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Configuring a Windows PC For a Senior Citizen? 823

An anonymous reader writes "I would like to know if there are any resources on the Web or elsewhere describing how to configure a Windows PC for an older parent not living in the same household. Assume little computer familiarity or aptitude. Some stuff is obvious, like using only a few large icons for favorite Web sites, or an icon perhaps for composing email and another for checking email. Other considerations are eliminating nuisance messages from Windows update and antivirus/firewall. What works and what doesn't? Can anyone who has worked/volunteered at a senior center offer some insights?"
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Configuring a Windows PC For a Senior Citizen?

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  • Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Peeloo ( 760936 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @05:46AM (#26221241) Homepage
    I've had the same problem with my parents for years, going back home each Christmas to reformat windows and spending the week getting the configuration back to normal. For the last 3 years they've used Ubuntu, with some problem with the printer the first few months, but now I'm just spending a few minutes pushing the "Upgrade Version" button instead of a total reformat. They can check their mail/internet and you don't have to worry about virus/firewall, win-win :)
    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @05:57AM (#26221287)

      Strongly agree. This is the approach I took with technically-deficient people, and it works great.

      Windows is the worst choice for this set up. It literally breaks by itself, and remains by an astronomical margin the main target of crackers, spam, phishing, viruses, etc. Trying to keep it going is a lot of work.

      The one (and only IMO) major advantage it has is the availability of options (software, hardware), and if this isn't important - which it isn't, in the set up you're describing - then look to the alternatives.

      • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ubrgeek ( 679399 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:51AM (#26221881)
        Not to nitpick, but the comment, "It literally breaks by itself" isn't true, IMO. Third-party components in patches, etc. are most often the blame. Or malware. But that hardly constitutes breaking by itself. Especially in terms of "literally" doing so. I'm far from a fan of the OS, being a huge Mac fanboy (I have one Vista box in the house so I can see what the fuss is about. The other six are Macs and an Ubuntu file server for backups) but the statement isn't accurate.

        All that said, I concur with using Ubuntu. Much more user friendly for the elderly or those less computer adept.
        • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

          by BrentH ( 1154987 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:17AM (#26222013)
          Thing is, Windows systems do appear to accumulate clutter, no matter how you use it. Be it viruses or spyware (a big problem with senior citizens, in fact all non computer aficionados) or all the updates from the basic software utils you need (Adobe reader, Quicktime, some sort of Office suite), Windows itself even. I find that a Linux system (Ubuntu in particular for me) takes all that away. Of course, no viruses or spyware, and a central updatemanager that knows what it does and doesnt accumulate cruft in the way Windows does.

          If you want maintenance free, go with Ubuntu.
          • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

            by paganizer ( 566360 ) <[thegrove1] [at] []> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @09:14AM (#26222317) Homepage Journal
            I guess I'm doing it wrong.
            I started with 2 partitions, FAT32 & NTFS, installed Win2k Pro, then patched it up.
            Installed Tiny Personal Firewall v2.0.15, Firefox (with adblock, firenes, and IEview plugins), SpyBot, irfanview, media player classic, WinAmp 2.95, RealVNC server 4.0, adobe 5 (this was before Foxit 3 came out), their HP all-in-one printer software, DivX, Xvid & various other codec packs, Audacity (my dads a musician []), open office (my moms a writer []), Shockwave, Mozilla Thunderbird, Juno (my moms been using it since it was free dial-up, she likes the interface), winzip, Winrar, 7z, notepad++, JAVA, AVG, Picasa (when it came out), and thats essentially it.
            Then, a script to rar the "my documents" folder to the 1st partition at bootup once a week, incrementing rar filename each time; chkdsk /f every 2 weeks at startup, and defrag every 3 weeks.
            Disable all phone-home software, including windows update; to be safe, several domains are pointed to localhost in the HOSTS file. remove all IE & OE icons, put shortcuts for everything they are likely to need in the alluser profile. Select registry changes to turn off some of the more obnoxious windows stuff.
            After installing all this and making sure everything plays well with each other, I then ghosted the 2nd partion to a compressed image on the 1st.
            They have 2 emergency CD's; the first blows away the NTFS partition, then recreates it from the image on the 1st partition
            The 2nd is KNOPPIX; if they can't get ahold of me or think that I need to look at things before they use the other emergency CD. I also encourage them to just play around with it.
            This has worked perfectly for the last 3+ years; if they get suspicious about something, I just come in through VNC viewer and take a look; probably every day for the first 2 weeks, then maybe once a week, now maybe once a month, if that. TPF turned on to paranoid mode doesn't let anything get in or get installed without a pop-up telling you about it. I go ahead and update & run SpyBot whenever I come in for a peek (BTW, one of the recent SPyBot updates has started really screwing with the registry; it's optimized for XP and just causes Win2k's registry to expand); I usually update the virus definitions at the same time, and delete some of the older "My Documents" backups.
            They've usedthe emergency restore CD once, about 2 years ago; I need to update the image on my next visit.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              And how much time did you use on this? Sounds like it didn't happen in a day...

              • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

                by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:20PM (#26224727) Homepage Journal
                Honestly, for an older, technically deficient person, I think the easiest way to set things up for them to easily use a to do Apple.

                That's what I'm about to do for my mom. I tried windows with her, and honestly, I was surprised to see how much trouble she had with a mouse...when she started getting the movement down...the 2 button thing just killed her.

                I run mostly linux, some solaris, one windows xp box at home..and an older iBook I picked up. I've shown her the OSX on the iBook...and she seemed to be able to get around on it.

