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Bulletproof Tool For Golden Age Browsing? 366

An anonymous reader writes "I work in a retirement/assisted living home. Many of the residents had never used the Internet but really find it fascinating once they are given a little training. However, I've stopped introducing it to them because of the drain it puts on me. There are a million and one things that a computer novice can screw up, and I don't have time to solve all of them. These folks don't need any sophistication. and they need only the most basic options. Adjustable text size would be nice, but otherwise — no email, no word processing or editing, no printing — just Internet browsing. This may not seem like a big market, but it's getting bigger every day! Is there an absolutely fool-proof device that can provide this without requiring virus scanners and constant attention?"
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Bulletproof Tool For Golden Age Browsing?

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  • Turn Off Javascript (Score:4, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:49PM (#20459559) Journal
    Before I dive in, I have to say that I don't think you adequately explained the requirements here. In one part you seem concerned about configuration, in another you seem concerned about security & finally it seems to come down to being too sophisticated for the user.

    I'm not sure which one you value the most. But, assuming we need all three, I would suggest something like the OLPC as an everything. Yes, it's geared for children but I guess you're kind of dealing with ... well, in some cases degenerated minds. I don't say that to be mean but ironically my four year old cousin and my 80 year old grandfather have some of the same needs when it comes to high tech gadgets.

    One step up from that would be to use a premade Live CD of Ubuntu or Dragonfly or some other easy live Linux OS. You show them how to reboot with it and then they can surf like that. The downside is they can't save anything to disk but the upside is they can't save anything to disk :). Granted, this may violate your sophistication requirement (and destroy caching), it has the huge benefit of going "Oooops, time to simply reboot."

    You know, the last college I attended had labs where you had administrative privileges but they reverted to a system restore point nightly. As a result, there would be screwed up machines but only for a day or week at most.

    But, if we assume you don't want to reboot with a live CD of the OLPC or Ubuntu, you could instead simply turn off cookies & turn off javascript. Why? Because javascript is the devil. I think it has some of the most flawed type casting (if I can call it that) out there today. It's not a "type safe" language. And the proliferation of JSON objects in Javascript is frightening. But once you eliminate cookies & javascript, you also eliminate a lot of functionality.

    I would suggest giving them the flash plugin (pending system requirements) as it's not so bad anymore. That and they'll probably want to watch YouTube videos of their offspring. I think that is a fair trade being as the latest Flash plugin is fairly secure.

    So, I would finally recommend you give them plain jane mozilla firefox with no javascript or cookies & the flash plugin. It probably wouldn't hurt to jack the security meter up to the top and just tell them that sites they can't access are bad sites anyways.

    Once again, I could use more requirements before giving you a final assessment but the above two options sound like they would come pretty close to satisfying your (and their) needs. These were made under the assumptions that these people suffer from learning disabilities in their old age and, as a result, you cannot host training sessions whereby you show them safe & secure internet usage.

    In the end, I predict that some of the users are going to find a way to make it hard for you and them. I suggest starting with the lightest steps and only progressing forward as necessary.
    • by Verte ( 1053342 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:56PM (#20459647)

      they'll probably want to watch YouTube videos of their offspring.
      YouTube uses Javascript to load the flash plugin. Silly, no? Unfortunately, we're stuck with Javascript for some time now. But, I like the other idea, not having write access to the media from which you boot off.
      • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:02AM (#20459709)
        It uses javascript to load Flash because of that issue with IE and plugins because of patents problems. Its the workaround to go around the workaround (wow...) that allows external code to load a plugin without user interaction so you don't have the "Click here to enable this plugin" thingy popping up.

        Wow, thats the most runabout post I ever wrote. Going to bed.
        • by Verte ( 1053342 )
          It sure is a hack. YouTube were an example pulled from the post, I didn't really want to point the finger at them specifically. And, I guess it is clichéd to complain about web developers not designing websites to work in environments where scripting is disabled, but that's really what it comes down to: there is no getting around this in the foreseeable future, so you can't just turn it off.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
          Wouldn't Youtube be the ones in violation of the patent then? Seems to me that if the patent covers the plug-in automatically starting, then whoever is facilitating that would be in violation of the patent.
      • HTML 5 includes a basic video tag, where you simply tag a video file, and let the browser then handle the rest, such as figuring out the codec and player. No JS, Flash or clunky embedding code needed.
        • by Verte ( 1053342 )
          Plenty of mechanisms exist today that don't require Javascript. However, it's the content provider that ultimately decides what methods get used. I don't see many providers jumping on the no-Javascript bandwagon any time soon. What it comes down to is, for the foreseeable future, you're probably going to need Javascript in these facilities.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by WPIDalamar ( 122110 )
        There's a great project called swfobject that does all the browser/flash player version checking people want javascript for. But the great thing is that it'll fallback to non-javascript methods if not available. I don't know why more sites don't use it. []
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stormie ( 708 )

      you could instead simply turn off cookies & turn off javascript. Why? Because javascript is the devil. I think it has some of the most flawed type casting (if I can call it that) out there today. It's not a "type safe" language.

