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Switching my parents over to Linux saved me a lot of headache and support calls (write.as)
359 points by l1am0 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 289 comments

Just to add another anecdote...

Back in 2008 or so, my relatives did the really nice thing of buying my Grandma the cheapest possible Walmart computer they could find. You know the sort of Windows eMachine that comes preinstalled with spyware?

Of course, my relatives live about 6 hours away from her and all of the "on site support" fell to me. In the first 2 years of my Grandma getting this computer I must have gone over more than 10 times to fix all sorts of stupid issues that were pretty much inherent to the machine.

I grew sick of this and one day I went over, backed up the few important files on the machine and installed linux mint. That was in 2010, it is now 2019 and I have gone over to fix my Grandmas computer twice since. Once to help her set up a printer, and another time when she accidentally cleared her cookies and couldn't figure out how to log back into anything.

The strange thing is that my Grandma never commented on the Mint interface and as far as I can tell she never noticed that I completely changed the operating system ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So my personal anecdote also involves mint - I've set one up for someone years ago(probably around 2013-2014) and you're right, it had no issues. However, when I came over to visit last year I wanted to do some maintenance, so "apt-get update" and "apt-get upgrade" would be the start. Nope, turns out that the update servers for that version of Mint have been switched off long time ago and none of the links resolve anymore. Upgrading the apt server list just resulted in hundreds of errors when actually trying to upgrade the system. At this point I stopped, worried that I'm just going to break everything.

After that, I had a realization - yes, the system ran for 4 years without any maintenance, but it also received no updates and no patches whatsoever during that time, because linux does not do that by default(or at least Mint didn't). And then the only issues my windows-using family have is 90% of the time due to....windows updates. Things are not where they used to be, some application changed so it's now different, they had something open and the computer restarted itself....the usual. And while that is a problem....at least their machines are always patched and up to date. That Mint installation was running in the same state that it was in the day I set it up, and after just few years it couldn't even be updated any more(to my best effort). That's pretty bad too.

This was what turned me off from Linux Mint for my own use. The catch-22 of you need to upgrade to a supported version, but the servers / packages you would need in order to do the upgrade were turned off in the meantime. To be fair, Linux Mint states that a complete reinstall is the recommended way, but since I do development, it's a pain to have to locate and reinstall from scratch all the packages I need.

Also I think Ubuntu suffers the same problem, if you wait long enough. I'm pretty sure I have an Ubuntu install that I waited too long to upgrade.

It is enough to make me serious consider switching to FreeBSD, except I don't think the 3D (game engine) library I want to use is supported.

it's a pain to have to locate and reinstall from scratch all the packages I need.

    dpkg --get-selections | cut -f1 > ~/installed_pkgs.log
    cat installed_pkgs.log | xargs sudo apt install

Except it doesn't work that way as some package name have changed and the command fails due to some package not existing anymore.

It give something to start with but still requires human intervention from someone who knows how to navigate in this mess.

I actually remember running into this issue a lot when building Docker images. Generally you want your docker image to be reproducible so you'd want to lock versions of your dependencies. But when doing this with apt-get install, a lot of the time I find that when a new version of a package is released, the old one gets removed and becomes no longer accessible, so locking versions actually ends up resulting in _more_ build flakiness than just using the latest of whatever package available at build-time, which is obviously not ideal.

Deleting older versions of packages that people may still be relying on seems like a very obvious no-go in a dependency management system. Any idea why this happens regardless? Is it just a matter of costs? Or is there more nuance to it that I'm missing?

The entire software industry has shifted to a stance of not caring when updates break user workflow, experience, functionality and habits. For basically any modern piece of software, whether/when to take each update, rather than being a no-brainer, is a very difficult decision: it is impossible for the end user to separate security/functionality fixes from workflow/functionality-breaking behaviour changes. Everything, across the board, universally, suffers from this: web browsers (few plugins survive browser updates), office software (ui rearranged every time), operating systems (packages and entire applications just vanish)...

Visible behaviour and functionality is changed or removed without user involvement, choice or recourse, turning every update into a game of Russian Roulette. Even LTS builds don't mean no breakage of behaviours users rely on.

From the developer's POV maintaining security/bugfix-only forks of every feature branch rapidly becomes intractable as a project gains complexity / matures. Meanwhile, for startups, "move fast and break things" is the creed. So as we demand more from our software overall, this situation can only get worse, not better.

The temptation for modern users to say "you know what? it's MY bloody computer, not yours; my problems are actually more important to me than whatever you think you're solving" and unplug from the update streams is overwhelming.

Yep. I think I'll literally stop taking Android upgrades because of this. Just few years ago I'd get really excited every time new version of firmware was released for my phone, but now I loathe it - every single damn time the interface changes and you can't do anything about it. Like now I have taken the upgrade to Android Pie for my OnePlus 5T, and....the clock moved to the left now. Ok, google for a solution - nope, can't move it back to the right. Someone somewhere decided that this is "better" so the customer has to accept it. Like you said, I'm getting really fed up with this - is it my phone, or not????

Isn't this what semantic versioning tried to address?

But when doing this with apt-get install, a lot of the time I find that when a new version of a package is released, the old one gets removed and becomes no longer accessible, so locking versions actually ends up resulting in _more_ build flakiness than just using the latest of whatever package available at build-time, which is obviously not ideal.

I would maintain a local apt repository for that situation.

It gets worse when dependencies have changed and now you've installed a library that's incompatible with the dependencies of an app you need and everything grinds to a halt.

Yeah, I've found that enough things change between installs that it's really tough to automate the process. Instead I keep a document that lists all the steps I need to set up my dev machine from scratch (with a data backup), and each time I go through the process I update the document. That makes it much less taxing than trying to figure out and remember everything without a guide, but is flexible enough to handle the inevitable differences from one time to the next.

If you're provisioning machines on a regular basis it's a different story, but if it's your own personal machine that you're reinstalling maybe every couple years this seems like the most straightforward approach.

Also: Use LVM and snapshot before updating to save yourself a lot of headaches.

I went one step farther and built an Ansible role for my workstation and try to install everything via that role. I don’t always, but it sure makes reloads and new machines easier to deal with. I have since split it into a couple roles for full desktop vs somewhere I just ssh into but have enough access to install things to suit me.

When package names change, or don't exist any more, it requires human intervention even when the rest of the update process is automatic. This is the difference between `apt-get upgrade` and `apt-get dist-upgrade`. All you're really doing by putting off the update in that case is compressing all the little bits of human intervention you'd have been doing during every update, into one big push.

`dpkg --get-selections` also lists explicitly deinstalled packages, so you'll want to grep the list first.

Tell that to your grandmother over the phone and see how much of a pain it is :)


If she's like mine she's going to tell you everything is fine and when you visit her in a few months you'll see it isn't working.

I once helped my grandma, on the phone, navigate through a VCR to record a star trek episode. Everything was going well but I came home to an empty VHS.

"I told you it was fine so you wouldn't worry."

I miss my grandma more than that episode of star trek.

I'm just jealous you had a grandma who watched Star Trek!

Talk your grandmother through anything GUI related over the phone and compare. Spend half an hour trying to help her figure out which button she should press only to find out at step 3 she opened facebook instead of the start menu, and that she actually has been pressing buttons randomly for 15 minutes while producing assorted nonspecific vocalizations of agreement while doing literally none of the things you've asked.

Or even get the legendary confusion of them never having turned the machine on in the first place.

Generally, after years of experience doing exactly this, I've found it is a lot easier to dictate a literal sequence of characters over the phone than coordinate a complex visual action with only confused verbal feedback.

Of course, with terminal stuff, you have even further options in, say, sending an email with an attached bash file for them to download and click, or if this continues, set up a script for them (and ad an icon for it in their start menu) that ssh's them into a handy aws or digital ocean instance so you can then ssh into their machine from the comfort of your own home and do it yourself.

This isn't a great example (or maybe it is considering how non-trivial the operation is), but running stuff from the command line can often be great for tech support. There is a reason support normally asks people to open things from the run dialog instead of asking them to go through the start menu.

This might be a bit too much to expect grandma to perfectly type, but "sudo apt-get update" and "sudo apt-get upgrade" to update her system is certainly easier then trying to describe what to click on a graphical UI.

If they're running Linux, I can ssh in and do it myself. :)

There's also dpkg --set-selections.