                So, I think it would be perfect for her....the 'it just works thing' will be good for her. The updates are pretty regular from Apple and security is pretty good. I think I can also set up her box to allow me to ssh into it, and admin it remotely (I live out of state) for her when things go bad.

                I'm not up here more than once or twice a, quick set up after buying and all are important to, in a couple days, I can buy it...set it up for her pretty much right out of the box...and spend most of my limited time with her showing her how to use it, rather than setting things up...which customizing a linux install would likely consume more of.

                And honestly...well, Mom is also concerned about how things 'look' around the house. The stylish iMac appeals to her sense of, that alone is a motivating factor for getting it for her. If it looks nice out...she will not have it stuck back in a hidden part of the house, where it would sit and not be used as much...etc..

            • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:20AM (#26222761) Homepage Journal

              With all that necessary just to run an end-user system, Windows will never be ready for the desktop.

            • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:37AM (#26222909)

              Dude, read what you just wrote. If you are serious, I would like to know how much you charge your folks for support.

              Score: 5 Ridiculous

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Gothmolly ( 148874 )

              I guess you could do all this, or just install Ubuntu.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by d3ac0n ( 715594 )

                Heh. I was thinking the same thing when I saw his post.

                "Well I just did this... (insert 3 paragraphs of long and convoluted technical backflips needed to make Windows even semi-secure)"


                "Well I just installed Ubuntu."

                I know which one I would pick.

                Besides, I LOVE my Grandparents, they are neat people. Why would I torture them with "Windows Pain"?

            • Go Ash! (Score:5, Informative)

              by darkvizier ( 703808 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:57AM (#26223093)

              So what you're saying is you're like Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness []. Seems like a lot of work to protect a few people, but it is entertaining. :-]

              From what you've written, I'm assuming you're a Windows admin professionally. The solution you've found fits well in that light. But for the people out there that aren't Windows admins, there are much easier ways to get to a satisfactory result.

              Have you tried Kubuntu? Most of the functionality you mentioned would already be installed and configured correctly, and the package manager makes installing new apps and updating old ones a breeze. You've also got a lot more flexibility for writing custom backup scripts and such.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by evanbd ( 210358 )
              If your goal is minimal time involvement in someone else's computer, you absolutely are doing it wrong. Setting up Ubuntu will be quicker and require less maintenance. Also, are you seriously suggesting disabling Windows update on an internet-connected computer that gets maintenance once a year? If so, you're insane, considering the frequency of security holes. Remember, this is for a user who won't be running it manually, and if they were it wouldn't have any decision-making benefit over doing it autom
          • SteadyState (Score:4, Interesting)

            by calgar99 ( 856142 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:11AM (#26222685)
            Try installing Windows SteadyState. A reboot will fix the PC every time. :)
        • Ten "ubuntu is easier than Windows" comments later, I can't believe I am twistedly talented enough to be the only guy to break unbuntu in 5 minutes flat.


          Begin with a nice, roasted Dapper Drake.
          See flashy "Upgrade LTS to LTS - Dapper to Hardy".
          Visit Synaptic & (attempt) to set repositories to Hardy.
          Begin update attempt.
          "You must freshen files before getting the new release".
          Attempt to get new versions of existing.
          "Edgy Eft is available" (No mention of Hardy.)
          Clicked to get some Edgy Files.

          Lights o

        • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

          by neonfrog ( 442362 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:55PM (#26225053)

          What breaks my parents Windows PC isn't their use - it's OTHER people: other family members, wacky in-laws, visitors, well-meaning friends, grand-kids (aged 4 to 40), neighbors.

          I find I am often building a machine a COMMUNITY will use. If it isn't a Windows machine, then someone in the community will eventually talk them into Windows (and botch the install and lose all their pictures - been there). When some other "expert" tells them how to do something, they think they are saving *me* time by letting them! Almost never works out that way, though...

          So I setup the Windows machine as best I can such that anybody can sit down and use it. That means Windows and lots of good practices. Make a locked-down visitors account, etc. (much good stuff in other posts). If people sit down and the machine just works they are way less tempted to try and break it.

          For example I always install iTunes and WMP in ways that are non-nagging and safe. I used to install Winamp and hide WMP, but then iTunes would get installed by SOMEBODY and someone else would try Windows Media Player and enable default DRM crap thereby breaking iTunes, and the RealPlayer would get on there and break it all over again - result = me doing tech support. So I set it up the right way and when they use it, it just works (even RealPlayer!) and they aren't tempted to "fix" it better. Been quite stable this way and my parents don't have to play PC cop or Ubuntu Guru for their extended family and friends. I get the occasional toolbar in Firefox you don't want, but their machine is often the most workable of their community.

          Ubuntu would NOT work for their community. Neither I nor my folks can educate them all. Unfortunately the same is true of the Mac. I use all 3 OSes, BTW, and prefer Ubuntu for myself.

          If your parents have no friends or family, then, by all means, set them up with Ubuntu or a Mac. But if they are a community hub like mine are, you're best bet is to cater to the community and enable it (in a sand-boxed way) to work the way they expect and that's Windows, done right.

    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

      by silanea ( 1241518 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @05:57AM (#26221291)

      Second that. My mother had avoided any and all contact with computers up until a year ago. I slapped Ubuntu on my old notebook, gave her a crash course in "doing things with that machine" and happiness ensued. She does ask me things from time to time, but so far she hasn't been able to break anything.

      Particularly the update management comes in handy: On Windows every program has its own confusing and annoying way of locating updates. On Linux you get one window asking you for one click.

