get my dang IDE burner to work under Linux... email me if you can help on this one; jmduffee@intellex.com) Jon
  • There's a very simple phrase I was told by someone when I tried to pursuade them to go with Linux:

    KISS

    (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

    Although I took the time to learn Linux through setting it up to do all the things my personal computer could do (connect to the internet, word processing, playing sound and MP3s, etc), the one thing I learned is that even if you set up a simple KDE desktop with what's needed, you'll REALLY intimidate someone if you set up something as complicated as Linux (that is, compared to Win9x).

    Win9x would do the trick, but in all honesty, I would have gotten him a Mac. Simple, reliable, and not the least bit intimidating for older aged people.
  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <{gro.hsikcah} {ta} {todhsals-muiriled}> on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @11:36AM (#1601435)
    Since the person asking the question did not once mention "Linux" in his question, I'm somewhat confused as to why the title of this Ask Slashdot is "Basic Linux Systems for the Home User?" Unless Cliff's biases are coming into play here, I don't see how this question could be interpreted in that way. The poster is asking how to set up a good system for his grandfather. He does not appear to care whether it is Windows, Mac OS, Linux, FreeBSD, or BeOS, as long as it works nicely. That's the proper question to ask anyway - asking "how do i set up a easy-to-use Linux box for my grandfather" is a stupid question, since you are unnecessarily limiting yourself to a single OS which may or may not be the best choice for the situation.
  • by downwa ( 1083 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:52AM (#1601436) Homepage
    I've set up Linux running WABI running Juno, for my grandmother. She uses it for email only. I have it configured to autologin and start X windows with KDE. It's running on a 486-66, so I had to "trim the fat" in the /etc/rc.d/rc.sysinit and other init scripts to cut down on the 2 minute plus boot time.

    She's had trouble navigating the K menu (icons too small, even at 640x480, for her), but the panel icons are okay. So you'd probably want to put all regularly used icons on some kind of panel or the desktop, so they are easy to get to.

    Other problems she had: She shuts the machine down every day and doesn't use it late at night, so the daily cron jobs never get run. This means the /var/log and /tmp, etc. dirs weren't getting cleaned out. The disk was almost full to start with, and she ran out of disk space after a year of use. You'd probably want to setup something to clean these up at boot time, so this doesn't occur.

    Another problem she had was, for some reason, the date got set to the year 2007 (don't ask me how, she didn't have root access and I didn't have RedHat's timetool set up so she could use it). Juno refused to run. She couldn't change the date back because of not having root access. (Well, I walked her through it over the phone).

    I now have made "wish" suid-root so she can run the timetool script, and have put an icon for it next to the clock on the KDE panel. (I would use sudo or super, but my zip drive got "click of death" during the trip to her house so I couldn't get the files off it).

    For those saying an iMac or Windows would be easier, I disagree. For someone at this level, an iMac, Windows, or Linux will be about the same to them, assuming everything they need to use is already configured. No reason X should get screwed up if you aren't installing anything or messing with the hardware. My grandma has run Linux for a year, with only the above two incidents occuring. You probably couldn't say that for Windows.

    An iMac would probably be fine, but, at least in my case, cost *was* an issue (you know, retired people tend to live on fixed incomes, etc.). The PC was minimal cost. I could have put Win31 on there without WABI, but I wouldn't trust it to be as stable as WABI. Of course, you could try using WINE to run Juno-- it might do that now. (I had problems with the Modem configuration, last time I tried)...

    Good luck, and let me know if you have any specific questions about how to set something up...

    Warren E. Downs
  • by Lord of the Files ( 10941 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @11:22AM (#1601437) Homepage
    1) You've never gotten a call from a relative who knows less than you do about some program, going "how do I fix blah" or "how do I make it do blah"? Being able to connect to the machine can make these questions a lot easier to answer.
    2) In my experience people who are uncomfortable with computers feel better when they know the system is set up in such a way that they can't hurt anything.
    3) If the machine is powerful enough to run KDE comfortably everything the user sees can be icon based. In several ways KDE appears to be easier for new users than windows.
    4) If the machine is powerful enough to run enlightenment comfortably (and you're willing to expend a little effort), it is possilbe to make an extremely easy to use enlightenment theme. Rather than an X symbolizing quit program, you can have a button that says quit program - it's annoying, but no one would miss the meaning.