> I don't think the 3D (game engine) library I want to use is supported

Which one? It's entirely possible that it is (or that it's not 'supported', but you could easily compile it there anyway).

Arch Linux is based on a rolling update, so my understanding is that you shouldn't have to jump to FreeBSD (nice as it is in some ways) to avoid a release-based upgrade.

I've only been using it for a little while on a couple systems, but seems nice enough. (Mint or regular Debian for years otherwise.)

Update Ubuntu eol by switching the sources to the archive servers: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/EOLUpgrades

You might have had that problem in 2013, since Mint editions were based on the latest Ubuntu release. But since May 2014, all releases of Mint are based instead on Ubuntu LTS release. This means they get support for five years, rather than 9 months. For example Mint 17 (May 2014) has support and updates that will only cease this April. The latest release, 19.1, is supported for 10 years, until 2028.

That's pretty much true of everything Linux related. It has or will get better. The state of WiFi on Linux around 2009 was horrid. It would break with every update. It got better.

I've been using Linux for almost 2 decades and I've abandoned numerous projects over the years because the community was so unhelpful. The most recent was an Asterisk box for a home VoIP server back around 2012, before that it was a MythTV box in 2008.

The main problem is that until it gets better it ends up alienating a lot of people because the standard support from the community is "did you RTFM?"

Similar story, also grandmother's computer.

I ditched ubuntu in the deepest hole I could find because every 6 months was a nightmare, and I replaced it with linux mint which seemed to actually work.

Then I had to deal with such system upgrade and this was a real pain, so instead I replaced linux mint with linux mint debian edition and things went well for a while.

Then came the system upgrade time again, it was not as painful as with regular mint but it was still a pain to manage.

My grandma managed to deal with her everyday use of the computer but there is no way she could manage the mint system upgrade part by herself. So the computer lived for a while with only the non system upgrade until I switched her to manjaro which allows her to have a roling release and deal with system upgrades herself.

This right here is why I switched to Debian. Got tired of downstream forks breaking the upgrade process, which hasn't been an issue since switching a few years back.

The Gnome software center makes it easy to find and install apps too, reminds me of click n run from Linspire.

It's not very often you see Click-N-Run mentioned. Early versions had an easter egg if you queued apps to install whose first letters spelled ClicknRun, then pressed Ctrl-Alt-Shift-C.

CNR was years ahead of any of these app stores, really wish it had continued on rather than others having to build APT clients that still don't work quite as well.

Careful with Manjaro you are close to bleeding edge packages, and updates may break things. Not Manjaro but on Arch I lost bluetooth after an update last week - I had to downgrade packages for a day to fix it. You don't want this to happen to normal users.

I've just returned from a philosophical café about algorithms and society. A 78 year old attendee in the audience was advocating Linux to avoid junk on your computer. He claimed it's easy for anyone to switch from Windows to Linux as he had done last year. He installed Linux Mint himself, which he claimed is easy because it's just a download and he's not a technical person himself.

Something tells me a 78 year old attending a Philosophy meetup about Algorithms and Society is probably a hell of a lot smarter than your average 78 year old.

Smarter, or just more open minded and/or motivated?

What is a "philosophical Cafe"? Sounds awesome. Edit: Google sends me to https://www.cafesphilo.org/ which sounds great but seems to be mainly limited to France.

You found the right thing. It's mostly French and exclusively European. They're places to discuss ideas and theories respectfully and civilly. I don't think the same thing exists in America in any form.

The topics can vary from "the nature of choice" to something like what GP posted.

The map on that page has pins on Tunisia, Georgia, Brazil, US (NY i think) and the Caribbeans. But yes, most of the others are in France.

Nice, a friend of mine runs a similar concept in Mexico, maybe he can find some resources in there.

> The strange thing is that my Grandma never commented on the Mint interface and as far as I can tell she never noticed that I completely changed the operating system

Same, except for my 70 year old parents. I switched them from Windows to Ubuntu MATE. All I had to do was simply rename the Firefox icon to "Internet" and they were good to go.

I'd love to conduct a study on the perception of computers. It seems that many people from the previous generation (born before 80s) are floating in a sea of confusion and ad-hoc reflexes. Changing an OS does barely affect the noise/signal ratio to them.

If all you do is to click the internet icon and browser... Then of course there is no much change.

So how do you take care of updates and upgrades? There should have been at least 3 major dist upgrades required to keep her on security support since then and afaik back then Linux Mint offically didn't support major upgrades and suggested to do a clean install instead, which is defnintely not something I'd let my grandma do on her own.

I once tried to change the color scheme in Mint. It corrupted my install and I had to wipe and start over.


That's the thing about Linux. You can shoot yourself in the foot easily if you want to change anything.

However for most non-PC people they want to click a browser icon. That is easy and stable.

I run Ubuntu on three machines and never in a million years would I set it up for my parents. I still struggle with lots of little gotchas and annoying issues like sometimes it just doesn't want to suspend. Or sometimes after resuming, the keyboard doesn't work so gotta unplug it and plug it back in. Sometimes my wifi just conks out for no apparent reason. On and on, just lots of little paper cuts.

I switched my parents over to OSX years ago and have had to do almost no tech support at all. I really like Linux, but I still would argue that the OS that "just works" the most is still OSX.

It very much depends on what hardware you’re trying to run Linux on. I’ve never had a issue with most of my laptops (which have mostly been Samsung and ASUS machines) but ironically the one laptop that’s been the biggest pain point is my 2018 model MacBook Pro. I get why the Mac doesn’t play nicely with Linux and don’t blame the Mac for that per se but honestly even the stuff that does work correctly (USB-C, keyboard, etc) are still horrible to use so I definitely wouldn’t have been happy even if I’d left OSX in there. In fact I’d probably say getting a Mac was one of my stupidest career decisions of recent years.

But anyhow, back on topic, it really depends on your hardware.

The problem you describe is mostly because of hardware. And you didn't switch to OSX, you switched them to Apple hardware with Apple software, not an OS switch.

On well supported hardware for Linux I have my parents since many years on Fedora. I even just swapped the drive from an old Lenovo netbook to a newer Fujitsu laptop without any issues in between

"The problem you describe is mostly because of hardware."

Which does not change the fact that they are still problems - no matter how unfair it is and how little the Linux-Community is to blame for it.

I used Linux on many different machines - and sadly I can confirm lots of problems with hardware. Standby/Resume, etc.

Try running macos on PC hardware and you'll feel the true pain of incompatibility. Buy hardware supported by your OS of choice. You dont buy an arm computer and expect to run windows. You shouldn't buy a PC for Windows and expect it to function perfectly for Linux.

That's not the point, though. The competitor (Windows) mostly has none of these problems, and that's pretty much what matters EOD.

If you cannot expect a generic PC to run Linux, `$currentYear is the year of the Linux Desktop` will continue to be little more than hyperbole. That's a big problem if we're looking for widespread adoption.

>The competitor (Windows) mostly has none of these problems,

Windows tends to self destruct via forced updates over time. So far I have not had a single windows installation that didn't require a reinstall after a certain amount of time has passed. The type of failure is different but it's significantly worse.

This is coming from someone who uses Arch Linux, a bleeding edge distro that isn't known for it's stability (well it's pretty stable so far).

Absolutely true, if not maintained.

The only reason this isn't the case in Linux/MacOS most likely is simply due to the lack of crapware targeting these platforms though (because the reward profile significantly favors targeting Windows more).

You can see this in action with Android vs iOS too (no flamewar here folks). Android tends to get bogged down quite easily if active maintenance isn't done due to the proliferation of nefarious background workers.

> That's not the point, though. The competitor (Windows) mostly has none of these problems, and that's pretty much what matters EOD.

But the story ends with OS X.

Lol. Try running Windows on non standard or even non x86 hardware. Your point here doesn't make much sense.

Define "standard."

As far as I understand, non-standard or non-x86 aren't really mainstream. Windows for ARM-like devices is nowhere close to being ready for prime time.

The point here is that the solution is simply to get better hardware, which is much less expensive outside the Apple ecosystem.

In my experience the same hardware when ran under Windows does not have these issues.

EDIT: also just want to say I'm not anti-Linux, I'm just being realistic. I understand Linux's history and how it has some disadvantages (and advantages). I'm just saying at the end of the day, my interest is a reliable machine, regardless of how I get there.

