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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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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, 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.

  • 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:BIG ICON BIG FONT (Score:3, Informative)

    by JohnBailey ( 1092697 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:26AM (#26221433)

    the 1st and the most request i get from senior is: "i can't see can i get bigger words and icon?"

    Something like the eeepc linux distro would be a good idea (with all that big big icon)

    Easy solution. run the computer at a lower resolution. Works for all OSs and apps.

    Second suggestion, use the zoom option in Compiz, or if you use Windows, use a third party add on that gives this feature.

    The simplified desktop idea is ok until you start up an app, when you go right back to little writing and little icons.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:38AM (#26221489)

    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 FoxitPDF reader, not Adobe Reader. Use Firefox (or Opera) instead of IE.
    - Use software restriction policies to set where programs can be run from.
    - Keep the PC up to date! Run Windows Update regularly and use something like the Secunia PSI to check for vulnerable software!
    - Use a hosts file to block sites in combination with OpenDNS.
    - Configure the firewall to block all incoming connections if possible
    - Disable Autorun (
    - And, lastly, just for defense in depth, use an AV. Here are my configuration guides for Avast ( and AVG8 ( Probably I should also do one for Avira, but last time I've tested them, they were very ad-loaded (admittedly this was several years ago).

    If you use these methods, the chance of the computers getting malware is almost nil.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • by Anthony_Cargile ( 1336739 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:56AM (#26221581) Homepage

    (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 less risky to just mount the filesystem as read-write and let journaling have its way. Fsck runs automatically in Ubuntu every $COUPLEOF mounts anyways, so in the kind of rare case you would have to reinstall, its just a card game. I also have insomnia and while I play games like Halo and whatnot, if I only played a cheesy card game like that, I wouldn't lose any sleep (haha) over losing a few high scores.

  • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:2, Informative)

    by silanea ( 1241518 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:04AM (#26221625)

    [...] Just install it on a virtual machine on a linux host if necessary so you can restore it from time to time if need be. [...]

    Maintaining two full-blown operating systems instead of one just because one of them is apt to break in ignorant hands is not exactly what I'd call solving a problem.

    [...] Apart from that, the main advantage of windows is that all the "popular" apps and peripherals in the senior citizen crowd (think of, web-browsing, photo viewing, photo-printing, web-cams etc.) are much more readily available for windows than for linux.

    Huh?! First off, I am not aware of any desktop-oriented Linux distribution that ships without a preinstalled web browser, mail client and office suite. Secondly, the times when printing or using web cams under Linux was reserved for kernel hackers are long gone. The initial installation is still not as simple and accessible as it should be, but day-to-day usability is, at least in my experience, better than the hog-pog mix of HP printer applets, Epson scan software and Creative web cam managers.

    The major benefit of an environment like GNOME or KDE is that (ideally) all the software you use follows the same paradigms and guidelines, so you always know where to point your mouse for certain things. And for the rather basic use to be expected of sensior citizens I doubt you couldn't just do with what one of these desktops has to offer.

  • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:2, Informative)

    by PermanentMarker ( 916408 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:46AM (#26221855) Homepage Journal

    Your lack of knowledge about windows doesnt make windows bad
    For example he could use restore points.
    He could set folder permission, to protect against destruction.
    Or just some simple backup program like Paragon, and a boot CD.
    He might also lock down XP, there are excellent reads about how to do that.
    YOu might get a start here []
    So you could write your own policies, and only allow for certain programs to execute.
    Windows is a verry open aplication environment, so how about helping your parents remotely
    I help my parents sometimes using [] when i cannot be there.

    Oh and yes my parents use vista, so there is verry little change they will get mallware installed.

    Altough i believe microsoft could still improve their OS.
    It is still a best choice for older people, due too its interface standards.

  • 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.

  • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:3, Informative)

    by suckmysav ( 763172 ) < minus caffeine> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:00AM (#26221937) Journal

    "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 your wittle chest shill-boy

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

    by dov_0 ( 1438253 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:04AM (#26221955)
    I disagree. I got my Dad on to Ubuntu a few years ago. He loves it. He's 73 now and handles all the updates and version upgrades himself, installs software packages through synaptic etc. As for windows, it confuses him. If someone has NO computer experience, don't give them windows. I run a computer repair business and the window pop-ups etc just confuse people. XP drives older people nuts. Ubuntu isn't perfect, but it's a lot easier, has a logical, easy menu structure and is hard to break.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:20AM (#26222039)
    actually, in many modern linux distros, /tmp is mounted as a memory fs by default. and even if he chose to have /tmp NOT be memfs, there is nothing stopping you from mounting /tmp separately from / so that / really can be read-only.

    as for protecting /home from power failure, use a journaling fs...
  • by suckmysav ( 763172 ) < minus caffeine> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:48AM (#26222151) Journal

    "1.) /tmp is still under /, which he wants to mount read only "

    See what the AC said or if you really want it is shit easy to symlink it to another partition.

    "2.) And if /home were its own partition, does that necessarily make it immune to hard poweroffs?"

    It means the whole system does not get hosed due to "Unnanounced poweroffs", just the latest "Mahjongg" save game or whatever. I'm sure you'll agree that this will lead to a lot less in the way of critical fuckups overall.

  • 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:Install Ubuntu (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @09:55AM (#26222553)

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

  • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:2, Informative)

    by AnalPerfume ( 1356177 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:15AM (#26222725)

    I forgot to add:

    Prepare a bash script with all the applications they use that don't come pre-installed with the distro you set them up with.

    sudo apt-get install mozilla-thunderbird gthumb get the idea. That way you can simply run that after the fresh install & update of the packages. It saves the phone call when they go to run a program they used to use and it's not there. The alternative is to show them how to use the package manager to fill those gaps themselves. Or for you to do it remotely for them.

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

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:27AM (#26222827)
    "Apart from that, the main advantage of windows is that all the "popular" apps and peripherals in the senior citizen crowd (think of, web-browsing, photo viewing, photo-printing, web-cams etc.) are much more readily available for windows than for linux."

    Really? Here's me experience:
    1. Web browsing -- FireFox, done
    2. Photo viewing -- Gwenview, digiKam, or any of the thousands of others
    3. Photo printing -- on print, select quality. Better, just set the default quality for your parents, so that they never even know it had to be done. Just like Windows, really
    4. Web cams -- This is juicy. I'm in college, my mom and grandma want to use a web cam with me while I'm away. Cool, except that the university decides to put in place some moronically configured firewall. It totally kills Skype, totally kills Yahoo! messenger's webcam, and so forth. Oddly enough, it doesn't kill SIP, and so I just go with Ekiga on Fedora Linux. Grandma's setup works, my setup works...Mom wants to keep windows, and the nightmare begins. Ekiga for Windows crashes every few minutes, no other SIP compatible softphone could be found (I am sure one exists), and in the end, Mom gives up and doesn't want to even touch the setup for Grandma, who cannot turn the computer on and needs help. Had everyone been running Linux, this entire situation would have worked just fine from day 1.

    Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, etc. have all become easier to use, and more reliable for "senior citizen tasks" than Windows. Nothing more needs to be said, people just need to get over the assumption that "Linux is too hard." For people who just want web access and photos, Linux is there.

  • by Ralish ( 775196 ) <> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:33AM (#26222863) Homepage

    I read your post thoroughly, and replied thoroughly. I shall do it again.

    There are likely only two potential types of XP installations you will be using: OEM and Retail. As such, you should need to burn a maximum of two CD's to cover the vast majority if not all of client licensing requirements. You are within your legal rights to do the above, as you are still using legal product keys that the client has legally purchased. The source of the installation media is irrelevant, it is the license entitlement that matters. Thus, your total baggage is......two CD's.

    I assume you are also carrying a USB Key or Portable HDD unless you are redownloading SP3 and potentially other applications at every client PC, which is a waste of bandwidth and certainly not efficient. Oh wait, you are! The time spent downloading could be removed if you simply carry the binary with you. USB Keys are not large, the airline will not charge you additional for carrying one.