    Some people have the personality to tinker away, and some don't. My grandfather bought an XT years ago because my father and uncle were into computers, and tinkered until he could use it. But he wasn't afraid to mess around with it. On the other hand I have a grandmother who I had trouble showing how to play solitare on the computer because she was afriad she'd break it. There's no way that she could make it through an installation - particularly not if warnings like "autoprobing may damage hardware" appeared.

    If someone wants to explore, by all means let them. But if they want to try out some of this stuff, but are scared, give them a system where they don't have to worry.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:58AM (#1601438)
    I know that you have invested in hardware already, but if I was going to do this I would have looked at something like WebTV and one of these dedicated word processors. The fact is you want appliances here, not a full blown computer. Computers of any type are unstable (yes, even Liunx - the first power failure that comes along could put the Linux box flat on it's ass). Second choice IMHO would have been an iMac. These things may crash once in a while but they have the best user interface, and don't suffer from registry corruption or fsck failures.
  • by Buck2 ( 50253 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:34AM (#1601439) Homepage
    3 good reasons which come immediately to mind
    (but I have to go so I'm not going to expand right now)

    1) Remote administration.

    2) Complete lock down of all necessary components so that Grandpa can feel free to go crazy on the computer and be assured that it won't break.

    3) Remote administration.
  • by kiatoa ( 66945 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:46AM (#1601440) Homepage
    I once - along time ago - consulted for a Russian ballet dancer who wanted to write his memoirs on a computer. He had a very hard time with basic things like hand eye co-ordination with the mouse and alien concepts like the hard disk/floppy disk and directories/folders metaphor. What I did was set him up with a bunch of macros under Word Perfect and showed him _one_ way to do things. Then he would note down step by step how to do that thing on a 3" x 5" card. This seemed to work pretty well except that Windows/Word Perfect was less than perfectly reliable and recovering when things didn't work perfectly was hard for him.

    I think setting Linux up so that when he logs in KDE (or your favorite WM) comes up *with* say netscape and staroffice already started would be good. One of the 3x5 cards would be "switching to StarOffice - hold the ALT key down and hit the tab key until the little box on the screen says StarOffice then release the keys." In the case of the guy I was helping key combinations were much easier than mastering the mouse to "click once on the StarOffice icon."

    By the by, one of the things that I see lacking when people get into discussing issues like making a computer accessable to people like this is a lack of respect for the challenge that seemingly simple tasks can be to someone who either doesn't have any frame of reference or background to do a supposedly easy task. There is nothing, in my opinion, intuitive nor natural about using a mouse, but it is a reasonably easy skill to learn for many people.
  • by scumdamn ( 82357 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:32AM (#1601441)
    WindowMaker with very few appicons on the side. Have an X(or W) term button handy so when he calls you can get him to type the commands in. It's much less abstract. Also, load his favorite progs automatically on startup. Treat it like a kiosk. If you set it up properly, this could work out very well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:39AM (#1601442)
    ok.. i hear this all the time. and it really bothers me. why? because its very untrue.

    when someone says "windows is easier", its probably because they learned windows at some point in their life, then had to set up linux from scratch/distro...

    unix is designed from the user's perspective. as an example, instead of having to know the PHYSICAL mapping of your drives (C:, D:, etc) which is rather pointless, you only need to understand the LOGICAL placement of files.

    where are my files??? oh yeah! /home/grampa

    next... in windows and mac, granpa can go in and REALLY mess up the system if he gets exploratory/lost... under unix, he logs in as a user, and can't delete/move/remove libraries, system files, programs, etc etc.. MUCH safer, with no manual set up required...

