5 Reasons your parents should use Linux

It’s no secret that tech-savvy computer users typically become the go-to guy for all technical help in their circles. More specifically, Mom and Dad tend to always ask us for help with their computers. If you’re tired of the phone calls from Mom and Dad complaining on how sloooww their computer has become, how fast it used to be, how many pop-ups there are, etc., spending hours upon hours fixing and repairing, re-installing and scanning, then this post should convince you with 5 reasons why your parents should use Linux.

  1. Security
  2. The most obvious and important reason your parents should run Linux is the security the Linux operating system provides. While many of us tech-savvy computer users have little to no problems surfing the web and staying connected 24/7 without running into viruses and spyware, it’s almost inevitable for a non-savvy Internet user [read: majority of moms and dads] to stumble across a virus or malware on a website or in an e-mail. Linux is well known for the safety and security of browsing the web without the worry of the popular viruses that plague a good portion of the Internet. The main reason being that virus and malware developers stick to Windows due to its popularity and worldwide reach.

  3. Cost
  4. Why should your parents have to pay money for an operating system and additional applications when there are hundreds of Linux alternatives that can do the same things they probably need for absolutely free? The GNU General Public License (GPL) gives users the freedom to change and share free software. This is where GNU/Linux derives from. Mom and Dad shouldn’t have to fork out upwards of $300 just for the basics of an OS. Linux is free and widely available, it should be a no-brainer.

  5. Hardware
  6. One great aspect of Linux is that it works well with old hardware. Many times I’ll find that a lot of my friends parents have older model computers. They are brainwashed into thinking that in order to get off Windows 98, or Windows ME, they need to upgrade their whole system so they can install Vista. Linux works great on old machines – don’t even think about installing Vista on your Moms old 386, it just won’t work.

  7. Administration
  8. Administration of a Linux machine involves little to no work. If you chose to install Ubuntu Linux on your parents computer, they most administration they would have to do is click yes to install the updates when the Update Manager prompts them to. As an additional plus, for us savvy Linux users, if we needed to, we can open up SSH with a port forward and log into our parents computers remotely if needed. Additionally, I’ve had Linux computers that have literally sat turned on for years in a closet with very minimal administration. Linux just works.

  9. Dell
  10. You no longer can use the excuse that when you install Linux on your parents computer, it doesn’t work “out of the box”. With the semi-recent Dell and Canonical partnership you now have an option of buying a computer or laptop that comes pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux.

Alternatives to Mom & Dad’s Windows Applications

Below are a few alternatives to some common Windows applications that Mom and Dad may frequently use. For a more detailed list, see Alternatives to Windows Programs, Open Source Alternative, and The Linux Alternative Project.

Windows: Internet Explorer
Linux: Mozilla Firefox

Windows: MS Outlook
Linux: Mozilla Thunderbird or Evolution

Windows: Solitaire
Linux: AisleRiot Solitaire

Windows: ITunes
Linux: Banshee or Amarok

Windows: MS Word
Linux: OpenOffice.org

What do you need to do?

Step 1. Head over to the Ubunutu download site and download the latest Ubuntu Desktop ISO image.

Step 2. Burn the ISO image to a CD-R.

Step 3. Bring the CD-R to your parents house.

Step 4. Back up any necessary files on your parents computer.

Step 5. Place the CD-R in your parents CD-ROM drive.

Step 6. Reboot the computer.

Step 7. Install Ubuntu by following on screen instructions.

Step 8. Reboot after installation is complete.

Step 9. Enjoy the fact that your parents will stop bugging you to fix their computer. Instead you’ll get calls from mom asking Linux questions – isn’t that awesome?

99 thoughts on “5 Reasons your parents should use Linux

  1. I installed SuSE 10.1 on my Mom’s PC quite a while back, with dual boot having Win98. She’s 79 and enjoys it. She only uses it for amusement, mostly spider and mahjongg. I don’t think she even knows Windows in on the PC. The less PC-savy the parent the more important it is to have a stable system like Linux.

  2. I have done this for my Dad’s computer. Here’s where it goes wrong.

    - He is blind to everything that happens on a computer. He does not “see” the “updates available” indicator. There is some sort of peceptual filter that causes him to just not notice dialogs and windows that pop up all over the place.. even when he has to click to dismiss them he will *never* pay any attention to them.
    This isn’t a problem with Linux.. it’s a problem with old people and computers and Linux can’t solve it.

