Newsflash: Grannies Need Linux

I completely realize I'm a geek. I've been using Linux far longer than it's been the "cool thing" to do. I've also been around the Windows world longer than Windows itself. And to nicely round off the playing field, for the better part of a decade, I've been supporting a network of Apple computers. All this experience means two things:

  1. I sound much cooler than I really am
  2. Everybody asks me for help when their computers break

The first is really only true in geek circles, but the second is true everywhere I go. I don't mind at all, and I love to help people. (I find most Open Source enthusiasts tend to have that mindset. It's quite refreshing) Hands down, the number one problem people come to me about is spyware. Most of the time, that's not the leading question, but it's almost always the root of a myriad of issues. Even if you're a pro, spyware is a pain in the butt to clean up.

One of the common suggestions my fellow geeks give people is to buy a Mac. The reason is that Macs generally "just work", and require very little maintenance (read: very few calls to friendly grandsons). I'm not personally anti-Mac, or even anti-Windows -- so the Apple suggestion is one that makes a lot of sense to me. They come pre-installed, have friendly phone support, and last a long, long time. But what if Granny already had a Dell that your dumb cousin Eddie convinced her to buy? Enter Linux.

Chances are, Granny's computer hardware is fine. Since Linux will run on anything from a toaster oven to a space station -- unless there's actual physical damage, the upgrade to Linux should cost nothing but some of your time. (And maybe some of Granny's cookies.) Here's a quick list of suggestions to make life easier on you both:

  1. Set up automatic login. Logging in is often a tough concept, I don't know why.
  2. Install things like Flash, Java, MP3 support, DVD support, video streaming plugins, and true type fonts.
  3. Put bookmarks on the browser's toolbar. Label them so Granny will understand.
  4. Make the taskbar/panel large
  5. Install Skype and/or instant messaging software, and preconfigure them so Granny can chat with you. You'll both love it. Again, automatic login.
  6. Configure system updates to run as automatically as possible.
  7. Standardize Granny's passwords. I know this is insecure, but I think it's worth it.
  8. Make sure Granny calls you with questions, not cousin Eddie.
  9. Remind Granny not to try buying software from Walmart, or online. Have her ask you first.

And now it's up to you. Please drop your suggestions for how to set up Granny's computer in the comment section below. If we work together, we can dominate the elderly desktops of the world in no time. :)

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

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