    next... it won't crash as often. crashes are VERY confusing and VERY disturbing to newer users. they are VERY bad, and prevent people from desiring to use the computer. its a psychological thing. less crashing = good

    next... security. with linux, grandpa won't have to worry about stupid things like virii, word macros jumping out to eat his system, etc...

    next... remote admin. say grampa DOES get into a bind. grandson can ssh in (you're not using telnet still, right????) and fix it from home righ then and there. much nicer than a half hour drive. for both.

    finally... don't underestimate grandpa. after a few months of "just" word processing and web surfing, he just MIGHT want to do something a bit more .. advanced. SURPRISE! the elderly are people too. and not as slow as some of us think. (btw, i'm 24, i'm not old. but i've met many very spry not-so-spring-chickens)

    Aaron J. Seigo
    the day i get a /. account is the day i have to admit i have a problem. =)

  • by Fastolfe ( 1470 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @02:58PM (#1601443)
    I disagree entirely -- Linux is not suitable for this task.

    when someone says "windows is easier", its probably because they learned windows at some point in their life, then had to set up linux from scratch/distro...

    Sit someone down in front of a PC that has had zero computer experience at all. There's NO way they are going to ever be as proficient under Linux as they could be under MacOS or Windows unless they have some Linuxhead do the installation of software and administration for them.

    With Macintosh/Windows, they can go into a store, buy a game, take it home, put the CD in the drive, close the drive, click 'Next' a few times (as per the directions that magically pop up on the screen), click 'Finish' and have instant access to a new piece of software.

    "So have them download the software from the 'Net." Right there you open up a whole new can of worms. With IE and Windows, you can click on a link to an install file and get a nice window asking if you'd like to open that item. "Sure." Installation proceeds as above. Linux in its current state does not NEARLY meet the requirements of a "new" computer user or one who wants to do very simple, minimal tasks.

    instead of having to know the PHYSICAL mapping of your drives (C:, D:, etc) which is rather pointless, you only need to understand the LOGICAL placement of files.

    Where are files under Macintosh and Windows? Click on the "Computer" object (Windows). Click on the "Hard Drive" object (or "CD-ROM Drive" object). Click on the "My Documents" folder. This does not require the user to know anything about separate drive mappings, etc. To be fair, a suitably configured KDE/Gnome desktop can provide just as much abstraction, but this abstraction is not taken down to the application level. The same Gnome/KDE "objects" are replaced with application-specific dialogs that rarely bear any resemblence to that simplicity.

    where are my files???

    Inside "my computer." Inside my "hard drive." Inside the folder labeled "my files." "/home/grampa? how do I get there from here?"

    next... in windows and mac, granpa can go in and REALLY mess up the system if he gets exploratory/lost... under unix, he logs in as a user, and can't delete/move/remove libraries, system files, programs, etc etc.. MUCH safer, with no manual set up required...

    He can still do plenty of damage, mucking with application settings and any control panel available to him that does things setuid root. Any administrative time you specifically spend "securing" a Linux system from these kinds of forays could easily be spent under Windows marking things read-only or hidden, so they don't appear in folders. I imagine this would be pretty damn easy to do, also. Win98 even defaults to refusing to show you the contents of C:\Windows immediately.

    next... it won't crash as often.

    I won't disagree with you here, but a properly set up Windows system doesn't crash as much as people seem to think. I've had my Win98 system up for 12 days now, and my NT system at work (mainly due to the hard work of our PC support folks ensuring software and service packs we install are as stable as possible) has been up for not quite a month. If your "grandpa" isn't downloading and installing a bunch of 3rd party crap and device drivers from the 'net (like most of the windows slashdot demographic), most of his crashes will be uptime-related, and it sounds like in this case, computer activities will be limited in duration, allowing him to keep the machine turned off and turn it on only when he needs to use it.

    next... security. with linux, grandpa won't have to worry about stupid things like virii, word macros jumping out to eat his system, etc...