    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

      by austin987 ( 1233720 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:07AM (#26221337)

      Agree with parent. While many /.'ers are probably using some version of linux already, it's really a good solution for parents, etc. A few years ago, my mother's PC died after a bunch of virii and finally a hard drive failure. I built a new one and told her I was tired of fixing all those problems, and she was going to try something new. Installed Ubuntu (Dapper or Edgy IIRC), made sure her e-mail/favorite websites worked and gave it to her. Aside from having to explain how to install updates, she hasn't had a problem to date.

      On a similar note, I gave my grandmother an old laptop and stripped out most of the ubuntu install, and filled it with lots of games. Locked down her account so she can't screw anything up, removed all shortcuts except games. She has bad insomnia, and enjoys playing the card games/mahjong at night. Works well for her, aside from her occasionally unplugging it instead of shutting it down properly (I'm going to set it to mount / as read only to prevent this when I go there for holidays).

      Long story short, seriously consider using Ubuntu, the learning curve for it is much easier than teaching them to avoid spyware/virii.

      • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:52AM (#26221561)

        my mother's PC died after a bunch of virii

        The plural of virus is viruses

      • (I'm going to set it to mount / as read only to prevent this when I go there for holidays)

        I don't know if thats such a good idea. I know where you're coming from, so hard power offs won't corrupt the filesystem (thanks goodness for ext3/journaling), but what if mahjong or whatever writes or wishes to write data like saves, high scores or something to the hard drive? You might crash your mom's card games like that, and even worse if some important daemon critically relies on logging or (warning: !myareaofexpertise) GNOME/X11 configurations write temporary data to the disk?

        I think it would be l

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:16AM (#26221699)

        I know Fanboy Homos will get crazy and crucify me for what I will say but this is was my experience:
        Like a good fanboy linux advocate, I installed Ubuntu on all my elderly relatives computers, my grand-dad, dad and mom, they all live on different houses, and hours of plane travel from me.
        So, I even installed VNC so I could manage their GUI desktops if necessary. I showed them the pretty Gnome GUI and the pretty browsers and how to use e-mail, so they were pretty happy.
        But, then it started: they couldn't access their preferred websites, because flash didn't install properly. So, I had to teach a 80 year's old how to untar and copy a library over to the mozilla directory, which was a pretty gruesome experience.
        Well, Ubuntu was such a piece of crap for them that they started to call me screaming they need their good windows computers back because their friends were going to websites and they couldn't do the same.
        So, as result, my elderly relatives found a Windows tech guy, the guy installed XP on their machines, and they were happy again.
        I had to pay for their installations, but wasn't able to avoid being banished from family forever, thanks to the fanboyish failure machine: Ubuntu.
        This Xmas, the windows tech guy will be seating at their Xmas dinner table while I will be eating Macaroni and Cheese from my microwave, alone at my house.
        So, my advice to this guy asking about his elderly relative: Do not follow the fanboys here as they don't have real families and WoW NPCs really like when their kids or grandkids install Ubuntu on their PCs, but real people don't.
        Do like this: Find a store selling LEGIT Windows XP copies. Buy one, install it, activate automatic updates. Install a good AUTOMATIC anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware. Install Firefox and all the plugins. MAKE SURE THAT FIREFOX WORKS!!!!! (stupid FOSS...) Then activate Remote Desktop so you can fix the machine remotely. And, voila, you got a happy relative with a happy computer.
        And you can have happy Xmases forever, without have to being cursed because of the homo-fanboy F*ckuntu...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by suckmysav ( 763172 )

          "flash didn't install properly. So, I had to teach a 80 year's old how to untar and copy a library "

          Nice attempt at a troll, but that hasn't been the case for several years now.

          Now Mozilla simply asks you if you would like to download "flash-Plugin_nonfree" from the multiverse repository.

          You click "yes", type in your password and restart firefox.

          It's no harder than installing it on Windows.

          But don't listen to me. You just sit there happy in your bitter little world and clutch that Windows safety blanket to

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Toll_Free ( 1295136 )

            Except for the simple fact that you ignored the "flash didn't install properly" in the beginning of the sentence.

            If it doesn't install properly, you're left with going and getting a tarball and making it install properly.

            Please, before you stop reading a sentence in your zeal to get your fanboi activism off, comprehend the ENTIRE sentence first.

            And yes, it's still the case, installing from tarballs, when the magicall mythicall UBUNTU repository stops working.

            (disclaimer, I have a ubuntu system, a

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by rhyder128k ( 1051042 )

          This Xmas, the windows tech guy will be seating at their Xmas dinner table while I will be eating Macaroni and Cheese from my microwave, alone at my house.

          You were ex communicated from your entire ungrateful family. Surely that was worth the time investment of Ubuntu in itself?

          "Hey, I heard that you're having some computer difficulties again. Y'want me to pop over and try to fix it? Oh right, you don't trust me to do it anymore. Fair enough, you might be better asking someone a bit more qualified than me"." [fx: pats Ubuntu CDS and whispers "Thankyou, Shuttleworth!"]

          In my experience, getting people like that stay away is rarely that easy.

        • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:34AM (#26222875) Homepage Journal

          This Xmas, the windows tech guy will be seating at their Xmas dinner table while I will be eating Macaroni and Cheese from my microwave, alone at my house.

          Just go upstairs, already. Your mom will be happy to see you again.

    • I run Ubuntu and recommend Linux distros to others based on their needs. Ubuntu with VirtualBox hosting XP is quick and easy to set up...

