Doing free tech support for non-technical people is a wonderful thought, but it can also provide a harsh lesson in the dangers of unlimited liability for open-ended, no-fee, no-contract work.
The relative's business partners were repeatedly dismissive, disrespectful, and ungrateful. The financial bind they'd gotten themselves into made my life more difficult in either having to pony up, myself, for what they needed or spend extra time and effort working around their financial constraints.
The only reason I did it was my commitment to this relative, and the fact that they were now "in for a penny, in for a pound" with them.
That business relationship between this relative and their partners is now unwinding, and I am glad to be shut of the latter. Once they started having some cashflow, their first concern was to spend it on other things rather taking care of past obligations, e.g. offering me even token compensation -- or building up some reserve, as I had suggested and in as much as I was not seeking payment.
I write all this as a preface to the not infrequently commented observation: (Most) people value service in and to the extent they pay for it. If it's "free", they can often be endlessly if ignorantly critical.
TANSTAAFL, even when you're buying.
Maybe people don't want to believe that they wasted their money, so they minimize problems with things that they pay for, while a free product entails no personal investment, financial, social or psychological.
Maybe a low price (including zero) is a signal of a low quality product, which comes with the expectation of something to be criticized. (Their thinking might be) why would you be providing these services to us for free if they didn't suck?
It worked; all blame is shifted away from me (as it should be) to the electric contraptions and other people who talked them into getting the laptops in question.
I think I increased my life span by twelve years and freed up a couple of hundred hours a month by that.
I am basically the Machiavelli of tech support.
Now whenever a novice asks for advice on what computer they should buy, I point them towards a Mac. For the most part, people just dont have problems; but when they do I tell them to go in to the genius bar so I _still_ dont have to do tech support. I offer advice, Apple handles support. Wins all round from my perspective!
In reality I never set up remote access because I haven't needed to. They love the thing and have never had trouble with it now.
Instead, you get certified premium sellers or something nebulous to that extent whose only relation to Apple is that they sell Apple products; they are basically normal retail stores with some kind of accreditation from Apple, whatever that entails.
I assume Apple will expand globally eventually, but the niceties of the Apple store are a privilege, not a guarantee. :)
Anyway, I installed Linux on my mother's system over Win XP years back and it couldn't have gone better. She has been doing great with Ubuntu for 2 years now. The spyware, failed updates and odd networking failures I was summoned to her house to fix frequently went away entirely, so thankfully it was the opposite of your warning. I guess the lesson there is to only provide the best technology, that you trust. Linux is pretty rock solid for home users today, especially people like my mother who primarily use a browser.
Since then, I've had two support calls from him:
1) "Is it safe to enter my password when it's installing updates?"
2) "I'm at my friend's house... how do I add a new wireless network?"
1) Flash player, this crashes allot under Linux and seems to have some weird issues with sound where you will be listening to a video and all of a sudden the sound will start playing from the beginning of the video in addition to the current sound.
2) Wifi , this generally works, but Network Manager doesn't seem to be the best piece of software and I've often had problems with it just not showing up wireless networks which should be there. No idea why.
3) Distro updates, you have to live in fear of the time when they will accidentally or intentionally click the "update to latest ubuntu" button when it asks and half the drivers stop working and/or it replaces their whole user interface with something else.
4) Other software , even if your sure they only need a browser because all they want to do is read the news and browse cookery sites there's going to be some point they decide to buy an ipod and ring you up asking how to install iTunes, sure you could go and spend some time coaching them how to do this under banshee or something but they might be concerned about why they have to do this differently.
Of course they are also likely to buy the 1 scanner / webcam / printer etc that is known not to play well with Linux.
Network Manager is simply awful in my experience. I usually can't get it to work for myself. I configure the wifi directly and set an RC script for my mother's set-up. I think NM has gotten better recently, though.
You can set update manager to not check for a new version of Ubuntu.
Every once in a while there's hardware that doesn't work. I guess that's why I don't go around installing Linux on random people's computers. For my parents and girlfriend, though, it's worked very well - they all have become entirely used to Linux, and prefer it, and I see the opposite situation that we all know would happen if people were used to linux - they try Windows and complain about it because it's different and they don't know where everything is.
Yes, network manager is pretty bad especially if you want to configure multiple static IP addresses.