    He won't have to worry about these under Windows, either, so long as his activities (as the poster suggests) will be limited in scope to a few simple tasks. A simple background virus scanner is all that's required if he ever decides to get adventurous. I've never in my life had a computer virus under Windows. It has a lot to do with *how* you use your computer.

    next... remote admin. say grampa DOES get into a bind. grandson can ssh in (you're not using telnet still, right????) and fix it from home righ then and there. much nicer than a half hour drive. for both

    This is a good thing, certainly, but of course you assume this "bind" he's in won't prevent him from dialing up to his ISP. There are also "remote administration" tools available for Windows, for argument's sake.

    finally... don't underestimate grandpa. after a few months of "just" word processing and web surfing, he just MIGHT want to do something a bit more .. advanced. SURPRISE! the elderly are people too. and not as slow as some of us think.

    It's common knowledge that the learning curve for Linux is much higher than the learning curve for traditional operating systems like Windows and MacOS. Assuming you aren't foolishly disagreeing here, what OS do YOU think would entice people to try and learn more, one where they can grasp the basics and migrate to slightly more complex operations, or one where they have to study to grasp the basics to begin with? I guarantee people will become disenchanted with Linux and won't WANT to try and learn any further.

    I'm not trying to diss Linux here. I use it as a small router/web server for my home network. I read my e-mail on it. I IRC from it. But people that are so overzealously touting Linux as the OS for Everyone and Everything need to realize that other operating systems DO beat Linux for certain tasks. I'm writing this message in IE (far superior CSS and XML support and faster than anything available for Linux) under Win98. I run my X apps (at the moment a simple xterm) remotely here (the Linux box has no keyboard/monitor). My roommate understands this concept as well (he has two PC's, one Windows and one Linux).

    A lot of you started playing with Linux because it was an "alternative" and because it Did Stuff Better than the current mainstream OS's. At the same time, most of you are blinding yourselves with this "Linux is the best" crap that you are failing to see that there are ALSO alternatives to *Linux*, and some of those alternatives DO do things better than Linux. I see people saying "Don't lock yourself into one OS!" as a reason to try Linux while at the same time they're screaming to everyone "Don't use anything but Linux!" which is exactly the opposite mentality. Stop being so short-sighted that you fail to see when alternatives will be better.

    Don't use an OS because you think it's cool and you want to be a l33t hacker cause it's what all the l33t hackers use. Use what's best for the task.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <[imipak] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:49AM (#1601444) Homepage Journal
    There will be as many answers as there are people, multiplied by operating systems, to the power of the number of window managers in existance.

    However, IMHO, Linux is probably better than Windows for someone elderly. Why? None of that -EVIL- Window Grabbing, no nausiating bleeps at any & every opportunity, no unexpected, random crashes, no random disk accesses (which can cause alarm, if you don't expect them) and few (if any) of those stupid, unnecessary application hangs.

    BeOS is a good choice, for similar reasons, though may not have sufficient software to go with it. You would do well to check into that. It might also not work on your hardware - last I heard, BeOS did not do well on the driver department, but that might have improved.

    *BSD is an OK choice, as they offer most of the advantages of Linux, with improved robustness and performance. (Those ARE necessary for the elderly. Possibly more so than for younger people, as they need the extra mental stimulation, and don't do well with fiddly reboots.)

    For window managers, I'd say either KDE or Gnome with Enlightenment. Enlightenment is marginally easier to use than KDE, IMHO, but both are excellent and offer most of the functionality that the elderly need.

    Last, but by no means least, work WITH how they think, not against. Pick a system that follows the style of the user; don't force someone in their late 60's, early 70's, to learn some entirely new way of thinking. They probably won't, especially if they have to. If the computer thinks the same way, though, it'll be easier to adopt and use.

  • The standard X-variation GUIs are just as hard to learn as Win98, and still require the user to know such things as windows, scroll bars, maximization and minimization.