    - Printers.. there are a lot of relatively modern printers that simply aren’t supported on Linux.. My dad has one of them. Given that he is old.. he must print everything… he does not understand the concept of having information in a digital form.

    - When something goes wrong, the neighbour can’t help. Linux does not administer itself.. it just requires administration less often. When you do need to do administration it is orders of magnitude harder to do on Linux. The GUIs just aren’t there yet. Your parents can’t run vi (nor should any human be expected to).

    Audio on Linux either works or gives you nothing but grief. I have a degree in computer engineering and I can’t get working audio to “stick” on my Ubuntu box. If it works on the desktop it doesn’t work for Flash. If I get one of the no-working audio cases working I lose audio somewhere else (e.g. totem). Looking at the options for audio in the settings it is clear that audio on Linux is a disaster.. there are 4 or 5 options to pick for “what to use to try to make sound” one of them works (and it isn’t “auto”), but not for all applications.

    What your parents really need is a Mac. They truly just work.. largely because of the control Apple has over the hardware. PC hardware is a minefield of half-backed chipsets and shoddy systems integration. Microsoft has the resources to try to sort out a solution. The Linux community can’t keep up.

  3. Well, I, for one, have already done this.

    So far I’ve installed Ubuntu for my Mother-in-law, wife’s aunt, my brother, my sister, and two friends… I installed a customized version of Puppy linux for my mother, and I’ve installed linux for 7 customers of my home-based PC repair business (most of which are senior citizens).

    Out of all these people, only two have decided to switch back. One because they had a Zune, and the other because they unplugged their machine and crashed their hard-drive and blamed it on the Linux install, simply because they couldn’t remember a simple command like Ctrl+Alt+Backspace.

    To those of you who say Linux isn’t ready for the desktop, shut up and go update your antivirus.

  4. I totally agree with you except for point #2. If you read the article called “windows is free” (first on google) you’ll see that for a lot of moms and dads, they don’t “pay” for windows in their minds, so they don’t need a free system.

    Exceot for that, I totally support your point, since I do install a few linux distros on “normal people”‘s computer every year.

  5. Did you make the website on linux?? I am viewing it on a mac with firefox and the layout is out of wack…missing left and right sidebar, images are shifted.

  6. Mom and dad also run Quicken and depend on the linkages to their credit union.

    I know they can run it in WINE but that’s an administrative task that is probably a little beyond what they can handle.

    Honestly, that’s the only reason I can’t recommend Ubuntu to them just yet, although I run it myself.

  7. I have been using Ubuntu for almost a year now. It’s hassle free, a joy to use and the computer is as fast as the day it was first installed. That’s the way it should be. I only fire up Windows for a few programs that is not available on linux.

  8. … but ubuntu is just the current linux hype distro. slackware, redhat, gentoo, ubuntu. All have had their spotlight where it was the only linux distro noobs knew or talked about.

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  12. This is entirely a great strategy for increasing the numbers of Linux users. In USA, there is a tremendous aging population where BabyBoomers are now in their 60′s and 70′s and need more computer help than ever. Get them on Ubuntu, get their printer and potentially MP3 player working, get DVD playback and DVD burning working, create a bookmark in Firefox called “Tech Support 1″ that goes to ubuntuforums.org, and it will work. I’m working hard on my folks, as is.

    One problem I have with one set of relatives is that they use Quickbooks and so far I haven’t seen the Linux equivalent that is worthy. Is there an online Quickbooks-knockoff that’s just as good and as cheap or cheaper?

  13. Look, I realize that some types of unix are free, but when it comes to reliable machines which run applications our parents would use, I think a Macintosh running OS X is the best choice. What you save in a bit of cash on a generic PC, you easily make up for in usability, support and of course, applications. There’s just not enough well designed apps for Linux or other forms of unix.

    They start at just $1199 and come with amazing non-trialware apps like iPhoto, iTunes, and loads of other great apps..


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  15. In reply to several posters here:


    That’s why the reader, as a technical person, sets up the computer FOR the parents.


    The latest versions of DSL can still run on a 386, and I believe Puppy can still run on those machines.


    Parents don’t connect their camcorders to their computers. Digital cameras aren’t a problem these days, and iPods can be used easier on Linux than on Windows.


    Good god, does installing Flash really qualify as “heavy technical stuff”? Dude, it’s two clicks away in the Synaptic Package Manager. If you can’t manage that, then maybe your parents should be providing technical support for YOU.