      So, basically, your advice is that he provides them with a pretty much completely non-functional system, that will fail with most websites they might visit, purely to satisfy your religious zealoutry re typesafe languages? Good advice.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:02AM (#20460193)

        So, basically, your advice is that he provides them with a pretty much completely non-functional system, that will fail with most websites they might visit, purely to satisfy your religious zealoutry re typesafe languages? Good advice.
        That's right. He's a zealot and his commentary on how unsafe Javascript is has nothing to do with backing up his point about turning Javascript off. In fact, his whole post is him just babbling incoherently with no related points whatsoever.

        Your post, however, now that's right on the fucking money. He kind of did mention it would severely reduce functionality though. But I like yours better still. A sentence, a sentence fragment and not a singly fucking reinforcing point. Well argued, sir!
    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:20AM (#20460333)
      Run Mac OSX. set it to the simple finder mode. There you can lock out all applicatons you don't want them to have. They cannot edit the icons in the dock so what they see is what they get (and they can't accidentally delete them either). And finally if ALL you really want is Browser, you can put it in kiosk mode and even have it boot that way. SO all it is is a browser, up and running when you snap on the machine.

      Now if you are budget minded you could do the same with Linux. Use a Live CD, configure it to boot to a browser. Remove all the other icons and don't give them permission to the apps. One of the very easiest ones to configure this way is DSL linux which has the benefit of booting very very very fast from CD and running on old, memory starved hardware, and being parcimonous about screen realestate. However, for you i'd recomend DSL-N (not DSL) as that is more modern.

      If you are not budget minded, it would be smarter to go with the mac. several reasons
      1) lots of plugins will be easier to use. likepdf support in the browser itself, (flash quicktime silverlight....)

      2) some folks there might want a real computer too. The liveCD linux boot will be constraining. Macs, have faster user switching so you can corral the people who need the simple finder but let other use it in advanced mode.

      3) Eventually they may want to add a few more apps. maybe they want for example to have podcasts. google earth. Watch DVDs

      4) you can keep a mac secure without going crazy. You can even firmware lock it to keep the wiseguys at bay.

      5) it's easier to attach portable disks, second or external screens, cameras, etc... to the mac. No sys admin needed.

      6) If you need support you can call apple and so can they if you are not around.

      7) For desktops there are no cables and they are easy to adjust to viewing angles (like for a wheel chair)

      8) easier to use applications, should they want them.

      • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:25AM (#20460363)
        Oh and the other biggy on a mac is the meu bar is a the top of the screen and the ability to use a one button mouse. Both of those are a LOT better for your old folks. It has the handicapped access modes too (locking shift keys, high contrast views, zoomable)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BiggyP ( 466507 )
        Why bother with a LiveCD at all? If you have machine with a harddisk then give them a full fledged linux system fully installed, the majority of your limitations will go away and suddenly the idea of buying a Mac is less attractive.
      • by NMerriam ( 15122 )
        Yeah, a Mac is definitely the way to go if you can. You can set up a Mac Mini to be a browsing "appliance" quite easily, and it will be secure, functionally immune to viruses, pretty much idiot-proof, yet still compatible with 99% of the web sites out there. You also have an easy and obvious upgrade path for those who display aptitude and interest in a more comprehensive computer experience.

        You could certainly build a linux box that was similar (though it would lose compatibility with some sites), but if so
      • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:11AM (#20460649) Homepage

        There is an easier way to do it with Linux than live CD. Much higher performance as well.

        Start with a full install of Debian or Ubuntu or any other distribution that strictly complies to the fs standard and does not write into /usr. Build it with separate /,/var,usr and use tmpfs /tmp /var/tmp. Install all necessary plugins. Once you are happy with the result switch /usr to read-only mode. Do not give them a root password and provide sudo instructions for the visiting grandchildren if the golden age customer asks them to install something in addition.