    I strongly disagree with that. I've worked with people who use a computer for nothing more then e-mail and word-processing and know nothing about Computers or Windows or anything.

    Ah, the problems you have to work around. Even the paper clip stumps them. Whenever the paper clip dude pops up, they are stuck until I can come over and close it. I have to replace keyboards with ones with no Windows key. Again, when they accidentely hit the Windows key and the start menu pops up, all work stops until I go over there and get rid of it.

    There's no concept of "minimizing". The application may as well not exist in minimized form. Everytime a new window pops up, unasked for, work quits until I close it. Windows is counter-intuitive. Sure, you can "learn" it like anything else, but you really don't know what it's like until you get someone to use it who's never seen a computer before and wants to do something that should be a simple task.

    Nope, get Linux on the box, with icons for only the apps that are to be used. No worries about being able to break anything or get "lost". That's the way to do it.

    -Brent
    --
  • by Graymalkin ( 13732 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:35AM (#1601446)
    I would probably go with an iMac for a grandpa type. I haven't yet seen a GUI on linux that was so easy to use that I would give it to a grandparent, although i have used some very customizable ones. The iMac is is amazingly easy to use for someone who'snever turned a computer on before. If you're worried about software it comes with AppleWorks and some other toys that give it pretty good functionality for the price. If you absolutely insist on Linux then go for AfterStep, it is customizible enough where you could probably make it simple to use. A Gateway Profile might not be thebest pick for asystem though, you can probably find a case from an old Mac (the thin ones from the really old models) and stick a Cyrix MII inside it.
  • by eey0re ( 38009 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @11:24AM (#1601447) Homepage
    Why does this ASK slashdot have to turn into a battle again?
    Stop moaning and write your answer/help, Michael J. Kitchin (the poster) can make his own mind up on the info he has from us being productive with our posts...

    here is my answer, i'm sure you will all mark this :)

    Mum new to PC's/internet etc.. (not of the computer age and work has "these new PC's!"
    wants something simple to use and easy to remember etc..
    (Some of you will scoff) Set up WindowsNT on p133 64Mb.
    Locked down most i could without being too restrictive.
    "Hiding" ALL non-relevent files folders does the trick too!
    Put home directory in an easy place.
    Made Icons/text large. (likes it that way :)
    Placed icon on desktop for Home directory(MyFiles!).
    Placed icons on desktop for programs she uses.
    Sorted out colors appearence to way she likes it and is best to read/look at.
    Made default save/load directory for apps mum uses the home directory so no searching!
    The latter half of this i did with mum, asking her what she wanted and how she wanted to have the desktop icons layed out

    Sat down with mum and watched "her use it" for a few hours, she asks questions , i answer, she writes down in a little notebook until she remembers.
    I watch what she is trying to achive/do and help her advise on the most simplest/easeist way for her.

    If you are helping someone new/old, dont overcrowd them with what you think is good/whizzie, understand what 'they' want to achive and act upon it in a manner that they will understand.

    You cannot go mad with technology and set up how "you think they want it" and walk away, ask what they want and when you do it get them to sit with you they can tell you what they expect to do with it or how they would like to have the PC "presented to them".

    You will find this svery rewarding as mum has thrown away here restrictions and now know a heck of a lot more now than i ever would expect!!
    And is happier at work using computers, she even has a geek c0de :)

    // I used NT cos its easy (cheap cos my bro is a student and uses it too). 100% reliable [THAT IS UTTER TRUTH ON MY HEART]
    95/8 falls over way too much with wierd and confusing msgs and lets you delete too much :)
    I am a linux dude, have been for years but if mum learns linux at home then it wont help her in the office it will only confuse and fustrate :) Plus if she is stuck my brother or friend can help out.

    This topic is more than a tecchie post its about giving easy access to computing/internet to non-tecchies. Proving the desktop AND teaching/helping them how to work with it.

    ells..
  • by fprintf ( 82740 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:18AM (#1601448) Journal
    Why bother with Linux for your grandfather? Is it some techie pride that you must install Linux everywhere possible?