      That being said, just getting a static IP for the parent's Windows box so you can remote in for periodic maintenance would also be a decent way to go.

      More on topic, I think the AARP maintains an advisory board for technology issues. There was a /learntech area to their .org last time I checked, not sure if there is info for implementors.

    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

      by msormune ( 808119 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:16AM (#26221383)
      A Week? Really? :) Why did you format it in the first place? Why did you setup a restore image in the first place created on the Windows clean installation?

      And the last time I did Upgrade Version on Ubuntu, it took an hour just to download the new files.

      I have really no problem your post and have used Ubuntu desktop with success in the past, but it just irks me how much GNU/Linux people bend the truth when pushing their agenda. Or maybe they really just don't know any better than just to "format and reinstall" on Windows.
      • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

        by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:32AM (#26221467)
        And the last time I did Upgrade Version on Ubuntu, it took an hour just to download the new files.

        Perhaps, but did you have to intervene while it did that? How long the computer takes to do its stuff is less important: the question is how long the human job takes, and that is indeed only a few minutes.

      • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:4, Informative)

        by Lachlan Hunt ( 1021263 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:55AM (#26221571) Homepage

        From my experience, the format and reinstall approach is the quick and easy way to deal with a machine that has become filled with lots of junky software that's no longer used, infected with mallicious software, and, in general, has things that just randomly don't work.

        However, given proper maintenance, a decent anti-virus program, regular defragging, and not letting anyone use IE or Outlook at all, it's entirely possible to keep an XP machine running well for a few years.

        But personally, I'd recommend getting a Mac. They're so much easier to use and maintain than Windows. I switched about a year ago and haven't looked back. Prior to that, I tried various Linux distros, including Ubuntu, but always ended up giving up and reverting to Windows.

    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rhyder128k ( 1051042 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:22AM (#26221417) Homepage
      Another vote for Ubuntu. I wrote [] about my experiences of moving my mother over to Linux at the beginning of the year. It's gone swimmingly and I'm writing the follow-up now. What possible advantage could there be in setting up a non-expert, non-gamer with Windows? For one thing, Windows XP seems to go wrong in places when you attempt to set a large font.
    • Linux of Mac (Score:5, Insightful)

      by robinjo ( 15698 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:47AM (#26221527)

      Really, do not install Windows for your older parents. They will just get in trouble with it. Get them a Mac or some really user friendly Linux distro, like Ubuntu.

      The #1 problem with Windows is not usability, but malware. As older people don't probably have any clue about security, it's best to let them use an OS, that will keep them out of trouble.

    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tloh ( 451585 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:02AM (#26221605)
      For those of us with parents who don't read English, Ubuntu has been a double blessing. The native language version of the Linux based OS is so much more available in the US than a legitimate (non-pirated) native language version of Windows.
  • Install mac os-x (Score:5, Informative)

    by localoptimum ( 993261 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @05:53AM (#26221267)
    My father has his own business with two employees - him and his wife. He wasted years of his life (and lots of money) messing about with XP. He came to me in despair one evening, he'd had enough. I told him to try a mac (linux was not very friendly 3 years ago). Now he runs his business himself with zero IT problems and he owns about 5 macs. He still has no idea how computers work, but it doesn't stop him getting the job done.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Black-Man ( 198831 )

      I steered my 80 year old mother to a Mac... best decision I could have made. Who wants to be on the phone w/ their mother over computer issues? With my mother... it would be all my fault... I would never live it down and the aggravation would never be worth it.

      Of course I had to pitch in $... because she is a cheap skate and knows PC's are a couple hundred bucks cheaper and there was no way she was gonna spend extra $ when she didn't have to. Typical of one who lived through the Great Depression I suppose.

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @05:54AM (#26221271)

    Unless you can get them to understand the basics of security(which means teaching them how to use a decent virus scanner, a firewall, something like Revo Uninstaller and maybe Process Explorer) your fighting a losing battle.

    The problem will not be large icons and the magnifier set up, but keeping all the crap, malware, data farming toolbar add-ons and such off the machine. If you cannot keep this stuff off, you will be doing a serious maintenance every six months or so anyways.

    With my own mother, I think alot of that crap she ends up with are from simply mis-clicking links, or possibly on notification windows. Hard to configure against stuff like that. You can no-script them to death, but then they have to know enough about it to let the safe stuff through.

    I have just resigned myself to cleaning up my mothers machine once a year at the holidays.

    • My grandpa used PC's since the early 80s. He taught us all how to work with a computer. As he got older and his eyesight deteriorated, he had a major problem keeping xp malware off his computer. It wasn't that he didn't know what to do, but he wasn't sure what he was clicking. But even with the VASTLY improved vista support for font sizing, it was not much help. He had already rejected OSX as being too much change.. but he had the same response to Vista.

      This is a problem that windows will most likely never

  • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @05:56AM (#26221285) Homepage

    You're doomed. Just give them your telephone number and book out 3 hours per week of your time for the rest of your life.

  • Done this before (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmneoblade ( 848781 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:02AM (#26221313)
    Make sure you give the computer with remote administration capabilities pre-setup and tested. Be prepared to be called with questions, and remote desktop can save you a LOT of time when grandma discovers popups. Or when something inevitably goes wrong.
  • Easy... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 800DeadCCs ( 996359 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:04AM (#26221327)


    I've done some tech support for people in my mother's building (and since then, re-affirmed my oath to NOT FUCKING do that ever again!),
    You may as well surf all the virus/trojan loaded sites before you give it to them and save them the trouble.
    And save yourself the trouble of having to explain why all their pictures are gone, or why they're victims of ID theft and not able to do anything about it.