Of course, since that hardware is tested under Windows.

OPs point is that if you're comparing Linux to macOS, you need to also compare the hardware accordingly - just as you buy a Mac to run macOS on, you need to buy hardware that's guaranteed to work well with Linux. And such Linux hardware is still going to cost less than a MacBook or a Mac Mini.

I bought an Asus 1215B, sold with Ubuntu, a couple of years ago.

WiFi working has always been ups and downs, specially bad at the beggining when Canonical decided to exchange the closed source driver by an open source one, even thought it wasn't feature complete. I had to spend 3 months using LAN cable until the drive was actually working.

The Radeon on the Brazos APU is a DirectX 11 class GPU, but after AMD dropped fxglr, I lost video hardware acceleration, and the OpenGL feature level has been droped to a lower version.

So much for buying a laptop with Linux support out of the box.

This is usually true until there’s a big Windows version upgrade (7 to 10, for example), and the manufacturer and/or the component OEMs decide to stop supporting their stuff with drivers.

It really depends. Hardware with support in kernel does work really well. I have less issue with my AMD graphic card on Linux than I had in Windows (random blue screen, gpu resets, a random driver version that will just not work). Granted, the quality really improved past years.

My work laptop is also much more stable. On windows 10, the intel driver will always blue screen when i had no more ram left. I never had one crash on Fedora.

It does require to look at hardware support first, but that's the same way than checking hardware quality before buying. I always buy things that meet my requirements, on computer hardware, one is Linux support, I don't see this as an issue.

Try running OSX on the same hardware and see how well it works of if you encounter problems too.

I experienced some standby/resume issues a few times along my years with linux, sometimes the fix was simply to upgrade/downgrade the kernel, sometimes using a different distro did the trick, sometimes it was a matter of configuring things correctly and sadly sometimes the hardware manufacturer was hostile to linux.

Sure, but that hardware advantage is something Apple should be able to take advantage of, they worked hard to get it. And I take advantage of it as well. At the end of the day, I just care about my needing to do support and that a computer generally works.

I run Ubuntu on a 2015 and 2017 Lenovo ThinkPad (T450 and T470s) and a desktop I built myself. Interestingly it runs the best on my custom desktop.

I use Ubuntu due to i3. The advantages a solid tiling window manager give me outweigh the drawbacks. But if OSX had a tiling window manager on par with i3 I'd drop Ubuntu in a heartbeat.

EDIT: and just to add, when I run Windows on these machines I don't have any of these problems: suspend works, USB and wifi work, etc. In my experience Windows's main problem is that it still crashes pretty regularly.

your problem here is not linux, your problem is probably ubuntu and lenovo.

ubuntu is notoriously buggy and lenovo thinkpads are more and more hostile to linux since 5-6 years.

Try something like manjaro instead of ubuntu and see if you still experience the same issues.

Thinkpads are not really problem. Yes, Lenovo occasionally does something with ACPI in their brand new models, that breaks Linux, but overall they are fine. Of course, it is possible to configure them in such a way, that will be problematic; for example, if you put Nvidia GPU in your config.

It's Ideapads that have often the problems.

That's totally fair. It's on my todo list to try some other distros. I will probably try Debian first. I chose Ubuntu due to it being so popular and also because my company's IT supports it. But if other distros are more reliable then that's fantastic.

Mint on my Lenovo P51 has been brilliant. There were basically zero issues to get everything working like sound, sleep/resume and network (common sticky spots). Being a ThinkPad, there were also some utilities to do more specific things like power management to only charge to 80%; mine's usually plugged in, this is supposed to help battery life.

I can still dual-boot to the Win10 it came with, but it's been a month or two between typically.

Which brand is more Linux-friendly than Lenovo these days?

> The problem you describe is mostly because of hardware.

No, that would be a software problem; as in driver-related. And as others noted, it's still a problem either way.

I think the point is that if you buy Apple hardware, of course macOS is going to run well, because you bought hardware specific to that, so do the same for Linux, buy Linux specific/well tested hardware instead of just any old crap, because you weouldn't do the same with macOS.

It's a fair point. Especially now that you can get purpose built Linux laptops, even from Dell.

A fair comparison would probably be Mac/OSX vs System76/Pop_OS.

My mom's NUC has never caused any trouble running the latest Ubuntu. Network printer, scanner, wireless mouse, webcam, bluetooth headphones, USB hard drives, sleep/hibernation... not a single problem.

Which NUC model is it? I looked into NUCs a couple years ago but at the time they had a reputation of not being great with Linux.


Actually the Gigabyte Brix variant because I didn't want to buy the WiFi/bluetooth card separately. But it's the exact same mainboard.

I have a NUC5CPYH (it was very cheap). It was too slow for my liking, but everything worked, including Ubuntu, OpenBSD, Haiku, etc.

ChromiumOS is perfect for it. It's distributed by Neverware as CloudReady OS.

I run Linux on the Skull Canyon NUC and it works great.

This is great to hear. At one point I was considering that very NUC. I'm glad to hear Linux is working well on them.

But do you have the skull lid/cover or the boring black one?

Of course the skull cover :-)

I have a couple of NUC7i7DNKE and they are great with Linux. They even support AMT, if you ever needed that.

I just installed Debian testing on an ACEPC GX1. Zero problems.

Exactly why I switched from Xubuntu to Mac 5 years ago. I just want to do my work, not fix my system after every minor upgrade.

The reccurring issue people seem to have with linux is that they use ubuntu. Just use a decent distro instead and see if that fixes your issues.

Even Ubuntu is fine (this is coming from Fedora fan). If you are going for the long haul, do the following:

- use LTS. You don't need every 6-mo release.

- don't install packages from random ppas, if you don't know what they are doing to your system. Of course, do not install anything not managed by repositories, that would break your system (If I had a dime for every person that installed hplip/nvidia driver/etc from HP/Nvidia/etc site and just overwritten their apt-managed system files. It worked... until upgrade).

My parents also use Ubuntu; they are using it since 6.06, on the current hardware since 12.04. Upgrading them between LTS releases is non-event, aside the UI changes.

I always found Ubuntu to be easiest to use. No fighting to get GPU drivers to work, or other weird issues. Easy to install things when I was first learning too.

Edit: I meant to ask what people are using that's more stable. Fedora you need to reinstall every few months, Debian has some 'rules to not break Debian' that seem to make it special purpose, centos hates my GPU, trisquel gets very rare updates. I know that all of this is solvable, but Ubuntu seems simpler to set and forget.

Gnome is buggy though. I love it but I sure wish it ran better

Well Ubuntu is a broken by design bleeding edge attempt to be microsoft with linux so it is not something I would use myself (ditched it 15 years ago) and even less install for people who are not computer literate with time on their hands.

I have two main issues with OSX: it only works on overpriced hardware with no repairability and some things are hidden or very difficult to find when possible (sort of the civilized version of GNOME's way of removing settings and features and thinking the user is dumb).

If "just works" is the relevant metric, it's hard to beat Debian stable - or CentOS, or perhaps OpenSUSE Leap. Sure, the things you might be able to easily achieve with them are quite limited. But the flip side is that they will chug along nicely and reliably for years upon years, with nary a hiccup aside from the occasional security update. That's the sort of "just works" that we - and our non-technical acquaintances - are most in need of!

Yep. My parents can usually also find some kind of support system with a Mac, either on Google or if they must, at an Apple Store.

I would never in a million years subject my parents to Linux on the desktop unless there is some kind of support system that is not entirely dependent on me.

Same. I would ===never=== burden my parents with Linux. Until recently, it would be Macs. But am starting to think ChromeOS might be superior.

Many years ago I idealistically tried to switch my dad over to Linux but that was a nightmare, mostly due to hardware incompatibilities. My missus also ran Linux at some point but Ubuntu upgrades kept breaking and 3G modem drivers never worked properly. But that's years ago so I am sure the desktop Linux situation has improved slightly.

Since about 2010 my entire family is on Mac and support calls have also pretty much ended. When I read some of these other threads, it seems like it's accepted that parents/grandparents do nothing else than just open up a web browser.

That hasn't been my experience at all.

They buy printers, scanners, use apps from the app store, try to connect new and strange cameras, card readers, external screens (try simply connecting an external 4K screen to a random Linux computer, I guarantee you'll get a few surprises).

