Interview with a Grandmother

Opening up a world of possibilities for one woman, using OEone HomeBase with Linux preinstalled.

Over the last decade Linux has been gaining in a number of markets, most notably in the server arena. Recently, the march onto the desktop has begun and the PDA market has opened up as well. There are also clusters and supercomputers. However, there is one more market where Linux could make more inroads: the home user. A few articles are around regarding techies who have helped their non-techie friends and family members get running with Linux. But what about the non-techie home user doing it all by themselves? Could a home user, say a grandmother of three, use Linux with no help from anyone but the vendor's normal support system? This is the story of one such grandmother and her entrance into the wonderful world of Tux.

First, some background on the grandmother. She is a 64-year-old mother of four, of which I am one, and grandmother of three. Her previous computer experience consists of being a user as a secretary and in administration. She's been retired since 1995. Her current computer needs are quite normal: e-mail, web, calendar/date book, the occasional need to write a document or two, a game of solitaire and so on. This is, I feel, an accurate description of most home users. She had been using a Windows 98 system that my brothers bought for her a while back. A number of times she had complained the computer was not acting right and required more effort than it was worth to get anything done.

Being the good son that I am, I decided that she needed a change. Earlier in 2002 I had written a mini-review of OEone's HomeBase Linux for Linux Weekly News. I thought it would make a perfect system for her. After talking to the people at OEone, they offered to ship a pre-installed system to my mother for her to use and allow me to write about her experience. One reason that I wanted to go with a pre-installed system is I wanted her to get a computer that was functionally like the one she was using. She hadn't had to install Windows 98 on the old box, so why even bother with a Linux install1? A few days after I spoke with OEone the system arrived. The following is an interview with her where she tells exactly what it's like to “switch” to Linux.

Joe: So what was your first impression of OEone HomeBase?

Mom: Wow! I just couldn't get over how easy, quick, simple.... I can't use enough adjectives to expound on the simplicity of this system. It's great.

J: How much work was done by a techie in setting up the system?

M: Just setting up the mail for me. That's about it. [I just configured the IMAP and SMPT settings - jjk]

J: What specific things do you like about HomeBase Linux?

M: I love the page to access the applications. It's easy to pop right back to it and go from one application to another. I use this as my main starting page. The web log-on location bar is in just the right spot—always accessible but unobtrusive. I can't wait until I can afford a printer. I know I will do even more (like write letters to my sisters and brothers who do not use computers to communicate). They are quite older than I and still write letters. I prefer e-mail, but at least a computer generated document is more my style. I hate to write letters, and I do want to talk to my brothers and sisters more often than a quick telephone call.

J: What about the main applications? How did they stack up to what you had previously been using?

M: If you have used any word processing system2 before, you can use this one easily as well. If you have not, the user guide is well written and it should be simple to follow the directions. The e-mail from document [capability] is wonderful. It is a really useful feature. My page is super, too. I like knowing the local weather and what is on my agenda for the week without having to go to my calendar or to the weather channel. It's like one stop shopping.

J: Did you know you could do that in MS Office on the old computer?

M: No, I didn't know that. Figuring out how to do anything on the old system was very difficult.

J: Was there anything else you found different than the old system?

M: Yes. The address book is really special. I can't wait until I can scan pictures onto my cards. It's really helpful that the system automatically makes cards for those to whom you send e-mails. It was quick and simple to delete those that I did not wish to retain. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the calendar3. I never really used one before, because I couldn't figure out how to access it on the old system. Now, with HomeBase Linux, I don't know how I was able to function without my calendar. I do volunteer work for the church by driving seniors to their doctor appointments. If I didn't have this calendar, I don't think I would be able to keep track of the numerous dates and times I drive each week. What with my own appointments and the seniors' appointments, sometimes I have three or four different appointments per week. My daughter stopped by and saw me putting a new event on my calendar and was really impressed with it as well.

J: Have you had any need to do any administration work? Managing the system or adding users, things like that?