    Many people are going to shout "UBUNTU!!! They can just do the updates themselves."
    Yeah, and then you're gonna be over there figuring out what happened when they do a version upgrade and it not just breaks, but shatters to pieces.

    I got my mom a mini-mac. The only issues I've had to fix are getting an old version of photoshop running on it, and telling her that "no, you don't have to pay for Open Office, that's a donation button, like on PBS."

    Disclaimers: I use ubuntu on my systems; no problems, I like it. I am not a mac fanboi. I know not every senior is technically inept; I've seen plenty who do amazing things on their systems, I've also seen some who shouldn't be allowed to own a toaster.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by suckmysav ( 763172 )

      Uhuh, because we all know that mac upgrades never introduce problems [], right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by battery111 ( 620778 ) *

      I too got my mom a Mac Mini. Along with it, I paid the $100 for the Apple 1 to 1 training service. It works for her, since she has an apple store near her home. She can go in every week, and get one on one instruction on how to do pretty much anything she wants to learn how to do, and they're very helpful when she has questions outside of those training sessions. I realize it's not exactly what the OP was asking to do, but it's worked out very well for her, and she's been much happier/productive with the ma

  • Their products have obscure behaviour and are only suitable for experts. Even for them, system administration and maintenance is a chore. Either get a Mac, with has low administration need on the first hand, or install Linux, which is ideally suited to remote administration. Best distro for this is possibly Ubuntu.

  • No surprises (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    1) Don't make the assumption that older folks can't grasp computing concepts. You'll know their abilities better than the /. horde, but even so...

    The other stuff puts the machine in a kiosk mode. It reduces the functionality of the machine, but can make remote troubleshooting easier.

    2) Get their comfort level up so that they don't worry about "breaking" the machine.

    3) Have some method of restoring a known state to the machine. There are even ways to do this automatically on boot. I actually did this by runn

  • While we're here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:16AM (#26221385)

    My parents have never driven a car, and i plan on buying them one for christmas.

    As well as never driving, they tell me they have no intention of learning but they fully intend to take it for a spin on christmas morning to go an see my brother who lives 50 miles away.

    Can someone recommend me a good car to buy them? preferably one which will work for it's entire lifetime with no maintenance or refuelling, and is instantly drivable by someone who does not know how to drive?

  • a.)
    - educate them so they can install things on their own
    - educate them "where" to save their files
    - educate them to buy an external HDD (ntfs has a nice mount to directory feature(DESKTOP/MYFILES)
    - educate them that for an application based question, they need to find a solution on their own.
    (this worked great for my mom, and her knowledge has grown since I started this)

    - close the access to the PC that they are working as a normal user, no install etc..
    - install firewall antivirus

    - install windows,
  • by MarkvW ( 1037596 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:18AM (#26221389)

    Older people generally have either no sensitivity to malware, or are extremely oversensitive on the subject. If you can make clean re-installs easy for them you'll be doing them a great service.

  • Linux.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mrphoton ( 1349555 )
    I know this is not the answer you are looking for but I have to say...... install linux (and gnome). It's accessibility software is far better than windows. I once introduced an undergrad with _ very_ limited vision to linux, I turned on inverted desktop colors. His reaction was amazing, he could see screen for the first time ever. I then showed him the gnome-magnifier and kmouth. It was as if the world had changed for him. The next day he came to the office with a fully installed copy of Ubuntu (inst
  • Buy 'em a Mac (Score:5, Informative)

    by igb ( 28052 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:25AM (#26221425)
    My father had a succession of Windows boxes. Hopeless: he's not naive, having used systems back to Wordstar on CP/M in the late seventies, but they kept on getting screwed up. My mother got fed up with the email breaking, so I slung Linux (Redhat 7 or something) on an old laptop: she loved it, and nothing seemed to break. But she wanted Office to interwork with newsletters she was helping on. So, although at the time I had little to no Mac experience, I got her to buy an iBook G4. It just worked. Dad bought one. It just worked. I switched my house over later, building on their good experience. A lot of their friends are making the same switch. Windows just doesn't work unattended, or at least the effort required to make it run unattended is beyond most people.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      My father had a succession of Windows boxes. Hopeless: he's not naive, having used systems back to Wordstar on CP/M in the late seventies, but they kept on getting screwed up. My mother got fed up with the email breaking, so I slung Linux (Redhat 7 or something) on an old laptop: she loved it, and nothing seemed to break. But she wanted Office to interwork with newsletters she was helping on. So, although at the time I had little to no Mac experience, I got her to buy an iBook G4. It just worked. Dad bought one. It just worked. I switched my house over later, building on their good experience. A lot of their friends are making the same switch. Windows just doesn't work unattended, or at least the effort required to make it run unattended is beyond most people.

      Seconded if there's a local apple store.

      If things do become a problem, the genius gets the call, NOT YOU!

  • My biggest issue with a 92-year-old using Vista was how to turn off the computer. He had problems clicking on the shutdown command. I put a batch file on the desktop and got past that hurdle. Other than that, he picked up what I taught him through constant repetition. Getting a senior up to speed takes time BUT IT IS WORTH IT. Once you give a senior the chance to see the world, you've given them a new lease on life.
  • It can be done (Score:3, Informative)

    by jregel ( 39009 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:35AM (#26221475) Homepage

    My father is 81 and uses a Windows XP machine daily. His primary use is email, the web and some basic office stuff (writing and the occasional spreadsheet using Microsoft Works). He sometimes downloads photos from his digital camera and prints them out. My parents bought a Kodak mini photo printer just for that.