My dad's recently got into 3D printing (keep in mind he's a consumer, not an expert) and Fusion 360 would not even have run on Windows. He would not have been able to figure out FreeCAD either.

That's pretty much my experience with my inlaws.

They got one of these cheap Walmart computers in 2002 or so. After one too many disasters (computer slow due to antivirus sw, Windows update failed, etc), I switched them to Linux for a few years. But that was a problem due to hardware compatibility, especially with their printer.

I ended up having an iMac to give them in 2007 (after I'd switched from FreeBSD to Mac, and decided I could not stand the Mac UI & switched back to FreeBSD on another whitebox). They've been on Mac ever since, now on a Mini we bought them a few years ago. Pretty much no support calls since then. A few times a year I make sure they're doing sw updates and haven't installed dodgy Chrome extensions or toolbars, but that's about it.

Hardware incompatibilities goes both way stuff that won't work on windows or that requires some obscure/bloated driver will work plug and play on linux. Depends on the hardware and the work put on it but the opensource people.

Many people have their first linux experience with ubuntu which is a shame seeing how this distribution is riddled with problems that are not being addressed because the distro is going to be binned in 6 months anyway and devs have to work on the next release.

I agree with you, daily usage is mostly a web browser / email client but there's also all the uncommon stuff and exotic hardware except my experience is that 70-80% of time you plug it and it just works, 10% of time it requires some web searching and meddling with installing/configuring somethins and 10% of time it will not work (85% of those are apple devices).

There's also one important thing to take into account, in 2010 Mac were repairable and serviceable, since 2012 repairability of Mac is abysmal and consistently get the worst score on fixit. The long list of Apple engineering failures[1] adds to the idea that getting Mac just to be able to run OSX is not as good as it was in 2010.

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUaJ8pDlxi8

I have had occasional issues with Ubuntu, but differences between distros feel minor in comparison to the problems that initially coloured my perception.

My first experience with Linux was in the university computer lab. I just needed to quickly send an email. I logged in, and I couldn't figure out how to do anything. Not even log out. After asking a random other student for help, a group of people came to my aid. Turns out the desktop environment was actually broken, because the IT staff had configured it wrong. One of the other students figured out how to open a shell without using any menus and he logged me out. I decided not to use those computers again.

My second experience with Linux was on a remote terminal at my job. It was awful. Nothing worked correctly. I now realize that whoever had set up my account had done a bad copy/paste/edit job from somebody else's dotfiles, but at the time I just assumed that's how Linux was. I figured the misconfigured tcsh shell with broken autocomplete that they gave me was normal, because I had never seen anything different before. The oddly configured, licenseless RHEL desktop they gave me reinforced the idea that everything is hard on Linux.

I had an incredibly negative opinion of Linux at this point. Every interaction had shown me that Linux was a confusing mess of garbage. Then I installed Ubuntu on my desktop. It was easy and everything worked million times better. Later, I tried Fedora and CentOS and the same was true there. At that point, I realized that Linux wasn't broken and hard to use by default. It was IT staff that was ruining it.

If you can afford to drop a pile of money for a Mac, why can't you buy a Linux compatible hardware stack?

Nothing to do with cost.

And if it did, Macs can easily be a better value with their better longevity and resale value.

I'm not sure that longevity and resale value are necessarily their strong points any more, since everything (at least in a laptop) is glued together and essentially non-fixable for mortals.

My mid-2013 Retina MBP was a very nice system, used it lots every day. When the battery went, it's now a big deal; it's not replacing a battery, it's replacing the entire top case, trackpad, keyboard... and battery. That combination was never in stock when I visited Apple stores, and I don't live near one.

A local shop that does Apple-authorized work had to bring in that "part" - really, half a laptop, and change it out. Days later, the charging circuit failed on the main board, and it's become a doorstop with a new top case/battery. I couldn't even pay for a RAM upgrade (soldered on) when replacing the board, so I just didn't. Bought a ThinkPad that I can open and add things, and put the Mac's SSD in it.

I concur with this experience. A few years before my grandmother died, I installed Ubuntu on a new laptop for her. All she wanted to do was check her email, view her bank account and play solitaire. It was easy to set up shortcuts to any of this, and she never had any problems.

Every time I came to visit, I would make sure to check the status of the packages, and run the software updater if any updates were available.

The only 'problem' I experienced was confusion from my uncles, when they tried to use her laptop, when they came to visit. But I wouldn't really rate that a problem, since they just gave up and didn't ruin anything.

I set my dad up with Lubuntu just under a year ago and the only problem he's had is a system lockup that we traced to a malfunctioning mouse crashing the computer. We replaced the mouse a few weeks ago and haven't had the problem since. He's very happy with it.

The same thing with my father. Windows was overkill for him. He just needed the browser and printer. Ubuntu is easy to set up and maintain.

My father was willing to switch, my mother was not.

So: my father is now on his third Linux machine in 16 years (two laptops and now a NUC hiding behind a 24" monitor). Normal updates are handled automatically; I do a major upgrade once a year. rsnapshot backs up to an external disk three times a day. Every so often he tells me that he wants to do something new, and asks if it's possible; the answer is always yes.

My mother is on her fifth computer in that time. She's always unhappy with it, but refuses to change, because she's afraid that Linux will be incompatible with the new service-du-jour that her friends are always adopting.

Similar situation here -- my mom uses Linux and my dad insists on Windows (to be fair, he has tried Linux here and there). My mom's computer has been trucking for over 10 years and after initial setup, she has rarely had issues. My dad has been through 4 different systems in the same amount of time and each one ends up riddled with malware and nigh unusable before he decides he just needs to upgrade again.

In my dad's case, major barriers to adoption are a) EVER rendering an MS Office document noticeably incorrectly, on either end; b) DRM'd video components like Comcast's Xfinity streaming services; c) a feeling that he doesn't really have control over it and can't just search for any software he wants and be able to use it, or can't Google a concern and find reasonably-basic instructions to get something to happen.

Those are all fairly legitimate concerns, I guess I'm just bothered by the way he treats all of these as direct failures of the OS rather than applying a little more flexibility -- if not to his computing habits in general, at least to his interpretation of the situation.

If switching OS creates those problems, it's entirely reasonable to blame the OS.

An attitude of "switch to Linux and if you can't do anything that you used to do then it's something else's fault" while possibly fair is exceptionally unhelpful.

s/anything you used to/a small handful of specific things/

I'm not trying to say that this is a solution to the problems entailed, and I'm not even saying that he should be obliged to go through the inconvenience of using a different OS if it doesn't fulfill all of his needs. There's just an air around the tone that's frustrating.

In general I would hope that performance, security, and system longevity would count for something, but I guess it's like telling someone to eat their vegetables. People are happier to just deal with a constant background malaise they can acclimate to and then ignore than they are to have the centralized in-the-moment friction of "to do thing X, switch to a separate VM/laptop/etc." And I mean, I get that.

So the conclusion is probably that Linux is not stable enough for a potential user until there is very little risk that that user's inertia will ever be broken. This works pretty much fine for my mom since she just needs basic word processing, a scanner, and a web browser. Not as much for my dad.

For great Office compatibility, I found SoftMaker Office 2018 for Linux to work well[1].

1 - https://www.softmaker.com/en/softmaker-office

That’s the biggest problem I see to Linux adoption in these scenarios. Unless it is something super geeky, nobody makes client softwares for desktop Linux.

The web is currently the most popular client.

From that perspective, the problem isn't so much the proliferation of service providers but rather the proliferation of aggressively proprietary protocols. By that I mean services that don't merely fail to document and stabilize their protocols, but actively attack and undermine third-party clients. Some of them outright ban third-party clients in their ToS, some theoretically allow third-party clients but impose API limits that are unusable at scale, and some deliberately make API/protocol changes to break clients created via reverse engineering. Anything short of that gets some kind of native Linux client if it gets popular.

That stance, in turn, is driven by business considerations that would probably be a huge tangent to discuss here. But it's important to keep in mind that this isn't just how things have always been; it's a relatively new trend, and trends can reverse.

What software? For the vast majority of people, a browser is enough. Hell, I'm computer literate, can code in many languages and am very comfortable with Linux, but 100% of what I need to do I can do from a browser.

Taxes, documents, spreadsheets, Netflix and other media, everything is accessible from a browser.