    I'd suggest just sticking with whatever OS is there and letting granddad rip. He probably won't care as long as it works well, and I can bet that the performance will not suffer regardless of the OS on the machine.

    Linux is not the be-all end-all OS, although it works very well for me in my home situation. (dual pentium II-400, SuSe 6.1, C++ programming)
  • by shawnb ( 89442 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:22AM (#1601449)
    First off, I would like to state for the record that I am a big fan of Linux. I have a Linux box at home, and our servers at work all run Linux. That being said... For people like your grandfather, and actually most everyone out there who wants a home computer, they should probably stick with something simple like the iMac. Easy to set up, easy to maintain, easy to use. Simple. I would recommend my father get one. And my sister. And my mom. And most of my friends. The 3 things people want to do are: surf, email, write. Since all computers do that these days, the masses should stick with what is simplest. The iMac. I saw the iToaster from Microworkz and liked the concept, though I have heard nothing about it as of yet. The OS is BeOS based. Pretty neat idea, I just wish that a more reputable company came out with the product first. Shawn
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @11:22AM (#1601450)
    Why bother with Linux for your grandfather? Is it some techie pride that you must install Linux
    everywhere possible?


    I cannot answer for the original person who answered the question, but as one who has given Linux to his own mother, his sister, and numerous non-computer literate friends, I can tell you that, yes, technical pride plays a role. I want my family and friends to have systems they can use and enjoy, as opposed to something which is crash prone, difficult to maintain, and suffers notorious "bit-rot" over time, ultimately resulting in a required reinstall. In addition, I do not want to be fielding tech support calls on how to fix this or that misfeature of Windows, especially on my time off. With Linux, I almost never get calls at all, and when I do, they are questions like "how do I do xxx?" which takes about two seconds to answer, vs. "My Windows system is broken, how do I fix it" which takes anywhere from a few minutes to a trip to reinstall the once-again corrupted OS because dll blah was overwritten by the new version of MS Office).

    As an example of someone like the original poster's grandfather, I have a friend (another pilot) who was sick of Windows crashing nearly every time he tried to access the net or do serious work with his IFR flight simulator. I told him about Linux (and the free software philosophy in general) and he was very excited to try it. So one Saturday evening, before going out to Exit to party the night away, we installed Debian Linux on his system. He was on the internet in no time, at which point we downloaded Star Office and FlightGear. The Flight Simulator isn't yet usable for serious IFR work (no panel), but as a toy it is fantastic. Star Office and Netscape fulfill his other needs, and his system has never crashed on him (it's been several months now). He has said on several occasions that he will never go back to windows -- and this is despite the fact that he knows little to nothing about Linux and how to administer it, and despite the fact that his favorite flight simulator does not run under Linux (he won't even dual boot anymore to run the simulator, as he gets too angry when, inevitably, Windows decides to head south during a particularly challenging approach procedure).

    and I can bet that the performance will not suffer regardless of the OS on the
    machine


    I would take that bet in a second. If you are using Windows, your performance will suffer with systems crashes (occasional if you never install new software, more frequent if you do) and slower overall speed, to name two. Under FreeBSD or Linux, this will not be the case. Install any one of several friendly X GUI's and the user won't care, except in as much as their system will be both faster and much, much more stable. Where on earth have you been, to believe that the OS makes no difference in a computer's performance (or did I completely misunderstand what you were saying)?
  • by GlobalEcho ( 26240 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @10:29AM (#1601451)
    This doesn't have much to do with software config, but
    one thing to keep in mind is that your visual acuity drops with
    age. I'm not talking about the focus problems that necessitate reading glasses,
    but rather the effective resolution of your retinas. Take a piece of paper and draw some parallel lines 1mm apart on it. How far away can you distinguish
    those lines, even with perfect focus? Whatever answer you got, it will decrease with age.
    The conclusion I draw from this is that a laptop is not a very good solution
    for older folks. You want a BIG monitor set to 800x600, so as to make those pixels nice and big.
    I noticed this when I was helping my grandfather surf the web on my mom's laptop. His eyes had a lot of trouble distinguishing a lot of the tiny user interface elements that I take for granted. (Anybody remember the old single-pixel HFS indicator on the Mac Finder?)
  • by dublin ( 31215 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @11:55AM (#1601452) Homepage
    OK, folks, reality check! Linux is probably NOT the best choice here for some pretty good reasons. Let's forget the advocacy and stick to facts.