    Good article.

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  17. Totally agree about the article. I am the family’s ‘computer guy’ which most often means ‘virus/malware’ problems. I told everyone that if they want free tech support, they have to go to Linux. To the ones that had one Win app, I suggest different VM solutions and dual boots. Same for the ones that had kids who play games.

    18 months later and I spent less than 25% of the time I used to fixing the problems.

    MY parents are both retired and both have moved to Linux (Kubuntu and PCLinuxOS), my dad had previous computer experience and has his own machine for over a decade. My mom never touched a computer.
    My father wasnt a problem because he used OO, Firefox, Thunderbird, VLC for about 85% of his use on the Win box, so it was barely noticeable to switch.

    I often leave one of my laptops behind when the kids stay over at my folks and its a dual boot machine, when my mom booted in the Win partition by accident to show the kids a DVD, it was her first experience on a Windows machine and she couldnt find the off button. The only thing she could see was the Start button :-)

  18. Yep. My mother has been running Debian 4.0 ‘Etch’ since last christmas and there has been no problems at all :) Not a single problem. She is complete newbie and knows nothing about computers or operating systems but everything has worked as smooth as you could ever hope.

    Couple of weeks before last christmas she said to me that when I come to home in christmas I should look at her computer because it was unusable. She used Windows at that time. When I then turned that computer on I immediately saw that it was totally messed up. It was full of trojans, viruses, spyware and other shit like that. Registry was broken and when I tried to start programs I got all kinds of ugly errors and BSODs.

    I decided that I would not even try to fix it. It would be only matter of time when it would be broken again. I backed up any personal data, formatted the harddrive and installed Debian Etch which was in testing state at that time. Etch was wery stable already so I was sure there would not be any problems, and I was right.

    I used that christmas holiday teaching her Linux basics and, how to transfer photos from digital camera to computer, how to use openoffice, how to use skype etc.

    This christmas I’ll buy her new faster desktop computer or laptop, move Debian from old computer to new one, check that everything works ok and then install some new software etc. I’ll probably allow secure VPN-connection from my computer to her computer. I live about 120km away from her so VPN-connection would be an good idea.

  19. In addition to my previous message. I have couple of times mentioned to my father that if he wants I can install Debian to his computer too. But he seems to really like MicroSoft so I have not really tried hard to convince him to use Linux. If he is happy with Windows then it’s fine, atleast as long as I don’t need to maintain his computers :)

    My mother seems to like Debian wery much though. I think I’ll install Debian Etch to my sisters laptop too someday. When my sisters son is old enough to understand something about computers I’ll teach him to use Debian right from the beginning :) It will take couple of years though, because he is not even one year old yet :)

  20. I manage my family’s computers. There was a bit of struggle when I decided enough is enough with maintenance headaches and decided to move everything to linux, but when an online game they played start slowing down the machine due to malware, etc. they moved so fast to linux that there wasn’t any learning curve at all.

    Of course they were used to open source and cross-platform softwares under windows so that helped too.

    Most browser-based online games (and even Yahoo games) run nicely in linux.

  21. I’m surprised at how many people are attacking this post because they think that Linux is in some way a failure. I installed Kubuntu on a laptop that shipped with Vista pre-installed and I had more hardware automatically detected after Kubuntu was installed than in Vista.
    I saw a comment made that the lastest of Linux couldn’t be installed on a 386. Not true. Xubuntu could do it without any major problems. The hardware detection and funtionality is still there for those old systems, where as, Microsoft has removed these sorts of detections to make room for more bloated drivers and apps.
    I gave my mom a copy of Ubuntu 7.04 when it came out. She had a few questions here and there but took to it like a fish to water because she doesn’t use more than the OpenOffice apps and the internet to check email and ebay. She’s since bought the Ubuntu 7.04 for Beginners book and rarely calls to ask me for anything now. I still occasionally log in through SSH to make sure she’s running updates but otherwise she’s on her own.

  22. Very good points….

    My parents are running Kubuntu and I do not need to worry, neither do my parents…

    definitly worth a try!

  23. I and my friends run a Linux refurbishing service for the needy. We get donated all sorts of older hardware, from P2s up to P4s. We install Vector on the P2s and Ubuntu on the P3-4s.