M: Yes, actually. I have added three users, my grandchildren. It was so simple. The easiest system I have ever used. And the upgrade feature is wonderful. I was notified that an upgrade for the system was available. I clicked the button and voilà, the upgrade was quickly completed. I really appreciated the prompt comments. So polite and seemingly personal. I felt as though they were written directly to me.

J: Did you ever have need to contact OEone for support or help?

M: I did. I had gone on a vacation for two weeks and when I got back the system was dead. I think one of my sons [It wasn't me - jjk] might have been using it while I was gone. (Laughs) Anyway, I called the tech support line, and they talked me through some diagnostic procedures. The people on the other end of the line were very helpful. The problem turned out to be a hardware failure so the company sent a completely new system, already pre-configured with my settings.

J: Was there anything you didn't like about HomeBase Linux?

M: Nothing major, just some minor annoyances (and I do mean minor). For the first day I found it difficult to adjust to not exiting things. But once I got used to it I loved it. Also, I work a lot in percentages, and I could not find a percent key on the calculator. Perhaps I just didn't recognize it. Maybe it's just too sophisticated a calculator for a non-scientific user. Lastly, I wish I could change the picture on the back of the deck of cards. See what I mean? All very minor things.

J: Did all the web sites you visited look good and work correctly?

M: Yes. There was one time when it said I needed a plug-in of some kind, but I clicked where it told me to and things worked after that.

J: Did you exchange documents with others? Were their any problems doing so?

M: I exchanged some documents with my son [This time it is me4 - jjk], and it all seemed to work fine.

J: Is there anything you miss from your old computer?

M: No, nothing that I can think of.

J: Do you use the computer more now?

M: Ever so much more than before. My family here at the house has commented that I am on this computer more than they ever noticed before.

J: You have mentioned that HomeBase Linux is much easier to use. In what way is it easier?

M: When I think of something or if I am walking by and something comes to me, I can just plop right down (or just stand there if it's something short or quick I want to do) and proceed. No waiting to bring up the program or remembering to log on or exit.

J: Would you recommend HomeBase Linux to your friends?

M: Definitely, yes. It's truly amazing to see what you can really do with a computer.

______________________

-- Indie Game Dev and Linux User Contact Info: http://about.me/joeklemmer "Running Linux since 1991"

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Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

I think it's time people learn how to spell 'Voil

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

Actually that's 'Viole' for rape in French. 'Viola' is an instrument.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

im french

and its violon for the instrument

and (il, elle, on) viola is the past of "violer" (mean to rape)

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

When are people going to wake up and know that linux is now on the desktop. I have no computer training and have been using linux since 97. My grandkids ages 10 and 13 prefer linux over windows. So why don't people wake up and smell the roses, and lets move on.

Gary

My Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

My grandmother had a lot of problems with her Linux box. Pluggins were not automatically installed. Instead, they required manual downloads and installs. And the pluggins that were available, they mostly were older versions. Also, after she was done using her computer for just email and web surfing, she ran into lots of problems. The software for her digital camera was Windows only. Also, she couldn't figure out how to mount a cf card so that she can access the pics. Also, the scanner she had would not work under Linux either. Neither did the printers photorealistic printing abilities work. And then she tried to play one of those CD's that have both audio and data on it, and she couldn't get to mount it correctly. After a few weeks of trying, she gave me a call and disowned me.

In all seriousness, Linux is perfect for the corporate desktop since it is fully configurable and controllable. But as a home desktop, it is still years away. Part of this is that it itself isn't ready yet and part of it is that the hardware industry is just moving to support it. But bottom line is that if I didn't have my Windows box at home, I wouldn't be able to enjoy everything available on the market.