        This has been tested on a Golden Age customer (my mom) and this setup is the first machine she has had so far that does not require any maintenance. It just works regardless of powercuts, cats sleeping on the keyboard, etc. She had a windows before that and it got trojaned with a dialer hijacker which clocked her an insane phone bill. It also worked 10% of the time. During the rest it was suffering from various windowsy degenerative diseases. Prior to that she had a linux with a normal read-write install and she successfully managed to f*** it up by pressing the power button during fsck a couple of times.

        • by sniggly ( 216454 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @04:40AM (#20461417) Journal
          Same here, my mother is using debian, firefox, google mail and openoffice allows her MS compatible document exchange for her charity work; the box is behind a firewall and the setup works flawlessly. People who claim linux isn't ready for this kind of setup are clueless, it is windows which cannot function properly in this setup; my mothers friends all operate spyware and virus infested zombie spam mail systems and I am glad I don't know enough about windows to help them out. Windows + office also costs a bundle.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by arivanov ( 12034 )
            Same here with the sole difference of Yahoo Mail instead of Google Mail.

            I will also add the following trick to this. You can safely test any improvements, configs, desktop settings, locks etc with a 5 year old prior to deployment. If it works and he does not break it, you can safely roll it out onto the unsuspecting golden age population.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ricebowl ( 999467 )

          Do not give them a root password and provide sudo instructions for the visiting grandchildren if the golden age customer asks them to install something in addition.

          So,'re suggesting that visiting strangers should have sudo instructions/access but not the main users of the machines? I can't imagine that applications would be installed so frequently as to be problematic for the OP to install, thereby maintaining security and avoiding apparently-random changes to the installation. Plus the consensu

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by arivanov ( 12034 )

            The OAP has the possibility to elevate his privileges to install an applications and has the instructions on how to do it.

            Based on experience the OAPs never ever uses that. He/She always coopts visiting grandchildren to do that. While you can create them an account as well it always ends up being done from the OAP account as well so no need to do that./

            In the meantime he/she has 0 privileges on the machine and keeps on using it and it does not break.

            By the way - these are simple practical observations on
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Easy, there is specialised Web kiosk software that is free and easy to get and use - []
    • by Zemran ( 3101 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:29AM (#20460391) Homepage Journal
      I used to work at a college were we had three classrooms with remote boot PCs. It was great because you could just turn off the power to the whole room without worrying and everytime a class came in the PCs worked as expected. I am still an advocate of remote boot even though it seems to have gone out of fashion. The downside in this senario is that it requires a server. It is only really good for multiple machines. With remote boot you can point home directories to the server and maintain just one machine and any updates are only done once on the image rather than to each machine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The problem with Javascript is not linguistic. The problem with Javascript is that turning it on means downloading code from websites and automatically executing it on your machine. Javascript has a few security limitations, but it can change what you see in the browser, alter your HTTP requests, send and receive HTTP requests and responses on your behalf, and other things that are useful for attackers. Bugs are the least of your worries.
    • Why not just tell them to use a Mac / Safari combo and have it autokill cookies? I mean, the install and upkeep on a system like you're talking about is a little annoying.... Why not bypass it completely and work with a Mac system? Sure, the cost is higher than a build-it-yourself Linux system, but it DOES mean you don't have to bother the kids all the time for support.
    • by drijen ( 919269 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:10AM (#20460635)
      Why make this so difficult? Simply use Deep Freeze [] or Clean Slate [].

      When the user is done with the computer, just reboot, and it will be back to its original configuration. If users need a 10MB space or whatever for bookmarks, load them to an internal webpage, or allow that space on a spare computer.

      No mess, no fuss, easy.

      Disclaimer: I used deep freeze on my grandmother's computer because i grew tired of hearing about broken things every time I visited. That was several years back, and I have not heard a peep since.
    • by Von Rex ( 114907 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:34AM (#20460767)
      Sometimes I help the elderly learn about computers. One thing that never fails to amaze them is Wikipedia.

      Sifting the signal from the noise in a typical google search is just too complex for people that are computer novices as well as internet novices. But show them the Wikipedia plugin, where they can just search on whatever they're curious about and immediately get a single response that probably answers their question, and they'll immediately grasp just how cool the internet can be and they'll want to learn more.

      I usually set windows to large or extra-large fonts, too. Just ask them which setting they find most comfortable while they are in front of the computer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ceejayoz ( 567949 )
        I'm going to go vandalise Metamucil on Wikipedia and say it's commonly used to poison unwanted older relatives.

        (hey, if Nigerian scams work...)
    • by stranger_to_himself ( 1132241 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @04:30AM (#20461383) Journal

      I would suggest something like the OLPC as an everything. Yes, it's geared for children but I guess you're kind of dealing with ... well, in some cases degenerated minds.