    He runs as a limited user, has Firefox for the web and Thunderbird for email. I've set up a static IP and installed VNC, configuring the router to only accept incoming traffic from my external IP. We use Microsoft OneCare for AV protection and I can monitor that from my wife's Vista PC (same OneCare "circle").

    I rarely have to get involved in administering his computer. Windows Update does the majority of stuff, and I have a quick look at his machine every couple of months, although I do have the VNC access for other times.

    It can be done! The biggest issue for me is that his eyesight isn't brilliant and he likes to run at 800x600 on a 17" (CRT) monitor. I'd like to get him a bigger monitor so he doesn't have to scroll, but a lot of LCD monitors look bad in non-native resolutions. Any ideas?

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:37AM (#26221487) Homepage Journal

    I used a combination of the task scheduler and options within the programs to automatically update Spybot and AVG and to automatically run a scan. I set Spybot to scan on boot (this is the only annoyance I haven't figured out how to hide). They eat at noon like clockwork, so I set AVG to automatically scan then.

    They use Thunderbird for email. Initially I setup Outlook Express thinking the "normal" Windows way would be easier in the end, even though I used Thunderbird myself. Nope, to many headaches. Firefox and Thunderbird appear to work great for them. I have a 19" monitor running at 1024x768 which seems to be ok, but I'm on the lookout for needing to lower the resolution or increase the text size, so far so good.

    Something I have found, they love Frozen Bubble.

    The only thing I have to do is from time to time do a "big" upgrade when AVG releases an update that can't be done automatically, about once a year, or clean up after a younger cousin, not after my grandparents. I used to have it locked down automatically logging in with a user rights account to keep my little cousins from screwing it up, but Lexmark made that difficult and Granny couldn't remember a password. Lexmark drivers required admin rights just to use the printer. I figured out which folders to blow wide open, but Lexmark kept finding another way to make it difficult, and of course their answer for bad driver writing was to contact Microsoft. I finally found it was easier leave the thing auto logging in as Admin (I hate that) and educating/threatening my other relatives. After 10 years of educating them they've finally stopped installing spyware on my grandparents system, and seriously slowed down installing it on their own systems.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From a security standpoint I would repeat the advices that I given [] on the Network Security Blog:

    - The **most** effective thing is using a "non-standard" environment []. You can take a look at my post titled "Windows XP High Security Configuration []". Applying the listed security measures will prevent 99.99% of the malware from running!
    - don't let them run as admin!
    - if possible, use Vista (again, because XP is much more widely spread, most malware currently targets XP)
    - don't use mainstream programs! Use FoxitPD

  • by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:40AM (#26221507)

    This is one of the areas where steering them to purchase a Mac is a good thing. Yes, an iMac may seem pricy, but with AppleCare, the relative can get questions answered at a Genius Bar or via the Apple line and not have to keep bugging you. Linux is also good, but one advantage of Macs is that the older person can ask more than just you, as a lot more people run Macs than Linux boxes. Another factor is that the older person will be keeping the machine a lot longer than the usual 2-3 years a normal PC is used.

    Another advantage is that Macs run almost all popular software. Say the relative wants to watch a Flash movie or find a podcast, Macs happily do this with few issues. For word processing, iWork is easy to install and use and does most of the basics.

    Security-wise, ensuring the computer is behind a hardware firewall/router will keep the port scanners off the box, and setting OS X's firewall to "Allow only essential services" will do the rest. A basic lecture of not downloading stuff from the Web and running it should minimize the chance of Trojans, perhaps coupled with a decent A/V program. Give them an account with administrative rights so they can run Software Update and you are pretty much done.

    For loss of data, backups are quite easy with OS X. Plug in an external hard disk, configure Time Machine, walk away. For further protection, there is always Mozy which can back up the entire machine with unlimited storage for around $6 a month.

    This is just my personal opinion, so take for what its worth, but an iMac with an external hard disk (for Time Machine), a decent hardware firewall/router, and having all these plugged into a good UPS should get an older person up and running on the Internet and greatly decrease any chance of 2am "tech support" calls.

    OS X isn't perfect, but in this case of getting a user set up and as independent as possible, it might be one of the better solutions available.

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:01AM (#26221599)
    just give them a PC with no OS on it and an OpenBSD CDrom and Theo's phone number :D
  • For Older People (Score:5, Informative)

    by Whiteox ( 919863 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:50AM (#26221873) Journal

    I do work occasionally for the elderly in setting up WinX computers and I regularly donate my services to various individuals.
    Apart from setting up their desktops as I've detailed in a previous post []
    you need to install some helper apps.
    Avast Antivirus can be set to automatically delete/quarantine anything it finds with no user action. AVG 8 free doesn't scan chat/webcam so stay away from that if they want to use it.
    Find a good Hosts file: [] is very good.
    Point their DNS to OpenDns [] and use their filtering to stop phishing and other bad stuff. It also allows you to easily make customized error pages in case they find themselves in hot water.
    I would not switch off Windows Security Centre and have updates set at a reasonable time on automatic.
    Windows Media Player 11 is a must and set it to do everything.
    Also, set their screensaver to My Pictures Slideshow. They really appreciate that as many have pics of grandkids etc.
    Some elderly need good JPG editor. The easliest to use is Microsoft's PhotoEd which came in early versions of Office, Microsoft Office Picture Manager has now replaced it. It is much better in some regards as it can open larger jpegs, but the gui is considerably different. A bit of training helps. HP scanning software is very good as it has a decent editor inbuilt. Also Picassa 3 is my choice for a freebie.