    Several pretty good reasons to stick with Win98 in this situation:

    1. It's already there. This is probably the best reason. Sure, you could show us all your nerdly prowess and turn your Grandfather's really cool new flatscreen PC into a Frankenstein's monster, but would that be better? Everything you need is there now, and there's little to be gained by a move as drastic as ripping out and replacing the OS.

    2. Hardware Issues. The Gateway Profile, while not a laptop, uses laptop-ish hardware, and would present similar challenges to Linux on a new laptop. Linux is very good, but it still has a ways to go before it's ready for serious laptop use. Keep in mind that things like ACPI and USB won't work, and things like sound may not work for a long time, if ever. He might really enjoy a USB camera for Christmas!

    3. Win98 can do what you need. Win98 can actually be made quite simple and consistent, particularly if you turn on active desktop and point it at a nicely built custom HTML page that contains launchers for the things he'll need. Although it's seldom used well, this is a really powerful feature that offers a lot of power to reside behind the scenes. Another feature of the IE/Win98 desktop can also be quite beneficial here: set it up so that it uses single-click to open things. That way there's no difference between the way the browser and the desktop work, eliminating one of the most confusing and frustrating issues for new users.

    4. Suppport. If the other arguments haven't clinched it, this one should. He will actually be able to get the Gateway folks to help him so long as the software bears some resemblance to what they shipped. While quite confident of my skills in setting up a Linux box for this (and there are some benefits to that approach although they're outweighed by the point above), I would leave my own grandfather (if any were left) with the factory config. The OEMs put a LOT of work into making things work as they should (I know, I used to do it for a living), even in the Windows environment. (Why do you think VA Research has a good reason to exist? Sure you can do everythign they do, but it's hard, and it's worth something to have it done by those that know how. Generally, Gateway builds a pretty solid machine. Leverage that.

    5. Software availability. This may not be an issue, but the fact is that today, I can go down to CompUSA or the like and buy a gazillion Windows apps for every Linux equivalent. Free (beer) software is nice, but we pay a knowledge tax to use it. Sometimes cheap commercial software is cheaper - autorun of setup.exe is a whole lot easier than even installing RPMs or tarballs. Also, don't forget games - my wife's grandfather, who passed away last year at nealy 102, spent all afternoon a few years back playing my brother-in law's new sub warfare game. Windows has the edge in this regard for the time being.

    In general, don't change things unless there's a *good* reason, and figure out how *he* would like it to work before you start the serious twiddling.

    Sure, you can do this with Linux, but unless you're trying to make a statement, where's the payback? Now if Gateway *sold* the Profile with Linux, then I might change my tune...
  • by kybernator ( 76039 ) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @11:04AM (#1601453)
    Sorry to disagree, but...
    while Linux certainly is not the answer to every computing need (yet :-), there is not much reason for his grandfather to prefer the windows GUI to one of the the X GUIs, either. Some observation I made when letting my now 4 years old daughter use her PC for the first times: she did find it _very_ hard to get used to the double click for starting applications, which I think is still the default in Win 98, but did have no trouble whatsoever starting KDE apps. Yes, there is a double- and even a triple click in X as well, for marking text, but I wouldnt expect a beginner to use this, whereas one has to have a way to start applications. If the prospective user had any experience in using windows, that would be something different, and I would try to build on that.
    So, for my 4 year old daughter, the environment of choice is KDE, with only a few preselected icons, and I could imagine that to work for elderly people as well.

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