      'In some cases' is the key phrase here. In most homes there will be enough people who are perfectly capable of using a computer.

      In short, my advice is to find the one of them with the most clue or potential for clue and make him/her the sys admin. Then let them do what they like.

      I work in geriatric psychiatry and my group has been interviewing older people in institutions to understand in what way their needs are or are not being met. A common theme that arises among the cognitively intact (who are quite often smarter than most of us) is that they feel useless, they can see there are needs within their environment that are not met and they are not empwered to do anything about it. This upsets them greatly.

      You've probably got people in your home who were in techincal jobs before they retired, and are more than capable of looking after a couple of PCs. Give them some Linux CDs or Windows or whatever and a good book and let them figure it out. They've probably got nothing better to do.

      They'll feel empowered, they'll teach their friends, and leave you alone. Don't patronise them, don't give them a crippled system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Oh god no. Install a locked down kiosk setup of puppy linux. Boots in 30 seconds if you set it right and have it run from RAM only. Who cares if it get bonkered, give them a big red button that says "FIX IT" on it and it will work perfectly. let it have javascript and all the cookies it wants. if they figure out how to close firefox, make firefox respawn on close. perfect solution.

      I even removed the hard drives, boots from a old useless 256 meg CF card (80X card) stuck in a $2.00 adapter in the IDE
  • Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:49PM (#20459561)
    Man, you should know better than to ask a question like that on Slashdot. The Mac guys will say to use a Mac, and the Linux guys will say to use Linux. And then the Windows guys will complain about bias. Just watch =)
    • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Funny)

      by DeadChobi ( 740395 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:19AM (#20459865)
      What is it about all the "use Linux" posts on slashdot? Jeez, this is one of the most biased communities on the internet when it comes to operating systems. Everyone knows that Windows provides the most user-friendly browsing experience on the face of the planet.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Enderandrew ( 866215 )
        Without an emoticon I can't tell if you're being tongue-in-cheek or trolling.

        I'm going to assume you're kidding.
        • You... you couldn't possibly... think he was serious, could you? o_O

          It didn't even occur to me until I read your post. :P
          • I don't think he was serious in that he believed his statement, but it could be that his intent was to troll and illicit flames.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by mgblst ( 80109 )

          Without an emoticon I can't tell if you're being tongue-in-cheek or trolling.

          So, you must get so confused when you leave your basement.
    • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:58AM (#20460923) Journal
      .... and the people who support actual old people will complain that you don't understand what old people need. Unfortunately, many old people need a bit more than the original poster suggested.
      • They do need Javascript and Flash, because too much of the Web uses it. Therefore you need an environment that can support that dangerous junk safely :-) You also need to be able to play a couple of different video and audio formats.
      • Old people print stuff. That's how they remember it between sessions, especially if they've got a kiosky environment where they can't save their own stuff easily. It's also how they make it easier to read some things that are hard to read on screen. So you need printing.
      • Shared machines might need logins or equivalent to take care of bookmarks and web-page stored passwords.
      • Old people need email, but you can punt it over to Yahoo/etc. if you want.
      • Some old people like Instant Messages; others don't.
      • Some old people need to be able to load pictures from their cameras, so they can mail them to their kids or grandkids.

      My first thought was to do a Linux livecd of some sort (or MacOS or BartPE or OpenBSD if you're not a Linux fan.) You *should* be able to do a pretty safe read-only-/usr environment instead, which will perform better and be a bit more reliable, and you can build yourself a reinstall-everything CD/DVD to fix things in case it's acting up - just try to find some way to preserve any user account settings. VMWare or User-Mode Linux or Xen can make it easy to build a heavy-duty sandbox environment to make it easier to keep the basic system safe if you want.

      The important part of the user's interface to the operating system is that if they turn the power switch off and then on again, everything will work as if it were loading from scratch. Maybe they need to type in their name and a password, or maybe not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vtcodger ( 957785 )
      ***The Mac guys will say to use a Mac, and the Linux guys will say to use Linux. And then the Windows guys will complain about bias.***

      You've sort of bracketed the right answer there. Almost all malware attacks today are aimed at Windows users. Using Windows pretty much mandates using a virus checker that will need to be attended to. And a firewall and/or NAT router is pretty much mandatory with Windows. The specifications say minimal maintenance. So Windows is probably the wrong OS for this applica