    Open up their My Pictures folder and set it up in Film Strip view and to open maximized.

    IE vs Firefox: I always install Firefox and set it as default. But some apps decide to run IE, even though it is not the default. IE 6 is preferable here as it is very similar to Firefox's gui. But for security's sake, IE7 should be used and some more training required in case it pops up inadvertently. If you remove the shortcuts and pin Firefox to the Start menu, then that will be fine.

    One or Two clicks?
    This is a hard one. Some elderly can't do a double-click fast enough or accurately enough as they move the mouse off the icon by the time the 2nd click comes along. So you have to change the mouse timing (Control Panel/Mouse Properties/Double-Click Speed), or use the single-click approach. Try and stay away from the single click, because if they double click then most probably an editor of some description open up. This is particularly bad for pictures, especially when they are in Flimstrip mode or trying to copy and paste any other file.
    The other thing is to remind them to click the icon and not the words below, or otherwise they'll start editing the filename (as Rename) instead of opening something up.
    Most elderly switch things completely off. That includes monitors, speakers, modems, so check the BIOS battery every year.
    They also need a checklist in turning things on. This sounds dumb, but the calls I get that the internet doesn't work because they switched their modem on last gets annoying. Switch the modem on first. By the time the modem is connected, the computer has booted and they're ready to go.

  • by gzipped_tar ( 1151931 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:51AM (#26221885) Journal

    No matter what you do to the computer, it's not enough. Take the time to write a short, concise manual (or "cheat sheet") and print it on dead tree paper, in large and clear fonts. Write in the manual basic things like how to update the system/antivirus, etc., etc.. You can always tell them what to do but you can't expect them to remember every detail well.

    This is not meant to be an insult on senior people. You said these people are unfamiliar with computing and this is an approach for them to familiarize themselves with it. Human memory is unreliable, especially for unfamiliar things.

  • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:22AM (#26222049) Journal

    Since you're talking about a senior citizen, sometimes it pays to consider their physical disabilities, too. For example, consider a large-screen TV/Monitor, if they have trouble seeing the small typefaces.

    Consider using a large-keys keyboard (, if they have parkinsons, or other motor-control problems.

  • by drewkinney ( 1138579 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:27AM (#26222067)
    When my Grandmother was 81 I bought her an iMac, so I could send her digital pictures and she could see my work. I'm a Mac user and wanted a machine I could help her with if She got confused. I ordered the iMac online and had it shipped to her. I called and said, "have the driver put it in the corner and I will set it up next week." She said ok. I got an email from her the next day. She got out the computer and set it up. Followed the simple instructions to get internet access and she was going. Let me qualify this story, my Grandmother never drove a car or had touch-tone phone service. She never used an ATM or Cable television. The main interface between her and the world was the newspaper. She lacked the mental model to understand how a computer is used and why. Apple's instructions and seductive packaging got her out of her comfort zone. She was very happy with the experience. I may be a nerd but my Grandmother was not. That's a success for an older age group.
  • 640 X 480 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:53AM (#26222181)
    I've tried to explain to my mom that she's not utilizing the full power of her graphics card and that if she wants large fonts, she can adjust the font size in the display properties to be whatever she wants. I even set it up for her once. The next time I came over, it was set back to 640 X 480 because "it looks better". Apparently big blocky fonts are easier for seniors to see than big smooth fonts. Who knew?
    • Re:640 X 480 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @11:17AM (#26223283) Journal

      And she'd be right.
      Assuming we're talking about Windows, graphics simply doesn't scale 'right' in the different DPI or font size modes, it simply looks 'wrong'
      It always has looked wrong and it's why, still today as a support tech in an office of 5000 people that over 50% of the employees use 800x600 or 1024x768.
      Yes over 50% because they don't like the size of the fonts / text on an LCD in windows.

      It's about time they made 20" LCD's with a 1280x1024 resolution for people over the age of 40 who use it as a tool and not a hobby.

    • Apparently big blocky fonts are easier for seniors to see than big smooth fonts.

      Not necessarily; it's not that simple. As an old guy with crappy eyes, I can tell you. Your Mom is not dumb, and probably has a good esthetic sense. Anything more than a very minor amount of font scaling in Windows just looks ugly and stupid. The scaling is not entirely consistent, and does not apply at all to other graphical elements. Caveat: I haven't tried Vista, but I don't consider that a viable choice for other reasons.

      The bitmaps don't scale, which is understandable but results in real problems.

  • PCLOS. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by upyouns ( 1438281 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @09:04AM (#26222249)
    I am a senior citizen and have configure several PC's for my fellow seniors. The thing to do is have a fellow senior experienced with PC's configure it for them. I configure PCLOS or UBUNTU for them. Then explain how to use it. Usually that involves setting up email, setting up Kopete or pidgen, OpenOffice and firefox. The I show them how to contact me with Kopete. Most seniors are more comfortable with other seniors.
  • A few simple tips (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:52AM (#26223041) Homepage Journal

    I've set up a number of PCs for family members of the years. I'll talk about the XP/Vista/2000 side of the house, I've done Linux before but about 100 people already posted ahead of me :)

    Some hints:

    1. Install the OS on one drive, or partition and then the very first thing you want to do is point the users's profile (My Documents, etc.) at another partition or drive. We'll get to that later.