This has actually been one of the big perks of Electron.

I think you mean the Web.

Which distro are you using? I am particularly interested in the auto-install of normal updates.

Switched my father-in-law to ubuntu 10 years ago and I basically ended all his "support" calls to me :). He was constantly getting malware from all sorts of banners and popups while playing chess and rummy online. That, coupled with some good extensions such as mining block + uBlock + Disconnect changed the whole deal in an hour.

He's 76 now so yes, linux is a very good option for them.

> He was constantly getting malware from all sorts of banners and popups while playing chess and rummy online

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

My 97 year old grandpa has a MacBook Pro and a few years back he was constantly on the phone with my mom trying to fix issues. We installed a Remote Desktop server so my mom could fix things quickly. After a visit we diagnosed the problem. Because of his poor motorskills, he was clicking and clicking-and-dragging things by accident. To mitigate this, we installed some software that locked the applications in the dock and got him a mouse with a ball you move with your thumb. The problems disappeared overnight.

You should get him an iPad or consider it. My grandpa who’s 94 won’t use anything else. That said he’s probably used to the setup now.

My grandmother (100) just phoned me using FaceTime on her iPad. I find this insanely cool. She was born during World War 1, experienced World War 2 and is now able to enjoy modern technology to get in touch with her family. The only issue she has is accidentally touching the screen.

There is a setting for that in iOS. It’s somewhere in accessibility

My dad never was comfortable with PCs and I’m quite sure that Mac, Linux, whatever wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. He just never got comfortable with the whole mental model. Gave him an iPad. Problem solved.

My family recently got my mother's parents (100 and 98 who live independently) a grandpad. It's a closed network social media, meaning people have to be invited to it. It is designed for old people. They figured out how to navigate it themselves in ten minutes. It can call, video call, and leave mass voicemails.

From the children/grandchildren perspective, nothing has changed as it has Facebook and instagram integration, so we dont have to post on it directly.

That’s pretty interesting. Definitely something that should be addressed by accessibility.

On the iPhone they have some UI accommodations that might help with this sort of thing. I needed them for when I would try to do something with Waze while my wife is driving. There is nothing to brace your arm with i her Jeep from the passenger side and it’s quite a stretch, so my hand is bobbing all over the place. Those are times I wish Siri could do more UI interaction, like “press ok.”

I haven’t looked for that kind of equivalent mouse interaction motor control accommodation on macOS.

I had the same experience with my father on KDE. I tried locking it but he would somehow screw it up and toolbars would be all over the place. Gnome with it's lack of configuration has been fine.

I think leaving the configuration in config files or a separate app (like tweak tool) is much better for novices and power users.

That “mouse” is what we called a trackball in the olden days. I still kinda miss running one, but I ran out of spares for the model I loved and nothing else makes me want to switch lately. Maybe it’s time to try again.

FYI, if you set him up with a managed account, you can Lock the Dock without 3rd party software

I did this for my Mum about 6 years ago.

These days she doesn't buy a computer unless it will "run that minty thing".

I pretty much don't have any tech support calls from her anymore, I think a couple in 5 years and one of those was her knocking the video cable out with a hoover.

I just install Mint based on LTS and forget about it.

I did the same with my parents-in-law. The best thing with mint is it has very similar interface to windows (they were using windows XP previously). So I didn't need to explain anything, the icons just became green, chrome icon became blue and Firefox icon was the same. And nowadays they can even play some of my (even windows only) steam games like zuma or peggle deluxe. When I meet them I do an upgrade and that's it.

I used to install Linux on any computer I could find 10 years ago. Friends, family, fellow students, college labs (yes!) and had almost the Linux snob but I learned the same thing. Some fairly non-technical people I introduce to Linux are still using Ubuntu to this day and they actually feel totally lost when they have to use a Windows computer. They feel like pulling their hair when they have to use a Windows computer for some reason.

I've since calmed down and don't "preach" it anymore because of the "support calls" as I don't have a ton of free time and energy I had 10 years ago but I can totally relate to OP. Once I set a laptop up with Ubuntu and install apps that people need, they go without asking for help for _years_. Only issues people used to call me for were when they had to access documents that Ubuntu wasn't able to deal with properly like MS Office docs or old CDs with auto-play apps. Better broadband speeds almost completely fixed that problem on it's own.

I was going to comment why not get them an iPad, but that would be a big change all at once. I like your approach of slowly introducing them to the new software they'd be running on Ubuntu on their Windows 10 system. That way they get used to all the new programs and the final switch to Ubuntu is pretty much a non-event. Smart! So smart that I don't think transitioning them to an iPad would be that easy.

I got my parents (late 70s) an iPad, and they picked it up more or less right away.

I’m not an Apple fanboy by any means, but the reality is that a lot of people don’t need a PC or Laptop of any sort, they just need an iPad!

Seems to be the simplest solution. I did this several years ago and my parents (almost) never have any issues. If your needs are simple (email + web) then an iPad will do it all without any of the downsides.

The iPad way could also work quite well, but as my dad does a lot of writing he needs a keyboard :D

iPads have decent keyboard cases now. I considered getting one to replace my laptop last month but decided against it because it's not really viable for coding yet.

IMO, those keyboards are ok for some quick notes, but for anything longer, its going to give you issues (unless you have tiny hands).

I'm doubly glad I didn't go that route then.

Bluetooth keyboard?

I switched my dad over to Chrome OS and never looked back. Now he tells all of this fiends to do the same thing because it's so much simpler. I really wish there was a better open source alternative because Google is evil these days but...

Are Mint Boxes still available? I just checked at https://linuxmint.com/store_mintbox.php , and they appear to be out of stock, but maybe that's a temporary thing.

That being said, yeah, all family members in the Momputer class of usership have been upgraded to ChromeOS devices. They, to a one, love them, too.

This. With Linux you still end up having to fix stuck updates or some other small thing at least once a year (and with Ubuntu, reinstall at least every 4 years to stay on a supported LTS release), the hardware compatibility is usually kind-of-but-not-entirely OK, and the UX is nowhere near as user friendly.

With a Chromebook, you put it in front of them, set it up, show them, and if it breaks, you can ship them a new one from Amazon, remind them where they have written down their password, get them to sign back in, and done.

Yes, I think the ChromeBook idea is probably the best "computer as managed appliance" for our older relatives these days, BUT I really would prefer to get the OS from a company that didn't have so much interest in surveilling and managing society.

It's a bit of a chore, but you can switch off surveillance on Chromebooks through a series of configuration changes:


Combine with the usual DuckDuckGo, Apple Maps/OpenStreetMap, Posteo, uBlock Origin, and friends, and you have a pretty good maintenance-free privacy solution.

Chromebooks are a good idea, but they don't really work all that well for some simple use cases. We have a popular printer that everything else works with, but the chromebooks only work sporadically. Apple, Windoes, Linux - they all work just fine. Software from the app store is hit or miss, and when it works, there are often display issues, etc.

That is an issue, depending on the printer you have for them, but is solvable.

I also tried to.

The first thing they did on my absence was having a local PC store install XP again on it, because they couldn't use any of the software for their devices.

Nowadays they just use Windows and I am confident any local PC store will take care of their issues, instead of having me deal with them.

I experienced something similar. Set up ubuntu for my mom, even put in the hours to get all the funny videos/PowerPoints working. When I visited her again next time, a friend of hers had installed windows on the machine. Probably a pirated copy.

I provide very little tech support for my family since then. I'm no longer convinced that I really know what's best for them.

The article mentions that first you check how they use the computer, transition them to free software apps, after that transition to Linux. To check if their hardware works you can use a Live session, check the video, sound, network,printer.scanner etc

That doesn't work for stuff they buy on their own, which was what happened on my case.

Additionally any dude at the local PC store can help with configuration issues during warranty.

Or when their network goes tits up and the calldesk from the network provider only has support scripts for Windows or macOS.

For configuration you can help them with TeamView or something similar, usually parents don't go and buy printers or video cars without asking you if you are the one that is more technical.

But if you already ton't help them cleaning Windows and instead sending them to a store then sure let them continuing use Windows.