  • Wii (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Techno-Hat ( 841694 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:49PM (#20459577)
    It's called a Nintendo Wii. Turn it on, browse awhile, zoom in, zoom out and turn it off.
    • I have to 2nd this suggestion. I've found that I've been browsing the internet more and more on my wii because I can just veg out on the couch and not have to type anything or sit in front of a computer screen. However, the Wii mote is kind of shaky, if they could improve the pointer behavior somewhat I think it would be more intuitive.
      • by Kris_J ( 10111 ) *
        If your wiimote cursor is twitchy, try putting the little IR light bar thingy on the plastic stand that came with it.
    • This is by far the best suggestion. There is no safer, more hassle free way to browse at that price point.
  • by mccrew ( 62494 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:50PM (#20459587)
    F11 in Firefox goes to full screen mode. Lots less to mess up.
  • Live CD (Score:3, Informative)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:50PM (#20459591) Homepage Journal
    Just use machines with a decent amount of RAM,like a full gig, an optical drive, and one of the mini linux distros like damn small. No hard drive needed. About as simple to do as anything and un-hosable.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Some browse-only Live CDs (eg cl33n [] and Webconverger [] just boot, connect to the internet and open Firefox....even less to break than DSL. [Full disclosure: I put cl33n together, originally for new computer users at a local community centre].
  • by aweraw ( 557447 ) * <> on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:51PM (#20459597) Homepage Journal
    Check out the VMWare browser applicance... basically a disposable OS with browser in a vmware image. If it gets broken, just create another copy - no need to worry about the base system getting hammered with crap.

    VMWare Player is free - have at it!
    • by jamesh ( 87723 )
      I second that. Or xen.

      Even go a step further and create a new copy of the 'virgin' setup every time you reboot. If anything goes wrong just reboot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SeanTobin ( 138474 )
      Sorry for being blatantly off-topic, but just wanted to let you know...

      Yes, someone did just put your sig through 5 rounds of base 64 decoding...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CAR912 ( 788234 )
        Thank heavens for Leet Key [], just select, right-click, and select leetkey->text transformers->base64 decode... several times.
      • by sconeu ( 64226 )
        Six rounds, actually.

        $ base64 -d | base64 -d | base64 -d | base64 -d | base64 -d | base64 -d

    • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:20AM (#20459879) Homepage Journal
      It's not hard to set the virtual machine so that it doesn't commit changes. That's probably the easiest thing to do. No need to create a new copy.
    • by rm999 ( 775449 )
      That doesn't necessarily create a user friendly environment. Is there some sort of firefox skin/mode that has almost no options, big text/graphics, and is intuitive to use for old people that you can install in the virtual machine?
  • by 808140 ( 808140 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:52PM (#20459607)
    This seems like a no-brainer to me. You don't even need a window manager, although there are some minimalist ones that will do the trick for things like the preferences window, etc. Firefox has font-size adjustment, so that's not a problem, and you can theme gtk to be high contrast with large font sizes in the menu, etc.

    Why make life difficult on yourself?
  • suggestion: (Score:4, Funny)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:52PM (#20459609) Journal
    show them lemonparty. They won't be interested any more. (then again, maybe they will).
  • DSL (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tsiangkun ( 746511 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:53PM (#20459619) Homepage
    Get a Damn Small Linux CD.

    Boot off CD, to RAM if possible, and enjoy the internet.

    100% worry free computer usage.

    If they want the computer to do more than just the internet, tell
    them the instructions are available, on the internet. Have fun.

    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )
      Booting Linux from a live CD is a perfectly valid idea, but it is not absolutely necessary to lock the machine down to pure web browsing. Leave OpenOffice available, and if anyone wants to keep their own data files, they can buy a flash drive -- a "one size fits all" approach is fine: if you can get 1 GB sticks in bulk for $15, that's probably a pretty good balance. Same with pictures they may want to download. If they don't want to bother, and most probably won't, that's fine. Those who want to do more are
  • What's wrong with customizing an Ubuntu install, removing easy access to all the stuff they don't need?
    Pretty hard to install spyware when it's not compatible with the system.

    Hell, you can run it from a live CD if you want, then they'd have a really hard time screwing it up.
  • Opera on Linux (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dlugar ( 124619 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:57PM (#20459655) Homepage
    Try Opera on Linux. You get full resizing (of both text and images) with single buttons (plus and minus, no modifiers needed). With Linux you can put work into locking down everything else, so e.g. you can only have a single, full-screen version of Opera running.