    After checking that the hardware works and the BIOS boots in the correct order, we clone an updated Linux distro onto the hard drive. The hardware abstraction layer means that we can clone to differing hardware and all we have to do is reset the Xserver configuration.

    We check that everything works including all the drives, ports, dialup with stand alone modems (Winmodems are never configured), and Linux compatible wireless and TV cards.

    Over the past 2 years, apart from broken parts, we haven’t had any running problems even with all the different hardware we deal with, some of which are Asian clones.

    Most of our clients have never had a computer before and because they have no preconceived ideas, they find Linux easy to use and install new software.

    On occasion, we hear that they later tried to use a Windows system, and were either totally confused or couldn’t find the second desktop or other Linux features. Others who have used Windows just for browsing and wp, can’t tell the difference.

    Luckily for us (unlike some of the readers) nothing ever goes wrong with the system and we only get a few returns for broken hardware.

    Of course at home we are always pushing the envelope playing with the more esoteric hardware we receive, but I haven’t managed to crash my Linux development system for over a year. I can’t say the same for my friend’s Windows box.

  24. I switched my parents over to Ubuntu in July when high speed internet was finally available where we live. I have an SSH port forwarded, but I have yet to use it. I don’t have to worry about removing viruses and spyware anymore.

  25. I’m gonna have to disagree—when you replace Windows w/ Linux, you go from “Why is my computer running so slow?” to “Why can’t my computer do that?” It’s an improvement, but still far from perfect. UNFORTUNATELY, that still means that you have to fix their computer because many things still can’t be done unless you drop to the commandline (or pour through pages of docs)—for example: filesharing with user security. As someone pointed out before, Linux isn’t yet ready for the desktop world.

    Another point: It’s no longer true that Linux runs well on old computers. The poster child is the latest Ubuntu. It’s bloated! I have would have to upgrade my computers just to run it, when Edgy and Feisty run perfectly well…

  26. No trade like “Windows -> Linux” will ever go 100% smooth, but its definately worth a try. The cost is propbably the main reason why they would change. But today it would be totaly pointless to convince my parents to change, XP works perfectly for them.

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  31. Neither one of my parents can afford even the cheapest dial-up so I was planning on using NetZero’s free dial up. I noticed that you only get something crazy like 10 hours a month. Is there another free dial up out there that is ad supported but unlimited time? Thanks. ramgarden at gee male period comm. (google mail that is!)

  32. I noticed that a couple of comments along the lines of “linux is not ready for the desktop because of the lack of drivers”.

    So, what’s the difference with some hardware is “not compatable” with Vista?

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  39. need a good company which supports Linux, Mac, Windows with drag-drop capabilities. use COWON.

    my iAudio 7 works great on Ubuntu. Plug-in, drag/drop files to folder, unmount, ready to play.

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  41. My parents use a ~300MHz processor Pentium II machine with 6gigs of storage and 64k of memory. They use Win98. They don’t go online. They have domain email account only which they can connect using a modem and email password. They use Eudora. Other than that they have Office 2000, and that’s about it. They don’t need anything more from their machine. They have been using it for more than 7 years now. I will never ask them to switch. And I know they will never want to buy another machine unless it catches fire or something like that. If they do want to buy another machine, I would seriously ask them to consider their choice and buy the cheapest machine in the market and install linux in it. Since they are using Win98 now, they will not have any problem using Ubuntu if I make sure I put only one taskbar in the bottom with similar layout to Windows. Also since they use Eudora, thunderbird is almost exactly similar to it. And OOo is no different to MSO2000. They will have absolutely no problem with anything if they do switch. If they do have any problem, they can always call me.

    I wonder why people keep saying linux has bad support for hardware. Last time I installed Ubuntu, the only things I had to install was wireless driver, audio driver, and … well, that’s about it. Everything was installed out of the box. It popped up a message saying ‘properitary driver for graphics found’. One click took care of it. Rest of the things were automatically taken care of. When I last installed XP in the same machine two years ago, I had to install everything manually. I had to goto each vendor’s website, download the correct driver, and then install it. To my horror, XP didn’t natively support USB 2.0. I had to download separate driver for it. With linux as easy as a cake.

  42. I have some of my points on why not to use linux. (A) It’s a b*tch to install applications, except on Gentoo, and not many users will know how to install Gentoo. (B) You have to go through h*ll trying to install drivers. I’ve never succeeded. I’ve spent more hours trying to fix my linux installs then actually using it. My detailed “rant” is here:


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