I happily just uninstall it and configure by hand for a server or static desktop. The problem is when you are using a laptop and want to hop between a number of different networks, setting up a wireless network from the command line is a major PIA and not something I'd want to do just to use my laptop in a coffee shop.
You can set update manager not to get new versions of Ubuntu but in that case you had better install an LTS release otherwise you'll possibly stop getting security updates after a year or so plus you will want to keep their browser reasonably upto date (although a 3rd party PPA may solve that).
For me, all the more reason to install Linux on as many machines of as many people as possible. Should the situation arrive where a piece of hardware doesn't work (which is rare, in my experience), I tell people to blame the hardware suppliers, and complain to them, and tell them to stop making shitty products that don't work. The more people do this, the more the hardware suppliers will be pressured into getting their shit together and properly support Linux and other free (as in Freedom) operating systems.
The problem is that your unlikely to get your aging relatives to lobby the hardware manufacturers and even if you do it doesn't really solve their immediate problem and they're probably going to ask you to re-install Windows.
The problem is that there are many relatively minor things that can be deal breakers for lots of people in terms of operating systems. For example if they use netflix or decide they want to run a particular game or bit of hobby software if that is not available for the OS then they will probably want to switch away even if it makes their overall experience across the board worse.
This is one of the reasons for continued survival of IE6 in corporates, even though it may have lots of things wrong with it there might be that 1 piece of enterprise software that won't work in anything else, that is basically required to do their jobs so they can't move away.
True, but that exactly is one of the greatest sources of hypocrisy in these discussions. Windows has lots (and in my opinion, more) "relatively minor things" which can be deal breakers - except that those are ignored or simply waved aside as "that cannot be helped" (when more often than not it could).
It's incredibly annoying because this bias is completely ridiculous and in many cases makes rational arguments almost impossible.
>This is one of the reasons for continued survival of IE6 in corporates
And this is also the reason why we should refuse to support this prehistoric excuse for a browser and force these enterprises to rewrite or upgrade their software, or face being cut off from the internet. I frankly do not care if some idiotic corporation had the fabulous foresight to base their entire internal infrastructure on a piece of software written as an extension to an application that can be expected to be outdated in a few years (wow, what a sentence). Every person with half a brain should realize that this is a tremendously retarded idea, and everyone who doesn't should be fired and replaced. Including managers.
Sure you have more problems with virus/crapware etc but getting their long suffering nephew to come around every few months to re-install everything may well be less of an inconvenience than not being able to use their Windows only cross stitch software or train simulator etc.
Problem regards IE6 is that many of these apps will have been built when IE6 had ~90% market share so nobody bothered to build stuff for anything else (not saying they should have done this, but they did).
They may not have the budget or time to rewrite the app (or the contractor who originally wrote it may no longer be around or not want to touch it again). My point is that looking at badly rendered websites and having poor usability may still be better for them than losing use of this app.
Many peoples jobs will revolve around using 1 or 2 corporate apps and any web browsing functionality will be a far second priority.
See, that's what I'm talking about. Lots of the crap Windows throws at you is simply accepted because people do not even realize anymore that it's crap.
To name a few which annoy me every time I am forced to use Windows:
-No or very limited customization of the entire GUI (or the OS in general, for no reason whatsoever - this goes for OS X, too, btw).
-Forced mouse usage, either because it's impossible to do something with the keyboard or it's highly inconvenient to do so.
-Hiding basic functionality (for example, showing/hiding hidden folders) deep in some non-intuitive system menus.
-Often being forced to do something in a specific way because someone at Microsoft thought this should be the only way to do something, whether that's intuitive and/or efficient or not. More often than not, it's neither.
I could go on like this for hours, but I'll admit that I am in fact biased myself. Still, many of the things that annoy me have been noticed by people I know (and who use Windows) as well. Any single one of the points I noted above are deal breakers for me.
>Sure you have more problems with virus/crapware etc but getting their long suffering nephew to come around every few months to re-install everything may well be less of an inconvenience than not being able to use their Windows only cross stitch software or train simulator etc.
I don't think so. That's what wine is for, and 95% of all programs will run flawlessly with it. If you set it up correctly on a user-friendly distro, they will not even notice the difference.
Maybe you can even find free (as in Freedom) alternatives. For lots of applications, these exist, and for the most part, they are either on par or sometimes better than their Windows-only counterparts. I already try to convert people to cross-platform applications on Windows (for example, Pidgin) so they could more easily switch to a better OS some day.
>My point is that looking at badly rendered websites and having poor usability may still be better for them than losing use of this app.
And my point is that badly rendered websites is the price those corporations will have to pay if they want to continue to use their application. The retarded, foresight-lacking decisions of corporate management years ago are no - I repeat, NO - reason for catering to IE6 users. It's like we are rewarding their stupid decision when instead we should punish it - by stopping to support (and consequently, block access for) IE6, completely.
My mother-in-law has Ubuntu on her laptop and brought it with her while they visit for Thanksgiving. I'll show her a few new things this weekend, but that's about the size of my technical support burden.
> The Atlantic advises a conservative approach: don't switch to a different browser, just give them the latest version of the browser they're already using. Be on hand for the first time or two they use the browser, just in case they notice the change and have questions.
The last time I was at my mom's house, I downloaded and ran putty (a standalone ssh client for windows).
She said that after I "installed" it on her computer, it started running really slow and that I needed to uninstall it.
We recently upgraded our Internet service to 20mbps and we got a new all in one modem/wireless router with it. Well, the wireless signal wasn't strong enough to reach my little corner of the house office so I plugged in another spare router to the new modem-router combo.
My dad went off on me about "what the hell is this shit you're plugging in?!" and "my Internet is slower than ever now!". Well, his computer was hard wired to the 20mbps modem-router and the auxiliary router was also by itself plugged into a completely separate port on the modem. So there was no way the router could affect him.
He heard me and the cable guy discussing how it sucks that I couldn't take advantage of the new modem-router because it supports the new high speed while my old spare router will only give me half the bandwidth. He thought my extra router was affecting him because of this conversation. We immediately went to speedtest.net and lo and behold, he was actually getting over 35mbps speeds, over 15 Meg's more bandwidth than we were promised.
For these folks changing their browser, even a little bit would be like you or I walking into the bathroom and finding the toilet paper replaced with 3 seashells. You can get past that moment of panic with some coaching but some people don't like to be helped so there may or may not be anything you can do.
My philosophy: if you're getting tasked with being the family IT department, lay down some rules: they use what you suggest or they don't get support.
With such people, you never know when they will simultaneously accuse you of "breaking" their computer and remove your access to said computer so that whatever you've done that they believe "breaks" the computer indeed becomes "permanent" and is something they can be permanently pissed at you for.
On the other hand it could be a benefit to be removed from the duty of maintaing their computer, so maybe pissing them off is a (selfish) win.
In the end, my dad actually got on board with Firefox which was awesome! But then Chrome came out and he won't try it and I'm not about to try to push it more than the passing comment I made about it a few weeks back. My mother on the other hand won't switch to anything. She won't even let you upgrade from IE7. She's now dating a guy who does IT work for the IL State Gov and she listened to him and at least upgraded. Thank god for her new boyfriend. Now I go to him whenever she needs computer help. I call and say "hey, you're the new computer guy in the family. Mom needs X done. Can you go over there?" and I no longer do computer support for my mother.
Maybe it has something to do with the features they use? What my parents need is Google as a start page, the back and forward buttons and sometimes the address bar. All browsers I installed for them had those features in the same places and looking (approximately) the same.
What I want to say is this: all parents are different and you shouldn’t be discouraged by the experience of some not to update or change browsers. Before you do so I would recommend watching your parents how they use their old browser. If there is some feature they use that is in a different place or has a different name or works in a different way or isn’t there at all you have an uphill battle ahead of you and maybe you don’t want to change anything. If not you are fine.
My sister still gives me the "my computer runs slower now" after I had her do IE9.
Personally, I just take the opportunity to work on my sells skills. After all, IE9 is only a Microsoft blessed upgrade.
My mom asked about Chrome because she saw a Google ad. Let's see if I can "sell" her on it. Keep up those ads Google.
My father called me a few months ago to ask if I could go on our bank's online banking site and tell him if I noticed anything unusual. At the time, HSBC's online banking had the following flow: Enter your user ID as the first step, enter your DOB as the second, and finally enter three specified digits from your 6-figure security PIN.
It all seemed OK to me, nothing out of the ordinary, but he was telling me that when he was prompted to enter his security PIN, the site asked for the full number. This was a big no-no.
"So I thought I'd better call you before I do that, because it doesn't sound right and you know about this stuff."
I went to their house the next weekend to check it out. He fired up the ol' IE7, went to the HSBC page, completed the first step of logging in, and there it was, clear as day. A mysterious third box prompting the user to enter their full PIN.
I don't know exactly what put that input box there, and successive Googling has yielded nothing specific. I assumed the damn thing had picked up some nasty spyware, or some other malicious code with the potential to cost a lot of people an awful lot of money. I installed Chrome, deleted the "Internet" icon from the desktop, imported old bookmarks and the like, and let him have a go on his new browser.
I really think we, as the more technically-minded people in our families, have an obligation to do this for the people we care about, in a way that extends far beyond those clever CSS animations or native video support. I'm lucky enough that my folks know to keep their eyes open to anything fishy online, but I had no idea he was still using IE7. The idea of him (or indeed anyone) inadvertently giving their complete bank details to some cyber-criminals out of completely innocent ignorance terrifies me.
Is this a joke? Your dad's computer is rooted, so you remove an icon from the desktop and install a different browser?
So chill out, man. We may be a community of techies but we can't possibly know it all. What may seem a obvious to you may not be to another one of us. It doesn't mean we're stupid. For example, its like the back end web programmers who know little to nothing of front end stuff. It may seem like someone who knows that complicated back end stuff can easily figure out HTML and CSS in an hour but sometimes not. Just chill.
This could then be run in a Virtual Machine transparently so that it appears to be just running as another application, could be called "Secure Browse" or something, that would be used specifically for things like banking websites etc. This wouldn't prevent things like keyloggers and some other attacks but would prevent allot of the more common stuff (malicious plugins, malicious proxies / software DNS redirecting etc).
Pherhaps this is unnecessary as many bank sites now require physical authentication via handheld keygens.
I do remember a UK banking site (that shall remain nameless) used to have online banking that didn't work unless you were running an IE with pretty much every plugin under the sun (activex included) installed.
Although having a more modern browser will help, this is the kind of stuff that only better education can truly protect against.
Of course, it's for subterfuge. :)
I haven't touched Windows in years and years so forgive me if that sounded naive. In fact, I have a dual boot loop with Win7 and Linux and I only booted into Windows once to download the Linux distro, haha.
That was my case at least.
Thank god my mom uses a Mac.
Just in case.
"Dad, I upgraded your 'E' software to the latest version: 'F'"
Google Chrome could be "G"...
1- Bring the system drive you cloned last year after doing a clean install
2- Swap system drives
3- Data is on separate drive, no issues there
4- Install updates/upgrades as needed
5- Create new system drive image
6- Clone to the old drive
7- Swap system drives again so you always keep the drive with the least run time as backup
8- Create and save new data drive image if desired
10- Ensure that user account has no administrative privileges
11- Let them know that some of the cheese moved, for the better.
Do this on an yearly basis.
Everyone will get used to it.
You'll sleep well at night.
It seems now that almost every piece of Windows software I install wants to install some sort of browser toolbar unless you opt out.
Pherhaps this is one of the reasons Macs are simpler and quicker , there is just less of a culture of bundling crap with every piece of software.
I'm not sure what the hell the deal was, but whenever my parents opened up Firefox, it spammed them with pictures of pie. Like, 5 little windows of pie.
I just told him to click the Chrome icon instead of Firefox, and my dad went on his way.
A few more weeks later and as expected, the PC succumbed to a bunch of viruses and I had to "fix" them. To cut the story short, I installed FIrefox, hid the IE icon and told them to use it as it's "just the same, they only look different". I then left and never had to fix any virus problem whatsoever.
Now, they're doing great with Firefox(I think my dad even uses Chrome now).
1. Let them suffer from virus infections caused by old browsers cough IE6
2. "Cure" said virus and introduce antibody - new browsers
All of their logins and passwords are now available in plain text with a few button clicks. If they ever ask someone else for help or take the computer to a store their entire lives can be up-ended in an instant.
I use Chrome almost exclusively. I can deal with this issue. My guess is that 99% of the public has no clue.
I don't understand why Google refuses to fix this.
All browsers (with Chrome default), check.
 Win XP still has a third of the OS market share http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_system...
this is an issue that most have solved very long ago, and the rest? well they don't read hacker news or ars anyway.
Not on XP, they're not.