    • by alfredo ( 18243 )
      Opera on any platform will do the trick with kiosk mode.
    • Re:Opera on Linux (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Echnin ( 607099 ) <p3s46f102@sneakemai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:33AM (#20460417) Homepage
      I'll second this. The zoom feature of Opera is one of the few ingenious Opera features that haven't been copied by other browsers yet. Everything is increased in size smoothly, even Flash elements. Just get some reasonably high-resolution monitors for the machines (1600 horizontal), and run at 200% default zoom, then you can have blind people browsing the web. Another poster mentioned that only the content is zoomed, and not the application itself, but you will probably want to hide or disable most of the application interface (menu bar, tabs) using kiosk mode [] anyway. You can set the images in the address bar to large size, and then the only remaining issue (which I admit may be somewhat significant) is the size of the address field, which is still small. It is possible this can be configured using themes, but I don't know.
  • Opera Kiosk Mode (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pap22 ( 1054324 ) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:59PM (#20459677) []

    Designed to be used at public terminals. Bonus points for installing it on Linux.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AmishMoshr ( 774633 )
      The Epiphany web browser has similar lock-down options under the Gnome desktop. It uses the same underlying rendering system as Firefox so site compatibility is good. I think you have to dig in to gconf-editor to turn all of the restriction options on, but I think from there you can restrict the browser to settings similar to what you seem to want. The interface is, by default, also very minimal which is a bonus for such situations.

      Some example options:
      - Lock to fullscreen mode
      - Disable all protocols exc
    • by cgenman ( 325138 )
      Just realize that Opera won't be the easiest for the administrator to setup. Which is not to say that it is hard, just that you will have to spend an hour or two configuring everything if you want things to be as simple as possible. Otherwise, Opera can be quite the advanced tool.
  • Setup a virtual machine using whatever VM software you prefer, and then setup a script or other mechanism to whip out the existing VM and reload it from a hidden copy every interval so that if someone does screw something up... you just reload and boom, they are back.

    Just make sure that your VM supports being run in full screen mode.
  • Use Kiosk Software (Score:3, Informative)

    by mombodog ( 920359 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:03AM (#20459723)
    Software is the answer. [] Or the Microsoft way []
  • by Jessta ( 666101 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:12AM (#20459799) Homepage
    - Gentoo Linux(minimum system means less things can be broken and less security updates required)
    - ssh (for remote administration)

    - xorg
    - Firefox( I think there is a kiosk mode addon, and you'll have to install security updates every couple of weeks)
    - dwm (remove the status bar and add rules to tag all firefox window the same)
    and run it all as a user with only read/write permission to firefox's cache.

    You can't disable javascript because so many websites stupidly depend on it.
    I've seen some sites that don't display anything if javascript is disabled.

    - Jesse McNelis

  • by nate nice ( 672391 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:12AM (#20459801) Journal
    Write a simple program that calls off to their favorite sites and prints them out. Then give them paper version of what they like.

    Then they can pass it around, etc. Sort of like bookmark sharing.
  • MSNTV (formerly WebTV) is what my grandma uses. Hooks up to her TV set, uses dialup (I think the new versions allow you to plug in a cable modem or otherwise use ethernet). Simple, not much to screw up. I think there are some anti-phishing and anti-virus things done on the server end.
  • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:20AM (#20459869)
    I know, gonna get ripped, but what the hell...

    set up a pretty decent single computer (running linux of course) and hook several terminals to it. have them either boot up like LTSP or do a small install and get X remotely. they could log in and you can set up what apps they have access to. if they aren'[t computer literate, they won't know firefox on linux from firefox on XP. and it's a bit safer, I'd wager.

    or, remoce (or just unplug) the hard drives and give them boto cd's like ubuntu. or just leve the cd's in the drive. you can make a custom ubuntu cd which has only basic browsing, plus can already be set up for proxies, etc.

    either way, it's gonna be hard to mess up the system. that's my $0.02. more work up front, far less down the road.
    • Bingo, boot from some kind of readonly media. That way the fix for anything short of a hardware fault is just a reboot. Anything happens that you don't understand, just press that small red button over there.
  • Naturally you'll want to look at one of the many Internet Kiosk setups out there.