I am a Linux user and Free software supporter but I would never try to switch someone that is happy with his system, I am lazy and I hate taking responsibility for the system. (as an example a friend of mine fixed someone PC by reinstalling Windows but the sound would not work because of missing drivers (he did not had internet do find drivers) and he was suspecting of stealing the sound card or breaking the sound somehow... so yeah if you don't care send them to a store)

Exactly because I care to have a life outside work, and don't want them to have to depend on someone located 3000 km away, that I rather have them going to the local PC store.

Actually, yes my parents do buy stuff on their own, or by talking with friends of theirs, to whom Linux is that strange thing that some "university guys" use.

And to make it clear, it isn't a random PC store that does dirty tricks, just like many random car repair shops happen to do, rather something proper.

That is fine, I completely agree, you are not the "target" of this article, I would do the same.

That sounds like a lot more work to get the same desired result of no more support calls.

What exactly? Plugin an USB then opening Firefox on youtube and watching a video, then try to print something? Is this more work then reinstalling Windows, do all windows updates, reinstall all the apps, restore the data , each time something fishy starts happening and you are not sure if the computer was infected?

Installing Linux on your parents' computer and then having them give up and get support from a local store is less work for you than properly teaching them to use Linux before installing it on their computer and then providing support whenever they have issues.

It depends, i would not recommend this for all cases, as the article mentions it worked because this following things applied

1 you were already wasting your time when visiting the parents on fixing the computer

2 the parents were transitioned to the Linux cmpatible applications like Firefox,Chrome, VLC,

3 all the parents workflows were accounted for and were met by Linux

4 the switch is done to Ubuntu LTS and not some exotic distribution

5 training is done on how to accomplish the new workflows

If the conditions above do not apply then you should not attempt this, send them to a repair shop to format and reinstall their OS.

For some workflows that most parents do Linux is good enough, my parents only use the browser,FB and YT apps(on a tablet).

Regardless of whether these conditions apply, teaching your parents to use new software is more work than doing nothing.

It depends, if they only use a browser,solitaire,image viewer and video player then the Linux equivalent are very similar or better. If they use some exotic software then I agree with you.

But keep in mind that there are people that will have no idea that you changed the software, I was called by a neighbor to check why his laptop has no longer sound, somehow he muted Windows without knowing(maybe he hit some keyboard shortcut). With this low skilled people there is o retraining cost because their skill is already close to zero

If it's not always more work to retrain people with no tech skills than to not do it, will you retrain every such person in the country? You're already not doing it, so this won't increase your workload at all.

I am not a person that converts people to Linux, the entire thread was about when it is right to help a family member by installing Linux on their broken system, see above the conditions i think are the right one. The fact I could convert a random person to free software is not valuable enough to me to was 1 hour of my free time(yeah I am selfish).

That's my point. It takes an hour of time to convert someone to Linux. It takes 0 time to let them get their tech support from the local store. 1 hour is more than 0 work, even for a family member.

You also have to account for the fact that other people might think you're lazy or self centered because you don't want to spare some time to at least try to help them. Not saying that you're a bad person for refusing to provide free tech support, but your math is not entirely flawless.

Unless having a reputation for being lazy and selfless leads to more tech support calls, I think the math still works out on this being the least amount of work to get rid of tech support calls.

Whether this is a good idea or not is a separate question. Personally, I help my friends and family when I can.

> It is not FOSS, but I did install google chrome as it was the easiest for watching netflix

I haven't had to do tech support for my parents on this, but I find that the best and easiest way to do streaming media is via a set-top box like Roku or Fire TV. The interface is simple and you'd probably rather be watching on your TV than your monitor anyway.

When it comes to parents, a 'tech support call' is not just a tech support call, it's a chance for them to talk to their kids.

I don't mind talking to my parents or grandparents, but I just want our conversations to be about something else than computers. There is nothing worse than being with your family, and constantly dreading the moment they are going to ask about 'fixing their computer'. It makes one look forward to talk with one's (grand)parents.

I hate that as well.

I got in from work on Friday and got handed an ipad that wouldn't connect to the wifi and a laptop that has some weird malware.

I love my family but after a hard days programming dealing with that stuff is tiresome.

When you regularly get calls to fix this or that and spend 30-min to half a day or more dealing with whatever problem they have, there comes a time where enough is enough and you get them a Mac or install Linux.

Also, it's not just parents or grand parents. It's also siblings, in-laws, and their respective close circles.

So this comes down to "After I switched my parents to Linux, they don't want to talk to me any more"...

Sometimes elimination of "technical difficulties" greatly reduces time spent together.

In my case, if only!

It can be. Not in my brother’s case, though - he lived with my parents and my mother used to harass him about computer problems daily. Linux helped, but now she has a Chromebook and her computer problems come down to confusion about where and how she is signed in.

I really would like to do the same. My father is always complaining about Windows problems that just don't happen with Mint/Ubuntu, and my mom has an machine that's too weak and old to run windows properly.

The one thing that prevent me to do that is that they use their computer for work. While I'm certain that I wouldn't have any problem doing their job with Linux, they ask me "can you absolutely guarantee that I'll be able to open and edit any Word document and that it'll look the same when I send it? Or that I won't have any problem with video conferencing?"

Well... No. I'm fairly certain, but I can't take the responsability in case I'm wrong

I can guarantee you that there is no equivalent to word on Linux. All compatible office suites display word documents differently, and none come close to feature parity if we're talking about advanced macros and similar.

There is no alternative to Windows If they need Microsoft office for work... Or a VM just to run that shitty application.

Same applies to video conferencing software. If he is forced to use a specific tool, he'll probably be be plain out of luck. Most can't host the conferences from Linux.

Thankfully, most people don't need word or one specific brand of video conferencing software... So using Linux would still be an option to a lot of people

I've found WPS Office (https://www.wps.com/linux) to be pretty good in terms of both compatibility and UI similarity.

> no equivalent


> that shitty application

Pick one!

you clearly didn't understood the point i was trying to make.

I don't like Word and thankfully, don't need it myself. I'm perfectly fine with word.office.com and google docs, as I neither need nor want the advanced features. I also don't mind if the document has an occasionally entirely different layout and sometimes even an entirely broken one.

If you are forced to use the doc/docx formats and need to share these files with other people, you'll be forced to use Microsoft Office and by extension Windows. There is no viable alternative.

all alternatives only work if you only need to produce PDFs and don't need to collaboratively edit said doc/docx

and exactly the same applies to the video conferencing tools. If you can choose your own, appear.in works fine from linux for example.

If you need to use Ciscos or SAPs (for example) video conferencing tools, you'll be plain out of luck on linux, unless you're fine just joining other peoples sessions (never hosting one yourself)

Crossover runs Word + Excel 2016 on Linux extremely well.

I found SoftMaker Office 2018 to work well in terms of compatibility with MS Office.

This part is critical:

1) Sit down with your folks and talk trough their daily usage of their computer (Please be not so arrogant to think you already know it all)

As technologists this all comes easy to us and it is easy to forget what everyday computer usage means.

sometimes even double clicking has to be discussed

I did the same thing a while back, except that I used Fedora because everything in Ubuntu crashed constantly on their old hardware and half the drivers wouldn't work. When their old Dell finally died, they decided to get a new one and asked me which they should get. I pointed them at the previous gen XPS (that still had USB-A ports) and they bought one with Ubuntu on it out of the box without asking questions and don't appear to know the difference (they did ask me if I could change the trash icon back to the old one, because they didn't like how "blue" the new one was… but that was a minor change compared to my dads work machine being upgraded to Windows 10 so I think they're okay with it for now).

So far they seem happy with it; hopefully more laptops ship with Ubuntu or similar in the future.

I have sent my father (who I no longer interact with) and my mother, a laptop with ubuntu installed. I have not had to support that thing for 5 years. it just runs. no updates, no virus scan ads. Its been amazing. i installed VLC player and firefox. They are living the life being "connected"

No updates for 5 years including security updates?

No updates at all. Its not my problem and I have expressed the dangers. Family situation prevents this kind of support and they wont stop using it. No issues at all. My fiance's aunt on the other hand (using windows) has had to call me frequently for virus/slow down/connecting printers etc.Its been a pain.

I always thought a good line for Canonical to get into would be to release a "Granny-buntu" distro that was super-locked down that grandkids could set up for their elders once and then ideally have a few easily identified launchers on the desktop that would launch with sensible defaults, and nothing else.

You could do this yourself, by setting a root account for your admin work and an unprivileged account for your parents.