Re: My Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

This sounds like my experience with Linux.
I didn't want "everything on the market", all I really wanted was the stuff I regularly use on my win2k box or my win98.
Note: I'm a fairly savvy windows user with experience back to DOS. I'm not overly comfortable using a command line, but I can manage.
I haven't tried the other distributions of Linux, I only gave Red Hat a try, but it was a month long effort that I really wanted to work out. Here's what I found:

Install was a piece of cake, though neither machine that I installed RH8 on found the sound card. I managed to fix that for one of them, the other just had to stay that way.
Stability was good, and it was fairly easy to find my way around and configure stuff. The biggest exception here was my orinoco wireless card, which worked right away but I couldn't find any configuration info. Unable to set WEP, I had to disable it on my network for the duration of its use with Linux.
Speed compared to my windows machines: about one third slower at almost everything. Booting, starting programs, subjective responses of program features. All seemed slower. I was comparing apples to apples, since these were both dual boot machines.
Frustrating was the lack of easy to find information and support from hardware manufacturers, which I suppose will change if more folks use Linux.
My digital camera didn't work with Linux - I purchased a new one, but have been unable to mount the card reader.
My scanner won't work.
My printer works, but prints really lousy and won't work with the duplexer to print both sides of a piece of paper.
Worst was installing some software. If I wasn't lucky enough to find a desired application with an installer, the process was baffling for a windows user.
Compile stuff? Compile and install libraries from somewhere else before my program will work?
Figure out how some other library or program was compiled or what version it was, with different, complicated methods of accomplishing this for each item?

It all seemed needlessly complicated. Each of these steps required working in a command line with only man pages written in geekese for support telling you how to use confusing and numerous switches. All you need is one character mistake, even capitalization, to wreck the whole line including a long and wierdly complicated filename.
Example:
duckman>command -abcdefg --argument --another --stillanother filename.with.too.much.version.info.1.2.3.4.5 /etc/bin/confusing/file/system
All this takes in a windows PC ( or a mac!) is double clicking on the install program and answering a few questions, usually by leaving the defaults. Versions are easy to find, just click on help:about.
Finally, rarely do windows programs require the same confusing mess of dependencies on libraries from other sources and certain versions.
In the end, I was unable to simply remove Linux from one computer and regain the space I needed to get my work done in Windows and consequently had to reformat the drive and reinstall Win2k.
The other computer is still Win98/RH8, but I rarely use Linux.
I'll keep playing with it from time to time, but in my mind, it's not ready for the desktop yet. There are better options out there for most of us.

Re: My Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

Yes,

Most Linux distros are some ways away from plug and go home use. The savvy linux user checks their hardware before installing Linux and is aware of what will and will not work. You have to be more careful with your hardwre choices, scanners, printers, digital cameras, video cards, USB devices, wireless networking, all have limited choices.

That being said, when there is a problem with a windows hardware driver, one also has to wait out the vendor for an update. There are many instances of windows hardware driver problems out of the box on preinstalled systems. Linux makes no promises, and hands out the source code of what it purports to try and support.

Re: My Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

>if I didn't have my Windows box at home, I wouldn't be able to enjoy everything available on the market.

well goodness me! not being able to enjoy everything 'on ther market' - PC cases made of gold, cds signed by Bono and all of U2, bespoke software created by a million hackers and costing a million bucks.... :)

just because things are 'on the market' doesn't mean they are worth having, or essential. and you wouldn't dump your (insert random patronising choice of relative here) with digi cams/ scanners that weren't supported in the linux hardware project, would you? and maybe if people thought about what they wanted - rather than what the market 'allows' them to want, we might have a more sensible attitude to upgrades. my friend runs windows, is unemployed, and can't afford any of the software that makes it so 'popular'

yet he won't switch OSs, claiming he needs to run 'what everyone else does' to get a job. hmmmm

Re: My Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

When I put my Mother on Linux she has done nothing but thank me :-) and she boasts and boasts to all of her friends everytime a new Windows virus comes out (or whenever someone complains of their computer hanging)

I have her on SuSE 8.0 (haven't got around to upgrading her to 8.1) and so far she hasn't had any hasles that I couldn't fix over the phone.

Ok so she's not my Grandmother, but she will be a Grandmother in June when my wife gives birth to my first child.