    My personal preference would be to roll out a thin client setup using Linux thin clients w firefox in kiosk mode as a full-screen login session. No viruses, if it crashes you reset it, etc. Simple - if you know some Linux. K12LTSP is helpful for those not already familiar with DHCP, tftp, etc and who lack an existing server infrastructure. Even if you do have an existing solid network I'd strongly recommend the LTSP base as a s
  • A Simple Solution (Score:3, Informative)

    by Soloact ( 805735 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:26AM (#20459939) Homepage Journal
    I believe someone already has done something like this with Linux, called "Cl33n Linux" [] It allows browsing and only uses Web Applications and Web Mail if the user wants to do some other type of work. Although it doesn't include Flash, you might be able to include that in a variation. Then install it in kiosks. Hope this helps you in your search. The only other options would be Internet Appliances, such as Compaq's old IA or WebTV.
  • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:29AM (#20459957)
    I find it hard to believe that this guy needs to ask the question and never heard of Kiosks or Live CDs.

  • Zonbu []

    Yes, there's a subscription fee, but if you compare it to the price of off-site storage (which it is, plus more), you'll see it's quite reasonable.
    • by MsGeek ( 162936 )
      This would be swell for my computer-hating hubby. However, I'd just want to buy the little box outright and point the storage to a Samba server at home. Anyone know who's making that box?
  • Various companies make thin clients that run Windows CE as the OS. These thin terminals have a standard Windows interface, but without the bells and whistles.

    Most of the modern ones have a basic version of IE built-in, and can be configured to boot up from their flash disk and just run as an Internet browser. All you need to provide is a DHCP server so they can obtain an IP address and they can immediately surf the web from any network.

    I have one at home for friends to "check their email" when I don't want

  • I think I'd make a bootable bartpe cdrom, and put firefox on there using the kiosk plugin.
    A few plugins, java, and a couple basic bookmarks, and your done.

    Hardware wise, I'd have external volume, and a screen blanker.

    Plus the bartpe reboots every 24 hours to make m$ happy.
  • the solution to this little problem could very well be firefox+wine on a usb stick. it runs on Mac, Windows *and* Linux, can be installed on all three, is very customizable, relatively cheap, and very safe with the right extensions. not only that but you can back up the user profile, switch between them if you want and only need one good copy which you can clone ad infinitum.
    a list of extensions that might just fix this little problem:
    adblock [kills ads]
    no script [again kills ads, helps against any javas
  • Four thing.....

    1) OpenDNS - block a lot of phishing and adult sites before it even reaches their computer.
    2) Get them an iMac - it's simple to use and most of the hacking world does not care about MacOS. Plus, unlike Linux there's a lot of support documentation on the net that a user can tap into (and understand).
    3) Firefox - Safari is nice but Firefox has more ad-blocking and anti-phishing extensions that make the Internet a safer place.
    4) Gmail - ditching Outlook will save you a world of hurt.
  • Aside from the large text size requirement, this sounds really similar to something that Jamie Zawinski ( []) did for the DNA Lounge kiosks [] -- a set of diskless linux systems that all network boot from a central NFS server, and are easily resettable. (Sounds like quite a weekend to set up, though.)
  • Buy them a Nintendo Wii and download Opera for it.

    * It works on any TV they have, so no need to purchase a computer, find a place for a desk, etc.
    * It is a easy browsing experience, with built in zoom (helpful for older eyes).
    * It can do web-based e-mail, can surf the web, and view videos, etc.
    * It has a built in Weather and News channels service that are intuitive and fun
    * Plus, the included game (Wii Sports) might be very enjoyable and useful for maintaining activity (particularly Bowling and Golf,

  • That will do the trick.
  • Security (Score:5, Informative)

    by halcyon1234 ( 834388 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:31AM (#20460409) Journal
    There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep the computers safe from the users, but don't neglect the opposite of this.

    As every poster has pointed out, you can rock-solid a computer with Kiosk modes, virtual machines, etc, etc. But if you're going to put a tool like the Internet into the hands of (shall we say) "unskilled" users, you have a responsibility to protect them from the baddies.

    Before anyone gets on the computer for the first time, drill some basic saftey tips into them. Do not give out passwords. Do not give out personal data. Do not give out financial data. Not to anyone, no matter how legit it looks. For many, this is probably their first experience on the internet. You cannot take for granted that they have been ingrained with The Basics. They don't know about Phishing. They don't know people can make a website that looks exactly like their banks' website. They don't know about Nigeran princes. Their bases have only every belonged to them.

    Print out some Golden Rules, and post them in the computer lab/common area/whatever. If the computers are going to be in the resident's apartments, make sure you print out something that can be stuck to the monitory.

    Send them out to play, but not in traffic.

    You can do some things behind the scenes as well. Route everything through a gateway you control. Make sure you have some good security on it. Go grab PeerGuardian's list, and maybe's host file. Keep it up to date so that it blocks all the well known phishing sites. Concider blocking any outbound request for an IP address (rather than an URL). Run a mail server with a kickass spam filter, and give them all their own email boxes. ( It also makes it easier to whitelist their friends&family email addresses to let legit attachments through.