    2. The "blob" theory. I've learned in over a decade of working support that the average users has blobs. They have an "e-mail blob" a "web blob", a "get my iPod synched" blob. They don't care what the blob is called, they just know it does some mystical thing that lets them get to want they want. So make sure those blobs are in an easy to find place :)

    3. Replace IE with Firefox/Opera/Chrome/Your choice. 99% malware is dealt with this way. Install AdBlock Plus or equivelent. replace Firefox's icon with the IE icon if your user is particularly stupid. Remove all shortcuts to IE.

    4. Set up automatic updates for the Windows crap and the anti-virus. Set it to go off at some point when you know they'll be using it. Most people turn their PCs off so having automatic updates happen in the middle of the night is a waste of time. Spend several patient minutes teaching them to pay attention to that little yellow shield and obey it when it appears. :)

    5. Install TightVNC, or DameWare, or subscribe to Webex, or some other way that you can remotely control it with. Install a blob on the desktop that'll tell them their IP. Punch a hole in the firewall to allow access. Webex has saved my parent's PC (they live 4,000 miles away) on dozens of occasions.

    6. Don't let them install ANYTHING without contacting you first. Preferably have them call you and let you do it. It's amazing how much crap users put on their PCs on a whim.

    7. Now you done that, Ghost the system partition. They're going to have it broken in a month or two and you're going to want to quickly reinstall it. That's why we put their profile on a separate drive or partition.

  • by fieldstone ( 985598 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @11:02AM (#26223137)

    I feel like I should speak to this as extensively as I can, since I'm self-employed as a tech support guy, and around 95 percent of my 250+ clients are seniors.

    The suggestion about using Ubuntu is a good one, but Ubuntu may not be going far enough in the direction of ease-of-use. I'm surprised more people don't seem to be aware of Linux Mint, which removes the hassle of installing video codecs and browser plugins, so the setup process for a basic user is two steps - 1. Install the OS, and 2. Install Acrobat Reader and the browser plugin for it. This takes around half an hour, and then you're done, and Mint 6 is based on Ubuntu Intrepid anyway, but the menu is a bit slicker (imho), and the artwork more polished.

    Putting icons on the desktop for the browser and the email program, and also the word processor, is essential, of course. Ubuntu or Mint is a great Windows replacement for nearly any beginning or advanced user - it's normally only intermediate users who want to install lots of random crap from the internet who might get upset when they can't under Wine. In my experience, most seniors fall into the "basic user" category anyway, so they won't really notice a difference between Windows and Ubuntu unless they're already dependent on AOL 9.

    With seniors, the most important thing is to be not just patient but reassuring. Many seniors have a mental block against technology, but if you patiently reassure them that yes, they really can figure it out if they just read everything on the screen and use logic, eventually they'll believe you and try. This can be time consuming at first, but in the long run it will save you a great deal of time as they start to become self-sufficient. It's a natural human tendency in most people to bug someone else if you think you can get away with it, rather than trying to fix your problems yourself - training that out of a person can be tricky, but is ultimately very beneficial for both you and your time.

  • by alfredo ( 18243 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @11:49AM (#26223545)

    Wipe the drive clean and install Slackware. Let them do their own configuration. No need to coddle them. They'll learn quicker that way.

    Never liked granny that much anyway.

  • XP Linux MacOS (Score:3, Informative)

    by Domini ( 103836 ) <> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:30PM (#26224815) Journal


    I was supporting a friend's parents' machine for about 4 years a while ago. Initially I loaded XP for them, using Eudora as mail client and IE as the browser. The problems I had with this was that they would get a virus about once a month... and they did try to be careful. I eventually tried some anti-virus applications (extra cost!) but this only got them more confused and slowed down their machine. From a UI point of view it was pretty good. Also it supported multi-users quite well. After the 2nd crash (machine not shut down correctly, etc) the registry hive file was totally trashed this time and not even a restore from any of the two backup files helped, I decided to take the plunge and give them Linux.


    I picked Xandros here (at the time it was the most user friendly) I personally used Suse, Debian, RedHat and Mandrake (so I know my GNU/Linux). It all went well for some time. At least the machine did not crash and we had zero virus problems. Alas however, the multi-user switching was slow and clunky, and the file permissions (they wanted to share some stuff between the mom and dad) was a royal pain (it was workable, I know how to set up s-bits etc, but it was still a pain). Then there was the problem that the dad's favorite windows Golf game (although it worked), did not work well, but this is not really a big issue. Another issue was that the word processor (OpenOffice) had a very limited clipart selection, and the mail application was not as cool. And lastly, a MAJOR problem was the lack of a system-wide way of setting the default font's larger... every, single, application, had a different way of setting this, and some application you just could not change certain font sizes... even when setting the DPI under X11 differently did not have the desired effect... it was just terrible! One thing I have to say... they DID need my help much less, and was happier with it than with windows! lol
    (Using Firefox and Thunderbird)

    Mac Mini

    Then I bought myself a tiny Macbook G3... and I was SO impressed with it. It did it ALL perfectly. (Even had a nice Golf Game! lol). Clipart, good UI, good fast user switching, snappy, nice apps, good font visibility. It had it all. But unlike the other solutions it came at a price. But considering they insisted on paying me a small amount (they felt they needed to do this to ensure my continued help and dedication... lol!) this was not really such a big issue. That was about 3 years ago now...
    (Using Firefox and


    So in conclusion, XP for 1 year... Linux for another, and the rest Mac.

    For myself I stick with all 3 variants at home. But I will never recommend Linux or XP to any elderly person or computer-Luddite. A Mac works like an appliance. you don't even know it's there. The thing I have to add is that old does not imply they are incapable. They just don't see the need to struggle with equipment. They actually tought me a thing or two about Linux and Windows. :P

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.