With that setup is not so easy to nuke things over. (But a backup is still important :D)

An unprivileged account can still do stuff like accidentally hide the toolbar or delete some shortcut to an application. The machine still boots, but it's effectively unusable.

My nitpick is about some of the inconsistencies. You said that you got them accustomed to Firefox and LibreOffice, and then you turned around and installed Chrome and MS Office in Wine. Does that mean they didn't take well to the new apps, and your user training method wasn't entirely successful?

They use firefox as main browser, but for using DRM content I found Chrome to be the easier solution.

They worked their way to LibreOffice, but regarding spell- and grammar-checking LibreOffice really sucks. As my dad does professional writing it was just not enough.

One thing to keep in mind about running Office on Wine (especially a version as old as 2007) is that the software has a number of known vulnerabilities, and the Wine installation breaks Microsoft's patching system(s). All patches have to be installed manually (unless there's a good script for this that I'm not aware of). Fortunately, most of the exploits will be designed to attack a Windows system, but it's still dangerous to leave it unpatched.

(disclaimer I never used Chrome) What's the problem with Firefox and Netflix? I never had an issue?

I don't remember details but I also had major problems there, must have been two years ago, in the summer. Updating the needed plugins stopped working for some reason. Can't comment on current state as I haven't used Netflix on Linux for quite a while.

The author explicitly states why they did this.

Chrome for Netflix and Spotify only, and Office 2007 because it's better than LibreOffice for their parents.

They work in Firefox if you check the “Play DRM content” checkbox in the preferences.

The best part is when they get that call from a scammer claiming that something is wrong with their windows installation and it dawns on them how obvious the scam is.

And even if they still think it's Windows by the time they get to the 'download this remote access client' stage they won't be able to run the exe and the scammer will probably give up on them.

Unless you've installed Wine....

Depends if Wine supports the software.

And an easier solution, don't install WINE!

I switched my family to elementaryOS and Google docs. It was more than enough for their needs. I can't remember the last time anyone in my family used Windows or MacOS, and I don't think they miss either.

I pushed my dad to get an 27" iMac a few years ago. I haven't heard of them since. I hope they are still alive.

I too have an anecdote...

I am a family friend to a older couple, and for reasons I don't want to discus, the wife who was doing all the needed things on the computer like paying the bills, checking the bank balance, checking emails, printing, etc.; and suddenly now at the age of 72 he needed to learn to do those things.

It was not easy, especially because there is nobody who can teach you how to pay your bills, and if you want to pay a bill of say 8 EUR, you need to pay a fee of 10 EUR if you go to the bank in Sweden and do it there.

He had an old Toshiba laptop which was not usable anymore (that is why they bought a new laptop some years ago which his wife took with her), so I installed a lightweight Ubuntu version on it, installed Thunderbird and Firefox and connected the printer. It took quite many times for me to show him how to log in into the bank account and how to pay the bills, and he still struggles with it sometimes, but at least the OS itself is not hindering him in doing what he needs to do. There are basically two icons when he opens the computer and then he opens the browser and writes the bank name into the search field and then google shows him the website so he can log in and do the thing.

I got fed up with being the family windows support guy. It was really bad when my wife's laptop could not do basic DHCP correctly at $dayjob-1 office. She and daughter had problems with printing, networking, security ... it was horrible.

I gave them a few options at the laptop replacement cycle. I said you can do either Linux or Mac, I didn't care which. Mac had always worked well in laptop format for me, though my primary machine has been a linux desktop for about 15 years. I knew both would work without problem.

I gave my wife my mac laptop for a week, and she used it. Then I had her play with the linux desktop. I asked her which one she liked better. She opted for Mac. As did my daughter.

Just replaced the first one for wife, and daughter had to buy a new one for college anyway. So far, 1 problem on wifes old mac, which turned out to be a hardware problem with the wifi card. Quickly fixed, and pretty much no problems since then.

Though I have to help them do system updates.

Either Mint or Mac. Both work very well. I even have mint working on my work Mac.

I've solely been using Linux as a workstation at home and work for about 12 years now. I used to use Gentoo on both and then switched to Arch, mainly to save my lap from melting and speed up updating.

When we got wifey her first laptop about 10 years ago, I naturally put Windows 7 on it - it was what she expected. I've also been a Windows (and NetWare 8) sysadmin for rather a longer time than Linux. It was OK (Windows 7) but the MS updates were a pain (slow) and I had problems with the GPU drivers and I had to keep on finding updates for each package/app installed. The GPU driver thing was unusual to me but happened and this was wifeys only machine and hence it was a thing.

I binned Win 7 in a final fit of pique. I backed it up and turned it into a VM (just in case) and installed Arch on the physical machine. That was three laptops ago. Each time I back it up using Clonezilla and dump it back on the next one and extend the file system to fill the new, bigger disc.

To update her laptop I ssh into it, run the update routine (aurman -Syu) whilst she is using it and schedule a reboot late at night. Normally, she does not even notice except that I do mention I'm doing it and to save open files (OK .

The reason I use a rolling distro by choice for workstations is because it is always up to date and there are no discontinuities in the lifecycle. I do not use a rolling distro for my servers (any more) for them I generally use LTS Ubuntu releases.

All my Linux (and FreeBSD) boxes update everything when updated and they do it quickly and without much fuss. My Windows and Apples do not update everything. They need each and every add on updated separately. That takes ages and you need to know that something is actually installed.

A FOSS box updates everything on an update ... everything.

Switched my whole family on Linux 15+ years ago, call for support went down dramatically maybe 95% now versus then. There was a few hiccups along the way to find a suitable distro, dropping ubuntu was a huge improvement in this.

Most recent major issue is when Mozilla decided that they would remove support for ALSA with mentioning it in changelog on a ESR release and suddenly there was no sound in online videos and I had to scramble to replace firefox on a dozen of computers.

Almost all computers can be remotely administered over a secure connection, they have automated backups and most have unattended upgrade.

Issue arise when KDE releases half baked stuff and changes the way things worked, Mozilla messes firefox some more and systemd is being systemd. Once in while there is this family member who is too clueless/proud to admit he messed up who broke something or did not find way something obvious.

This is a very minor nitpick, but you do have some spelling errors in there. The one I noticed however is the word:

save/saver instead of safe/safer.

It seems clear to me that English is not the author's first language.

Thanks for that info! Yes I am native german speaker, so I appreciate your help here :D

Also not a native Markdown speaker I see :P

I would have switched to Chromebook, based on the usage pattern.

I switched my mother to Linux years ago and it was much better for her than Windows. These days, though, Chromebooks are even better since they are essentially Linux and much more foolproof than a general purpose Linux distro.

Dad has a really shitty Toshiba laptop (previously running Windows 10), barely uses it, but it was clearly infected with something. Weird alerts at all hours of the night over its speakers saying that a virus was detected. Has had a Norton subscription for years, but hasn't really done any good. My Dad was constantly complaining about not being able to log in (though I suspect he was really forgetting his password).

Switched him over to Linux Mint a few weeks ago. I had to fight with some driver issues for the wireless card, but so far he's had no complaints.

It seems that for every Linux discussion on HN there's always user spreading some kind of FUD based on personal experiences from 2011.

Glad to read so many success comments on this discussion BTW.

Dissent and sharing opinions and experience is not a campaign of ‘FUD’.

There is no cabal ganging up to share misinformation on Linux.

Please give more credit to those you disagree with and assume their intentions are like, I presume yours are: to share your opinion and experiences.

I don't want to engage with no one in particular.

And You are right, giving Your opinion does not mean it's FUD.

But if You pay attention, you'll see that for some folks here Linux it's never an option or solution they will take and are pretty vocal about it.

And by the same token; in fact on this thread, there are many that feel the same way towards macOS and Windows. Plenty of anecdotes right here that could be construed as FUD. I use all 3 platforms frequently and I can tell you that they are all as “bad” as one another.

Yes, and for some folks Linux is always the solution and they are pretty vocal about it.

My dad needed to play a video file sent to him by a lawyer recently. I assume it wasn’t QuickTime compatible.

Well, he couldn’t get in touch with me and installed some crazy video player he paid for on the App Store. I was shocked.

Literally, the first result when I search for “video player Mac” on Google is something for VLC.

Why is it so hard for less technically knowledgeable users to find reliable, spam/malware/marketing-bullshit free software?