    Try running guided tours of the Internet. Don't just pluck them down and say "here you go". Show them good places to go, and how to get there. News sites. Wikipedia. National Geographic's site. Typing Tutor sites. Maybe some instructional courses: How to use Flickr to view and post family albums. How to edit a Wikipedia article about the hometown they grew up in (and know everything about... preserve the knowledge!)

    Do this right, and not only will you have safe comptuers-- but you'll also have safe, happy, productive users.

  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:33AM (#20460421) Journal
    Subject says it.

    If you are really, REALLY only interested in a browser, then Firefox on Linux takes the cake. VMWare-based solutions are overcomplicated and under-performing. Firefox on Linux has the following neat qualities:

    1) Once configured with well supported hardware, it's nearly impossible to hork without the root password.

    2) cron can automagically apply updates (via yum on RPM distros, apt on Debian derivatives) via cron.

    3) Viruses are rare to non-existent. (See #1)

    4) Usability is good - it's not hard to teach somebody how to use it.

    5) Compatability is decent. (not all flash/shockwave/java thingies work without a bit of crabbing, but it's usually doable)

    6) Works wonderfully with that old 1.5 Ghz P4 you got at the yard sale for $80.

    7) Remote support is decent. You can ssh in, forward X11 to your local system, and see whatever they see.

    But, if you want MORE than the basics (EG: a browser + Internet connection) and might want to give the users a full computer (TM) then I'd strongly recommend a Mac. They can be had used for fairly cheap, almost all will run OSX, and I've never seen a computer that I've had fewer problems with when my 6 kids bring over their 27 friends to my (forever messy) kid-friendly house.

    If they are more expensive, it comes back rather quickly in "OMFG IT JUST FRICKKEN WORX!" savings. (but don't expect Windows Media support anytime soon)

    And, in case you are curious, I'm a long-term Linux geek, my laptop runs Fedora Core 6, my servers are all CentOS 4.x and I love 'em. They are rock-solid and the servers deliver 99.95% uptime. (most of the last 0.05% is not because of software problems, either)

    Linux is fabulous for servers, passable for a deskop, mostly due to lack of 3rd party support.. MacOS is the opposite - teh shiznit for desktop systems thanks to great OS and decent 3rd party support, but only passable for a server.

    Windows is, at best, median at either - although it's a crappy solution to both desktop and server issues, the industry 3rd party support makes up for much of the rotting carcass that is the Win32 API.

  • How can it possibly getting bigger every day? The people that are getting older are the ones that are already accustomed to the Internet/email/all that stuff, so I can't agree with your reasoning at all that the market you're speaking about is getting bigger every day - if anything it should be getting smaller as we will eventually see 100% of my generation (who grew up with computers) being elderly and knowing exactly what the internet is and how to use it.

    Of course, something new gets invented down the ro
  • A few years ago, I worked for a technology company, Smiling Screens Inc., as an intern. They were developing a program specifically for this scenario, SimpleC []. Their idea was to create a program that provided basic functionality--pictures, email, internet, games (solitaire), and an internet browser--to the user. Their focus, as of a few years ago, was specifically the elderly, so you may want to get ahold of them.
  • lynx (Score:5, Funny)

    by turing_m ( 1030530 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:19AM (#20460683)
    with a 21 inch monitor (nice big text by default), OpenBSD, no X, just a terminal. What's not to like?

    "These folks don't need any sophistication. and they need only the most basic options."
  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:15PM (#20465357)
    Yhese folks don't need any sophistication. and they need only the most basic options. Adjustable text size would be nice, but otherwise -- no email, no word processing or editing, no printing -- just Internet browsing.

    I disagree.

    Used imaginatively, the computer can break down the physical isolation of the elderly and disabled. Help them to read, to write, to speak their mind freely. Don't deny them the benefits of e-mail, instant messaging and chat.

    Don't deny them a printer. Encourage them to personalize their small - institutionalized -space with letters, photographs, graphics of every kind. Let them fill scrapbooks, albums.

    There is so much out there that they would enjoy.

    My grandmother loved the sentimental artwork of the Victorians, Coolidge's poker-playing dogs.

    If they are lucky, there will be - one - Reading Radio station programmed to their needs and tastes. On the Internet, there may be dozens, hundreds.

    Don't ignore the mental and physical challenge of online games and puzzles.

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann