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Switching the Parents to Ubuntu...?

I spent a half hour or so recently on the phone walking my Mom through a technical issue. Tentatively, I diagnosed her issue as a hard drive failure. She brought it over on her last visit and sure enough, the Dell XPS 450 from circa 1999 sounds like a bad coin-operated laundry at full capacity.

I was aghast to discover she's running Windows 98. Ugh. Also, her recovery disk is just that--for recovery. I don't believe I'll be able to re-install Win98 on a new hard drive. That, coupled with the end of Microsoft (and Dell) support for Win98, got me thinking about Linux. (and she's not intense about her computing needs...and she doesn't want to spend much money...)

I've been reading good things about switching one's parents to Ubuntu. Any thoughts out there?


Michael said…
Be sure to "try before you buy". It's really helpful to give them the Ubuntu Live CD so they can get a feel for what you're getting them into. Once they've tested the waters they should be at least willing to try things out.

I've been experimenting with my parents main PC and one of my brother's workstations on this. I recommend you go with the dual boot option and make Ubuntu be the default OS -- with a 20 second boot selection timeout. That way if they really do need Windows (and from time to time they will), they can get to it.

I think that Ubuntu is a better OS for most users because it's so much more consistent at the UI layer. My parents really liked the fact that the printer now runs "on its own" -- meaning that they don't need the intrusive wizards. Also my Mom really likes the way the digital camera now syncs up.

A big boon for me is the fact that remote admin (and backup of key files) is a snap. All you have to do is setup the rebuilt system so either a VPN or an SSH connection can get through. True, you can do this with Windows, but it isn't as elegant. Sometimes a quick ssh session is all it takes. I rarely need a full blown remote desktop interaction.

The only thing I would recommend is that you don't do anything drastic like upgrade the version remotely. I upgraded my folks from dapper to edgy over ssh. Turned out to not be a good idea. :-( Major changes should be done at the console. Over the Turkey day weekend I was at home and was able to fix the four things that got broken and they're now back in business.
Matt said…
This topic actually was the inspiration for a "persuasive presentation" class I'm in this week...

I agree - if you look at your options for supporting a typical email, web, and digital photo user who has circa 1999 hardware, Ubuntu is the way to go. You really can't run XP on it, and even if you could you'd have the same malware issues to deal with. There's a real cost there, even if you use free stuff like Avast and Spybot S&D. The cost is in diligence - if the user slips up and misses updates for a couple days, the havoc begins...

Using the Ubuntu distro with some careful initial tweaking will get you closer to the low-maintenance applicance that these kinds of users really need.

So the point of my presentation was to avoid buying new hardware - whether updated PC hardware for XP/Vista or a Mac - and at least try out Ubuntu first. With Live CD and/or some re-partitioning this can be test driven at very low risk.
Jeff Hunsaker said…
Very insightful comments. Thank you. I'm going to pull the trigger on this with my Mom and also at home for a secondary workstation (circa 1999). For Mom, I'm strongly considering the Ubuntu paid support option. I'm not too keen on dropping the coin but given my current workload and responsibilities, it will likely pay for itself.

I'll outline my plans and progress here.

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