Also in my house we have 7 Systems (ok I am a bit of a computer nut) of which 6 are running Linux number 7 is running Solaris 8 until my download of Debian 3.0r1 for Sparc completes and I never missed windows 1 little bit :-) (last time I had that O/S installed was Windows 98 in 1998)

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

This sounds bogus - the language shes using, how she has absolutely no problems - etc etc - the whole things reads fouly. Is it April 1st? No ones grandmother talks like that - certainly none I've ever known.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

I'm sorry you don't know any grandmothers who talk as I. I can't help the way I speak. I have always just been me. I tell it like it is and if you don't like it, well, I believe it is your problem. I really love using this system and as far as comparing it to windows 98, that is the only other system that I have used and I think it would be foolish to try to compare this system to one which I have never used. What say you? The Grandmother (Marlou Klemmer)

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

The author (and his siblings) are lucky to have such a spry, articulate grandmother. You go, girl!

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

Right on. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the rest of the world. Never mind the critics of the article. I think it is really well done.

Jo

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

well my syster wanted the tux racer from redhat 8.0 (she saw me when playing)

but i didn't explained how to install the nv drivers i had to do it myself

she loves tux racer coze you don't need to kill (shoot) people ...

I told her the r00t password and she asked me if it's a new windows .

Told her that is better than that :)

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

I did this for my Wife as well.

Setup Mandrake 8.5 for us both to use. Simple icons and menus for everything she normally does. Have had zero problems.

Most people do not load and or configure their computers, this point seems to be missed more often than it needs to be.

My setup required a little more work than this one, but the concept is still the same.

Good article.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

The vast majority of people I deal with are still using win98 (as a computer technican).. Also as win98 is still available for sale from microsoft (where did winME disapear to.. hrrm ;)) I see no reason why win98 would not be a reasonable choice for the comparison particularly when you look at the sort of hardware requirments for both OS's.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

This sounds a lot like an advertisement's script. Maybe you could make and Apple-sort-of ad for OEOne.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

This is unfair to the writer and to OEone. No one have the right to question the integrity of the article, just on a opinion! OEone did not (and would never) offer any material incentive to get favorable coverage from the press. And I'm sure that the writer would not have accepted any such offer.

So for all doubters out there, if you don't believe in OEone HomeBase superior design, just try it!

Eid Eid

Founder of OEone.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

I couldn't agee more.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

Ditto!!!

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

My feelings exactly. Man, it was so

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

is it really fair comparing a new distribution to windows 98? there has been huge improvements since win98. the "everyone and their grandma can use linux" angle is nice, but i'm not sure i agree with the comparsion methods.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

is it really fair comparing a new distribution to windows 98?

Why not?

If people feel that Linux is so easy as (or even easier that) win98 a lot of people will switch.

A lot of home users out there just run web browsing, e-mail, a bit of word processing, and a bit of easy games (minesweeper, solitaire and alikes). My little sister (and a lot of other people) is like his mum.

People hate licencing cost (or any other cost BTW), Windows virii and other Windows "features".

Only 4 things keep Linux out of the desktop:

-User friendlyness

-Lack of end user apps

-Compatibility with MS propietary file formats

-Hardware compatibility

All the above are quickly vanishing. Get the four above and you have won the desktop.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

Your right, its funny that what Geeky Linux users worry about the most are the least important for home users eg.

1.X windows is slow

2.Linux file managers are slow (in comparison to MS explorer)

3.Mozilla is 3 times slower then IE

4.The kernel can't be optomized completely for the desktop

In reality all Linux needs is better driver support and user friendlieness, and the techincal problems with X windows are actually unimportant for the average home user.

So I would say the autopackage project (www.autopackage.org) is more important than the fresco project (www.fresco.org that used to be berlin but they changed the name.)

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

[rant]

1. X windows *seems* so slow (it used to be just client/server over sockets, now uses shared mem et. al). Try a more recent distribution (that come with XFree86 4.2+).

2. There are too many Linux file managers (of very different speeds) for that comment to be considered valid. BTW: I just tried a recent copy of Nautilus on RH8 (it is blindingly faster than previous versions), same can be said for Konqueror... I personally prefer the command line ;)

3. Mozilla unlike IE isn't built into the OS, it also offers a hell of a lot more powerful features and is alot more standards compliant. All this and it's truly cross-platform (don't give me that BS about MacOS IE). If you find Mozilla too slow it's most likely it's user interface loading time that bothers you, try using a native widget wrapper around your mozilla/gecko. I use Galeon all the time it works great! Other OSs have their own counterparts.

4. Like hell the kernel can't be "optomized" optimized!... You'll have to be a little more specific in what you're talking about. Last time I checked the kernel is fully open source (that means one can tweak it any which way they like). Hell depending on how your kernel is compiled you can even fine-tune things (usually through /proc ) at runtime! How much more optimization do you need?

No offense, but if you're too lazy/stupid to take the time and understand why your system/OS/App does what it does, or why it doesn't do what it should... then you shouldn't be declaring yourself as a "Geek" but rather as a "User". Titles like "Geek" or "Hacker" (original definition!) must be placed on individuals that actually possess the skills needed... furthermore these titles should *only* be placed by others (geeks/hackers) already holding the title (kind of like accreditation), not some lame user who thinks just because you know how to turn on your computer makes you an "3133t Linux hax0r".

[/rant]

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

is it really fair comparing a new distribution to windows 98?

I think it's pretty reasonable. After all, MS claims to be years ahead of every one else, so their old stuff should be comparable to our latest, right?

Seriously, MS did claim (or at least their apologists did claim) that Win98 was ``ready for the desktop'', or ``ready for the home user'', so it isn't unreasonable to compare to that.

there has been huge improvements since win98.

I use Win2k at work, and it is certainly a huge improvement over Win98 in terms of stability. It is certainly no easier to use than was Win98. I don't use WinXP, but my friends who have it at home don't see it as an improvement over Win9x.

The fact is that stability isn't an issue for home users. Multitasking and multiuser aren't either. The latest Microsoft products are about as good as the proprietary unix I was using twenty years ago for those three things, but that sort of improvement doesn't matter for the typical user.

What does matter is exactly what we saw stressed in the interview: everything needs to just work, consistantly, and not suffer from progressive rot. I don't think that the changes in the MS products since 1998 really changed anything that matters to my mother.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

I don't use WinXP, but my friends who have it at home don't see it as an improvement over Win9x.

Your friends must be really stupid. Or ignorant.

why would that matter?

Anonymous's picture

ignorant users are exactly the sort who should gauge if an interface is easier to use out of the box. Since we are talking exclusively about usability when saying there is no improvement in XP I'd have to agree.

There is no technical advancement of note from win2k and a usability decrease. It's arguable that there is a security decrease as well since almost none of the killer exploits of late affect 9x. In case someone missed it, the XP interface is very unintuitive and ugly. The only thing which makes XP functional is disabling it's interface.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

x-nc's picture

The idea wasn't to compair operating systems. It was to see how one home user faired switching to Linux. Also, you wouldn't believe it from MS's marketting but a very large number of home users are still using Win98.

Joe

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

Do you really think Windows XP is some huge improvement over 98? If you do I have some swamp land that I want you to look at.

Hope things or well up in Redmond.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

have you run winxp at all? there has been huge improvements in compatibility and stability (just like there has been with linux). how could MS possibly sell an OS no different than a previous?

it's sad that you have to attack me for speaking against this article, i'm not a ms-troll, au contraire. i use linux exclusively at home, i work professionally with it and i'm an opensource advocate as well. to gain anything by this kind of journalism the scenarios have to be realistic. anyone who were to change to an up-to-date OS from a 4 year old one would find advantages.

Re: Interview with a Grandmother

Anonymous's picture

I think whoever originally replied meant that win2k and winxp aren't any easier to use than win98, which I personally agree with. (And, yes, I HAVE used 98, 2k and xp)

Office has most definitely not gotten easier to use over the last 2 or 3 revisions.

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