Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Windows Operating Systems Software

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?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Configuring a Windows PC For a Senior Citizen?

Comments Filter:
  • No surprises (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:08AM (#26221345)

    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 running Windows in a VM on a Linux host. There's plenty documentation online on the procedure.

    4) Set up a non-admin account that auto-logins. Lock the desktop. Set applications to save to home directory rather than desktop.

    5) Set up some remote admin capability.


  • Linux.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mrphoton ( 1349555 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @06:18AM (#26221393)
    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 (installed without any help). Personally, I don't like reading long documents and text I have written, I find kmouth an invaluable aid and would find it very hard to go back to windows or any other computer without such a tool. I know windows has some of these tools, but for linux they are so configurable (using the gui), you can arrive at a desktop which is relay suited to you and your disability.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by ZP-Blight ( 827688 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:07AM (#26221645) Homepage

    The original question was about Windows, not mac/linux, so here's my windows answer:

    1. Partition the hard disk into two parts, drive-C: should be about 20gb and the rest goes to drive-D:
    2. Do a clean install.
    3. Install a VNC app (or enable remote desktop).
    4. Setup an application based firewall and pre-approve all applications the end-user may need.
    5. Setup icons on the desktop for the most important apps (and shortcuts to important folders such as my documents/my pictures/etc...)
    6. This is probably the most important, after everything is working correctly, create an image of partition-C:. Once you have an image of the OS parition if the OS starts to degrade, you always have a solid starting point that doesn't require 4 hours to install (takes about 30min to restore a 20gb image on even slower machines)

    Use VNC to help remotely so that you won't have to visit for every little fix.

    There are other things you can do, but this is the crux of it.

  • Give them Linux (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dalesc ( 66212 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:25AM (#26221737)

    I'm very serious. I have parents in Canada. A PC each, Dad on Windows XP, Mum on OpenSuse Linux. Dad is always calling with problems with virus warnings, scare-ware pop-ups and hangs. A recent virus scan found over 400 suspect infections of which around 20 could be regarded as extremely undesirable. And this is with a regularly updated AVG.

    The worst problem from Mum is she can't figure out how to put a picture in her newsletter or she's accidentally hidden an email folder.

    Remote admin to the Linux machine is a whole lot easier and quicker with SSH than Remote Desktop.

    My mother-in-law, who is only a few miles away also uses OpenSuse. I update her system ever year or so and she never has any problems.

    I don't give them the root password.

    It's way to easy on Windows to fool the unwary into doing something stupid.

  • by __aayejd672 ( 1311191 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:26AM (#26221741)

    ...with all the comments about not using Windows. I know the original question was how to setup Windows but why pay to give yourself lots of extra work? If the person does not know much about computers there will be no learning curve from Windows to Linux, no need to make sure firewalls/AV are updated, even if you do use AV for Linux it can be updated silently and emails sent to the grand kid admin :)

    My brother used windows for years and eventually after he phoned complaining about lots of pop up pr0n (Which he didnt mind at first....sigh) and finding over 400 occurrences of various virii I installed Ubuntu. There was the initial "Where's this/where's that" but once he got familiar with the main menu he was sorted. Now I hardly ever hear from him...

  • 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:2, Interesting)

    by StackedCrooked ( 1204878 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @07:56AM (#26221915)
    Also create an admin account that you only know the password of. And give them a standard user account so that they can't mess up their system.
  • Senior citizens really, really, don't need computers complicating their lives. It is not uncommon for my grandma to call me 3-5 times weekly on just how to work the TV remote; imagine what it would be like if she was trying to watch a "dot com." Senior citizens won't view email or web browsing as a convenience. If you want an older person to take advantage of global mass communication infrastructure, the best thing to do is get him/her a telephone with huge, easily readable buttons.
  • 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.
  • Kiosk mode (Score:2, Interesting)

    by raind ( 174356 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @08:41AM (#26222125) Journal

    Assuming he's running Windows and that is what they have, how about running Firefox in Kiosk mode? Is there such a thing cause I would like to do the same, I know Internet Exploder has the switch, can anyone point out the same for FF?

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

    by gruntled ( 107194 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @09:10AM (#26222295)

    I'm no Microsoft fanboy, but I gave my mom MSN TV 2 five years ago and the only tech support I've ever done is change the batteries in the wireless keyboard.

  • 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. :)
  • Re:Easy... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by battery111 ( 620778 ) * <{battery111} {at} {}> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @11:12AM (#26223247)

    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 mac than she ever was with her old PC. The amount of questions I've had to field since I did this has been almost non-existent.

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

    by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @12:39PM (#26223859)

    I would say that the work you have to put in to make XP or Vista locked down and usable isn't worth the hassle. I don't have that kind of time. I wanna set it up once and then update it now and then.

    Also interface standards? Are you using the same Windows I am? Every program has their own rules. Hell, the interface is different in Office than it is in Windows and they are made by the same company. Every version of IE changes the interface. If you said that about a Mac, I might believe you as Mac developers do a decent job of following Apple's HID guidelines. Windows developers, not so much.

  • Re:Install mac os-x (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Black-Man ( 198831 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @12:56PM (#26223989)

    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 fnj ( 64210 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @01:09PM (#26224107)

    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. Less forgivable is the fact that things like scrollbars and title bars don't scale. You end up with things like a ludicrously tiny scroll bar with elements you can barely hit with a mouse, and ludicrously thin title bar within which the system is trying to display nice large text which won't fit.

    Dialog boxes become an insuperable problem. The nice large text gets clipped by the stupid box, or by the size of the text design element within the box.

    Try setting up XP with readable text on a 15.4" 1920x1200 display sometime.

    By design, Windows is not truly display independent or size preference adaptable. It never claimed to be, really.

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

    by Q-Hack! ( 37846 ) * on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @01:30PM (#26224277)

    Yep, had the same issue with my mom. She likes those simple on-line games that have the tendency to load ones computer up with crap. I finally just wiped her hard drive and loaded Fedora 5 on it a few years ago. Since I did this, the only computer problem she has had was when the UPS gave up (it was 7 years old). Now when I go home for Christmas, I know it will only be one command to "fix" her computer... 'yum -y update'

  • 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:2, Interesting)

    by jzilla ( 256016 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:31PM (#26224831) Homepage

    OTOH, installing XP was easy, everything on the laptop works, she has OFFICE (which all her friends have, and makes it VERY easy. Instead of hearing "lucy does it this way, why doesn't my computer work that way", I now hear "This is great. I have the same thing as Lucy, and when I had a problem last night, I could call her instead of you!!!".

    I call shenanigans on this. I know my grandmother doesn't use an office productivity suite. I doubt many others do, as the Microsoft office cost $$$$, and it would only confuse them. What are they doing, sending bingo announcements in PPT. Anyways, just give them a gmail account. It will let them view office docs as html. Problem solved.

  • 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.

Federal grants are offered for... research into the recreation potential of interplanetary space travel for the culturally disadvantaged.