    Finally, if you are reinstalling the machines using the original installation media from the OEM, as I am guessing (incorrectly?) most of your client machines are just pre-made Dell/HP/IBM/whatever boxes, then you shouldn't even need to install drivers. These are usually integrated into the OEM XP Installation CD, for the express purpose of removing the necessity to install drivers, both for the convenience of the OEM during initial installation and for the client for subsequent (re)-installations.

    So, not only would all of the above save time, it would require little preparation to do, would be entirely legal, and the new media should serve you till the end of XP's lifecycle; MS will _NOT_ be releasing another Service Pack for XP, I can guarantee that with 99% probability. So the CD's should not need to be remastered for a future update.

    As for bringing my IT crap with me, you're correct, I don't. Two reasons:

    1. I very rarely ever need to reinstall the OS on clients machines, it's a last resort, and I find it unusual that I can't find a better solution.

    2. Nearly all machines I service have an OEM recovery partition for complete reinstallation of the OS without media, restoring it to the condition it was in when it left the factory, so media isn't required.

    Actually, I do carry some equipment. A USB Key with common and very useful applications: XP SP3/Vista SP1/Sysinternals Suite/Avast/Ad-Aware/Spybot/other bits and pieces. I find they can be invaluable in patching machines up and diagnosing problems.

  • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:2, Informative)

    by talz13 ( 884474 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @10:43AM (#26222967)
    I believe the same thing. If they have NO computer experience WHATSOEVER, why make them learn the MS way and worry about them breaking their pc or having it develop problems over time. Just start them off with linux and from that point on, linux will make sense to them. I set up my grandpa's PC with ubuntu this past year on the old PC he got from my uncle. The PC was old, had no valid XP license, badly needed a reinstall, and generally didn't work that well. I put ubuntu 8.04 on there and it works great, he learned how to use a PC on it, heck, his library even had a book on ubuntu! Now I just need to get him on the phone to sort out his DSL (no-sync issues) and he'll be all set again.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • nLite (Score:2, Informative)

    by letsgetsilly ( 933122 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @12:58PM (#26224017)
    I would recommend creating a custom XP install disc using nLite. With nLite you can pick and choose which components of Windows you want to be installed. You can also add patches, service packs, drivers, accessibility options, and custom programs to be included in the DVD like Firefox and AVG.

    This is what I've done for my grandmother. After creating a disk that comes with all the software she'll need, all the drivers, I've got a restore disk that I can just throw in the drive if it ever needs a reformat, and it's an unattended install.

    I keep a copy of the nLite image I used for her on my local machine, so for this christmas, I'll load it back up with some updated patches, and throw it in her DVD drive when I get there (after backing her bookmarks up on a USB drive of course).

    nLite has a learning curve, but it is small. I would recommend trying a VPC install once or twice before getting your disc "set".
  • 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

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:51PM (#26224999) Homepage Journal

    Reinstalls are against my religion. And I find it actually takes LESS time to beat Windows into submission and get rid of the problems (which are typically rather trivial, even if beyond average users' ken), than to reinstall it AND deal with all the subsequent "What happened to my [whatever]?" calls from the client, when stuff doesn't wind up back exactly how they're used to (and it never does, no matter how careful you are).

    Besides, it saves me the bother of backing up and restoring all their data (and sometimes just LOCATING all their data!) -- since I regard preserving client data as my first responsibility during a repair or upgrade (but doing regular backups as the client's job, which in its simplest form I teach them to do as a regular CD burn of their My Documents directory).

    As to the nominal topic, I'm the hardware guru and primary Q&A dude at the local PC user grope, which is presently almost entirely seniors. The most critical thing is KEEP IT SIMPLE. No more than ONE way to do anything (options confuse non-techies).

    And be aware that non-techies WILL forget how to do anything that they don't do on a DAILY basis -- so try to make "occasional use" functions as self-documenting and self-evident as possible, using language they don't have to translate into tech-ese. That can be as simple as naming a document subdirectory "Already Backed Up" instead of "Archived".

    Others above have made good points about a simple, reliable AV and firewall, and better yet a router, and safer choices of software (Mozilla family for browser, etc.) Once they've gotten wise to the usual internet scams, and have been taught that when in doubt, use the keyboard rather than the mouse, most people are pretty safe.

