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Ask Slashdot: Linux For Grandma? 287

First time accepted submitter BlazeMiskulin writes "With XP approaching end-of-life, I find myself in a situation that I'm guessing is common: What to do with Mom's machine (or 'grandma's machine' for the younger of you). Since a change has to be made, this seems like a good time to move to a Linux distro. My mother (82) uses her computer for e-mail and web-browsing only. I know that any distro will be able to handle her needs. I've been using Linux (Ubuntu, CentOS, and Redhat--usually with KDE interface) for about 10 years now, but I know that my preferences are quite different from hers.

I have my own ideas, but I'm curious what others think: What combination of distro and UI would you recommend for an old, basic-level user who is accustomed to the XP interface and adverse to change?"
My Grandmother seems happy running KDE on Debian.
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Ask Slashdot: Linux For Grandma?

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  • by Himmy32 ( 650060 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:26PM (#46428855)
    I setup a Linux station over 10 years back for my mother, who at the time was used to XP. Worry less about the distribution and more about the ease of the steps that it takes to do the tasks she wants to accomplish. I setup up an AWN dock with Firefox, OpenOffice Apps and VLC. In the end it kinda looked like ChromeOS does these days... I handled patching, updates, support via VNC. The amount of support calls dropped signficantly because it just worked. Change usually isn't the problem trying to memorize new series of complicated steps is.
  • I'll second that (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:26PM (#46428857) Homepage Journal

    KDE on Debian or any other distro tends to provide the most "XP like" user interface that I've seen. You just need to enable double-click mouse behaviour instead of the default single-click, add a few of their favourite apps to the desktop, and they're good to go.

    If you're on an old system, you'll want to disable the file indexing daemons as well, as they can consume a lot of CPU and slow the machine down. If all the main user does is email and web browsing, they're not going to benefit from the indexing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:28PM (#46428879)

    Mint is an excellent team and the Debian based distribution is a rolling release distro (so fewer fresh installs for you) Also. LXDE is about as basic and standards compliant as it gets. Start menu, task bar, desktop icons, standard window manager, file manager, and with Network Manager, it's virtually a clone of the Win95/XP design.

    I think you'll find that pretty much any solid distro (such as mainstream Fedora, Ubuntu and Debian derivatives) with either XFCE, LXDE or KDE (if you don't mind a lot of bloat) will accommodate most people fairly well, while being relatively easy to learn in a short amount of time. After all, I bet she spends most of her time in Firefox :/

    I'm also interested in hearing what others recommend.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:30PM (#46428897)

    One hour and a usb live stick should be all that is required to let Grandma try out KDE, Gnome, XFCE, etc.

    Let her pick, she is the one that has to actually use it after all.

  • Re:Chromebook (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:32PM (#46428927)

    That's an excellent choice, if she has a gmail account. Especially if you get one with HDMI (external monitor for her older eyes) & USB jacks (external keyboard for her older hands).

    Xubuntu would also be a good choice...

  • I think its more of a concern of the machine's age. Its not going to run forever. Windows has changed so much that to many its unrecognizable. Why not look for something open source and that grams may like?
  • My mother (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:41PM (#46428997) Homepage

    My mother (who is a grandmother to my kids) runs Debian Wheezy with the XFCE desktop environment. The machine is fairly locked down and I've made quick-launchers for the apps she uses 99% of the time: Email, web-browsing, word-processing, music player and video player.

    She's happy and I can administer the machine remotely, so I'm happy.

  • OpenSUSE and KDE (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ipb ( 569735 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:55PM (#46429121) Homepage

    My Mother (now in her late 80's) has been using Linux and KDE since I gave her a computer back in the 90's. I had it dual boot for a while but finally gave that up when I spent far to much time fighting windows. By then she was comfortable with Linux and only needed one windows program that I was able to run under Wine.

    Other family members have accounts on the same machine so they have net access when visiting ( less of an issue now with tablets and laptops) and I handle the admin details. I'll be visiting her this weekend and will probably spend less than an hour updating and checking logs. My last visit to do this was Christmas.

    It's a no-brainer.

  • Re:Chromebook (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @02:24PM (#46429385)

    I bought a chrome book to replace my mothers imac. On paper this seemed like a really good idea since simply put ChromeOS removes everything you don't need. it's a browser that self updates and stores stuff on line. Unfortuntatley this did not go as well as I hoped and the imac is back.

    what went wrong: chromebooks can't use your existing printer unless it's one of a select few, or you have another "real" computer in the house to network a piggybacked connection off of. I see no point in expensive chromebooks because things like a Pixel are more expensive than a better macbook. But the cheap chromebooks (e.g. Acer) have unusably bad speakers and the trackpad clicks and tracking suck (super duper suck). I added a nice apple mouse to it, but for some reason chrime doesn't respond smoothely to apple mouse (I dont' see why this should be the case, but empirically that's my experience). Finally the browser was just enough different than chrome on mac that she just got all confused. Frankly to me the two are nearly indistinguishable but not to her. I figured she'd get over this after a couple weeks but somehow the mac exerience was much smoother and intuitive for her. Finally, imac screens are just awesom compared to most inexepnsive monitors. Simple things like effortless tilting and easy adjustment of brightness, along with really good font display are marks of high polish and ease of use for older folks.

    So I came away chasened and with a new found regard for the Apple Human interface and polish of the little details. I now use the chromebook myself as a backup computer and to be a media viewer, because overall chrombooks are not versatile like a mac. They are just good at one thing and that's geting rid of the complications of having an OS layer just to run a browser. Every other good feature, like fast books, autoupdates, and good speed even on cheap hardware pretty much stems from that simplification.

    Now what was true was that there was no app that my mother needed that required a mac. Everything she needed to do was available on the chromebook so that's a plus.

    If I were doing this over again I'd buy the printer and external speakers and test out mice beforehand. My approach was to give it to here then adapt to these problems as they emerged which made the transition for her rougher than in needed to be. Perhaps the transplant would have not been rejected

    FInally the biggest dissappointment for me with the chromebook is that they totally suck for linux use. The problem is the hardwired requirement to run in developer mode if you want to boot linux. The firmware offers to erase your disk if you will kindly touch the spacebar at every wake. one mistake and poof your configuration is gone. The easiest ways to install linux end up not having full network access so are crippled. and you can't change the firmware behaviour without some fairly bangersous and unspported reflashes of the firmware, sometimes involving hardware jumpers. Since I'm using this for myself, not granny, now, I'd like to just erase the chrome and go to linux totaly. But the chormebook walled garden won't allow this in any conveneinet way.

  • by lister king of smeg ( 2481612 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @02:56PM (#46429649)

    Seriously. Why even bother updating if what she has works, and that's all she does with it.


              Because Windows XP support is dropped next month and has for the past 10 plus years has been in a constant cracker/patcher battle because it is about as secure as a sieve is water tight. After next month there will be no more patches period. Mean while Windows Server 2003 which is based on the same exact source code will be getting patched for years more. These Windows Server 2003 patches will essentially be giving a security exploit guide to crackers and will leave millions of computers with absolutely no protection whatsoever. Running windows XP on the internet the day after support is dropped is like just asking to become some botnet masters bitch. THATS WHY!

              Secondly the submitter wants to avoid this situation form ever happening again. If he uses Linux or other open source software he can much more easily migrate and mitigate issues like this.

              And finally windows 8 will be very confusing to older relives that have only ever used Windows XP, which they already barely understand how to use. So moving them to Linux will be less traumatic because the only interface they see will be much more similar to what they are used to.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @04:22PM (#46430433)

    Have you tried WINE? One of the nice things about switching to modern Linux+WINE is that many Windows programs work seamlessly. I recently installed WINE on Linux Mint (after having given up in disgust with trying to get it working properly on Ubuntu years ago) - just one little package manager checkbox click and I was able to run the Sketchup installer and get Sketchup running exactly as if I were on Windows, except with fewer annoying confirmation dialogs. Still need to try to get my SpaceNavigator working though. I haven't actually tried it yet, I'm just assuming it will be a hassle to set up as with many non-standard hardware configurations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @04:42PM (#46430603)

    Most of us have two parents. Are you different?

    You're old. Most kids these days have either one or four parents.

  • by Technomancer ( 51963 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @06:34PM (#46431525)

    Here you go VNC viewer for Chrome https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/vnc-viewer-for-google-chr/iabmpiboiopbgfabjmgeedhcmjenhbla?hl=en
    Chrome Remote Desktop https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/chrome-remote-desktop/gbchcmhmhahfdphkhkmpfmihenigjmpp?hl=en

    And there is bunch of RDP viewers too.

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