Because the market's advertising is geared toward informing them about the malware.

I switched my Dad to Linux around 2012, mainly because I couldn't talk him into spending $2000 on a MacBook Pro (he needed a big screen due to vison issues). I love MacBooks for relatives because the Apple Store can and will help... Chromebooks are nice, too because they just don't have issues.

A NUC-like machine + Linux has worked wonders as a computer for an older family member of mine. We ran into a plethora of update and performance issues with Win10. Installed Linux and never looked back and it's been far more stable.

I remember years ago I setup a XFCE desktop on my Arch Linux to my mom, since I was tired to fixing the problems that my PC got every time she wanted to use it.

I just explained: this is "the internet" (Firefox), this is Word (OpenOffice.org Writter), this is Excel (OpenOffice.org Calc), everything else you can come to me and ask (I lived with her).

This did reduce the number of reinstallations I had to do, and I don't remember she ever asking for some actual problem (mostly some basic questions).

Nowadays she only uses her smartphone and it is much easier to avoid problems. Since she doesn't blind install apps before asking me if they're safe too, her smartphone is clean.

I also switched my parents off Windows to Ubuntu for a while (when I used Linux desktop myself and before OS X). It worked pretty well and didn't cause them too much pain. Subsequently of course I got them to switch to Apple and that's even better, primarily because they don't have to feel that they're using some weird thing their child encouraged them to use. Avoids the Windows nonsense of computer getting slower and slower all the time, and malware. The only thing I've failed to help them with is the baffling Apple stuff surrounding iCloud and storage on multiple devices.

I installed Ubuntu on our spare laptop for general web browsing and day to day use. My wife used it for about a year. Not a week went by when I didn't hear about something not working. Granted, it's probably because I didn't spare enough time to set things up like our network printer and installing Office via Wine (she wasn't impressed with the FOSS alternative). I finally bit the bullet, bought a Windows licence and haven't looked back since.... Some things I'd be happy to put myself through, but would avoid inflicting on my non-techy family members.

Related aside, what's the best way to run Microsoft Office on a Linux box? My ideal setup would be Linux for everything but Office programs, which I'd prefer to run in a Windows environment.

I got my parents and mother-in-law to get a chromebook. Never had a question.

My mom has been on a chromebook for years and I only occasionally get easy help questions. For simple web browser usage it doesn't get much easier.

Convinced my mom to get an iPad Pro, and a keyboard case. She has never been happier.

My dad is a tech savvy, but now that he travels 80% a year for retirement, he prefers an ipad as well (even gave me his macbook pro).

I'm curious how it actually saved you headache and support calls? Your general process of switching them over was well thought out, but I can't see how this really helps either of you.

In my experience Linux requires a lot more command-line tweaking and such to get basic things working, but then again that could be for my more advanced use cases.

So the only benefit I can see is that it is more privacy focused and safer than Windows, but at the cost of a limited application selection (through the Ubuntu App Store at least).

There are tons of people using linux distros who don't even know command line exists. One time I was helping my friend to do something. She studies design and is basically computer illiterate. Somehow she was using Ubuntu, not sure how that happened but she claimed to be very happy. Anyway, the problem was super simple, but as an i3 archlinux user I literally never use GUI so I fired a command line and solved it in one line. She was perplexed and wasn't really sure what just happened. She didn't even know what command line is. Anyway, to be more helpful, I also managed to solve the problem by clicking buttons...

>In my experience Linux requires a lot more command-line tweaking and such to get basic things working

I don't think that true if you just need a browser, email and an office suite. One key element could be hardware, I still feel like desktops are a better choice than a laptop, in terms of getting everything working correctly.

I have no clue why, but Linux (with the current Ubuntu) setup crashed a lot less than Win 10.

As I mention in the blog post, sure it is not suitable for every situation. So if you have an advanced use case, you need to do more tweaking. (I do this with my own system as well)

But for my parents use case it worked out of the box. And installing a new printer did work flawless because of CUPS :D

I did the same with my parents. At first, it worked good enough. But soon the support calls started again, and they shifted from "my PC is slow" to "how to I connect X to my PC", being "X" anything from "printers" to "Point&shoot cameras" to "my iPhone so I can transfer my photos".

Unpopular opinion: I just switched them again, this time to Mac. 0 support calls since then.

90% of the issues when it comes to tech and my parents is dealing with accounts(aka setting up accounts and keeping track of usernames and passwords).

I can relate to this. I tried, unsuccessfully, to teach my parents to use a password manager (e.g., KeepassXC).

I've done this for my parents for close to 10 years now. Been able to give them a stable gui environment over the years going from Gnome2 to MATE. Mozilla Suite to Seamonkey to combo Firefox/Seamonkey email client.

Really, the biggest issue is that websites will complain about seamonkey/firefox, saying things like "your browser not supported", "please upgrade your browser", etc.

I got all my grandparents iPads. The only tech support calls I get is when they forget their Apple ID passwords. Thankfully, I know them all.

till you're on vacation and they go to the apple store and they "helpfully" set a secure password on the device. Happened to my mom. She doesn't always remember to write things down. Now I'm on a 3 way call with apple trying to get the password reset for an hour then talking her through resetting it on her several devices. They wouldn't let her set what she thought the password was.

Yes, recent iOS updates tried to force people like my parents to have passwords or logins that are too complex and simply unnecessary for them. If you use iPad in your own home, there's no reason to "authenticate" on every open (my parents surely don't want/can't perform the fingerprinting every time -- not to mention that if the device prompt them to enter a new complex code they might even type in twice but they will never remember it, or be prepared to write it down first, the expect the device to "just work" and not to have to maintain some other external notice book with the access codes, and I fully understand that). It's not easy to match the security "requirements" and general "common" use.

The iPad of my parents (that they use mostly at home) seems to insist on more complex security procedures for my parents to watch the pictures of the kids than the procedures which secured the launch US nuclear missiles (the later had simply the code 00000000 https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/12/launch-code-for-... ).

Balancing the security and usability is hard.

Having done a security review on a photos app for a company with high customer trust, and knowing what people put in their photo shares... photo and document shares are one of the highest risk areas for people. I didn't know about this until the review but when it was pointed out to me, it's obvious that for some people having their photos stolen is massively worse than credit card fraud or other recoverable things. You can't get those docs and photos back.

However that means that you are right, it's nuclear launch code level security for everyone's photos.

We did think about not having pin codes or Touch ID enabled, but there are enough kids visiting my grandparents that the one thing we're afraid of is them deleting their files, mail, sending messages, etc.

Thankfully, none of them forget their PIN codes. My grandmother also has Touch ID on her iPad, even easier.

Just want to say that Xubuntu remind me a lot of win7, and they're not even trying to be windows-ish! (.. at least not officially?)

Xfce in general reminds me a lot of WinXP - the good parts of WinXP, of course. There's another thread at the time I'm writing, discussing what was good about the Win98 interface - WinXP kept a lot of that interface, and Xfce, LXDE, even MATE are rather reminiscent of it. I even find the GTK3 interface quite a bit cleaner than what we got with Windows 8/10.

(As an aside, I kinda expect Xfce, LXDE and MATE to converge in the near future. Now that essentially all of them are moving to GTK3, there seems to be very little reason for them not to standardize on a uniform set of underlying components and tools.)

I did the same when I was at university and couldn't help my parents with computer on daily basis anymore. Looking back now, 14 years later - it was a very good decision. They mostly use the browser, some graphic programs and libre office, it doesn't really matter which system runs under that.

The've had some version of Kubuntu installed ever since.

My parents use tablets for everything. Not sure what version of Linux would run on a tablet, and what tablet they should buy.

It would be great if you could install Chromeos on any hardware. I guess Chromeboxes/books/bits are cheap enough.

The easiest way to get out of support calls with family is to tell them you work in sales.

> Show them the app store and tell them, whatever they install from there is safe (so no viruses or something)

Is this generally true for Ubuntu? I'm not terribly familiar with it, but i was under the impression that vetting apps is a difficult problem in general.

Eh... Spotify provides dedicated app for Linux users. No need to use Google Chrome for that.

I switched my mom from Windows to Linux years ago and have not had a single issue since. Actually, the only real issue I have is her distro is now so old it's well beyond LTS and I'll have to probably re-install to do any upgrades.


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