    And do make sure everything is set to THEIR eyes, not yours. That will get rid of a lot of the confusion and "oops clicks" right there.

    You'd be amazed at the level of tech-savvy older folks can reach, if only you give them an easy start that they can learn without stress.

  • by Temporalwar ( 1023203 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @03:15PM (#26225225)

    Clean XP/Vista Load,
    Setup your admin account
    Get printers/office/drivers updates ect
    Install your fav winvnc software (ultra vnc, gotomypc ect)
    Test machine, ect
    Install Windows SteadyState >>> []

    create new user account for user
    setup account walk user though account, save settings
    use Windows SteadyState to lock down new account

    make ghost/XML drive image(s) of machine

    your done!

    this is also great for Hotels and Public Terminals!!!

  • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:2, Informative)

    by jonadab ( 583620 ) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @11:31AM (#26230021) Homepage Journal
    Long experience tells me that Windows *does* break by itself, from time to time, sometimes quite horribly.

    Sometimes Windows forgets how to use a particular device driver, and it has to be uninstalled and reinstalled if you're lucky; if you're not lucky Windows has to be reinstalled. Sometimes a critical system file becomes corrupted, and Windows has to be reinstalled. Of course, filesystem corruption can happen with any OS if you have an unclean shutdown event (e.g. due to a power outage), but with Windows it can also happen at random while the computer is running, or even during boot-up after a supposedly clean shutdown. This is not a frequent occurance, but it happens.

    However, I'm not convinced this makes Windows unsuitable for a senior-citizen setup. I suppose it depends, but in a lot of scenarios needing to reinstall the OS once every three years is not a prohibitive burden.

    Most of the problems that happen significantly more often (e.g., malware) can be prevented by setting the computer up correctly in the first place. This takes significant doing, but it can be done. Among other things:

    All user accounts must be password-protected. You make the normal limited-user account password easy to remember and teach it to the user, but administrative passwords should be complicated, hard-to-type, written down on a 3x5 card, laminated, and stored in an envelope physically taped to the computer tower. If this is Windows XP, you will need to teach the user to log in as administrator periodically (I recommend once a week on a specific day of the week) and make sure all the Windows Updates install. Set up the admin account with a VERY different visual theme, preferably ugly and based on red, and with no convenient shortcuts for anything *but* Windows Update, so that the user will not want to stay in it for other activities. (Vista makes this last part unnecessary due to UAC, but in that case you have to do user training for how to respond to UAC prompts; specifically you want them trained to only use the admin password when applying updates. No, you do not want end users doing other admin tasks such as installing new software.)

    Access to Outlook Express *MUST* be disabled. This is not negotiable. You do *NOT* want to be on the hook for maintaining a system that untrained end users run Outlook on. That's bad juju. I recommend installing Pegasus Mail instead; it's easier to learn to use than webmail (or MSOE for that matter), especially if configured properly when you install it, and it generally handles security issues in the best possible way. The only major drawback to Pegasus (besides that it only runs on Windows, which for your purposes here is probably not important) is that it's MDI, but if you set up the desktop shortcut to run pmail maximized this is not a big deal for un-savvy users. (It would be annoying for a power user, who might want to arrange windows so as to have another app on the screen at the same time, but people who don't know what they're doing with computers pretty much never ever want to do that. Typically the very idea that it's possible gives them a headache.)

    You don't want to disable access to IE (because you want it for Windows Update), but you *do* want to remove the shortcut from the desktop and replace it with something else, probably Firefox. Open up about:config and set image.animation.mode to once. Turn off its auto-updates feature unless you're on Vista. (If you think they can handle it, you can have them check for Firefox updates from the admin account once a week when they do the Windows Updates. But in practice an out-of-date Firefox is *MUCH* less dangerous than running in an admin account all the time.)

    Install so they can open Office documents. Turn off the Java automatic update thingy. Install the Flash player and FlashBlock add-on. Install the Adobe reader, but turn off its check-for-updates feature, and make sure Firefox is set up to open PDFs by launching acroread externally in its own window.

The wages of sin are high but you get your money's worth.