Making My Grandparents Leet Linux Users - Part 1

It was time for a new computer for my Grandparents. Their ancient Windows 98 PC had become so slow that it was unusable. The replacement, an inexpensive Acer PC, came with Windows Vista preinstalled. It was up to me to set up the new computer and support it. So I decided to wipe out Vista with a Debian 4 base install and set up an easy to use environment for my Grandparents. In this multi-part series I will tell you about how I did it, starting with my reasons for choosing Linux over Vista.

My Grandparents had been having a terrible time with viruses and worms periodically putting their computer out of commission. The reason for this is obvious, it was running Windows 98 with no firewall or anti-virus and they were using old versions of Outlook Express and Internet Explorer. After the first time I cleared the malware off, I installed a free firewall, free anti-virus, and two free anti-spyware programs. This caused more problems, the firewall would pop up questions, and the anti-virus slowed down boot up. Linux solves all of my Grandparents’ issues with computer security. Linux is a secure OS and is not targeted by viruses or malware. That means no resource-hogging anti-virus, no firewall pop ups, and no malware infestations.

Another advantage of Linux is the customizability of the interface. This is the main reason I went with Linux. It is possible to secure Windows with extra software, but it is simply not possible to achieve the same level of interface customization that Linux has. I wanted to make the desktop dead simple, and only Linux would let me do that

It is up to me to support the new computer, and Linux is so much easier to support. Powerful tools such as SSH and X11vnc mean that I can remotely control the screen and fix just about any problem from my own computer. As well, there is less support to do because of Linux’s greater reliability than Windows.

My Grandparents require very little from their computer, just basic email and web browsing. They did not need the latest and greatest PC. However, Windows Vista does. The low-end Acer with Vista was so slow. It could barely run Vista with its 1GB of RAM. For Linux the new PC was overkill. Going with Linux meant that they did not need to spend more money on fancy hardware to run up to date software.

These four reasons made my decision to switch my Grandparents to Linux a no-brainer. In the next few parts in this series I will write about the technical details of switching my Grandparents and setting up Debian for them.

Archived Comments


Probably an obvious question but what were the specs on the old computer? If all the gran-folks need to do is surf and get email, I’m guessing Linux installed on that would’ve done the trick (Xubuntu anyone?)


I would sure like to see a write-up on install SSH and VNc; that part I am still lacking in myself.


The old computer probably would have been fine, but they were already set on buying a new one.

I have already written about setting up SSH & X11vnc, but it only covers accessing them from Windows. In the near future I will cover more detail and Linux-to-Linux connections.

Daniel Lucraft

Good luck with this. It’d be nice to see screenshots of how you’ve decided to set up the environment. Fortunately Linux makes taking screenshots easy :)


I’m doing something similar for a 77 y.o. friend who recently retired from work. She’s comfortable enough with computers and work uses windoze. A store close by was upgrading and giving away the old computers so I grabbed one for Elaine. I gave it extra ram, 512, and put PCLinuxOS on it. I used build 93a mainly because it was what would run before I put the ram in, and I just don’t think I will have time to play with redoing it with the 2007 build. 93a is fine, I used it for the best part of a year before I redid my system. And I bought her an external modem. She really only wants email to keep up with her friends so I think dial up will be fine, and cheap, and she can always upgrade to broadband later if the speed drives her mad.

My general solution to her not knowing Linux was to make sure everything she might want is upgraded before she gets it, and put all the icons for those programs on the desktop so she doesn’t have to go into the system at all. And tested everything, ran it as my computer for a while. She hasn’t arranged to pick it up yet so I can’t say how it all works in the end….


I have a friend and co-worker who is well known for his fear and loathing of all things technical, especially computers. Despite this, he enjoys using e-mail, surfing the web, and buying/selling over e-Bay. Over the past two years, he has purchased and returned four PCs because he simply could not keep them running for longer than a few days at a time even with the help of his Windows literate friends. Sensing his frustration, I offered to loan him an old Dell PIII 650 laptop with 256Mb of ram running Simply MEPIS until he found a more suitable computer for himself. During the first week he called me for support three times: Once to find out how to properly shut it down (Yes, that was his level of experience!), once to ask why it took so long to connect to the internet (after shuting down the computer, he had been turning off his cable modem as well), and once for me to guide him through a system update via the Synaptic Package Manager. After letting him use it for over a month, I finally asked him if he’d decided on purchasing a new computer, and he said “Yes, I want to buy that laptop from you. It’s the ONLY computer I’ve ever used that hasn’t given me a bit of trouble!”
I look forward your updates about your Grandparents!


I am trying to do the same thing with an elderly couple who are like surrogate parents to me. (All my grandparents and both my parents and all my parent’s sibs are dead.) Actually only she uses the computer and she sends and receives email, abeit often with large image files attached (pics of the grandkids), browses a bit, occasionally makes an online purchase…

I’m testing out Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon right now, and having trouble with wifi card–Broadcom. Should I be thinking of another distro?


If the wifi card works at all in Linux (it probably does), you can use it with Ubuntu but it could take some work. Use the lspci command to find the exact chipset of the card and Google search for a guide. If you want to try another distro, I think Mandriva has some tools for setting up wifi cards.


Hi there !

Nice blog Tom, I discovered it yesterday and I think I’m going to read it frequently !

For Spooky (a bit late, I agree) :

I’m currently using a broadcom wifi card on ubuntu gutsy gibbon (amd64, seems like I’m looking for trouble…).
It appears that since Gutsy was released, it is detected automatically. I experienced problems in feisty, though.

Try and look about the “Bcm43xx” chipset. I solved my problems this way.

I know a “how-to” for this operation, but you probably won’t understand it : it’s in french.

I’m not sure that switching to another distribution is the solution.

Good luck !


I’ve tried running various flavors of Linux (mostly Ubuntu derivatives)on an old Sony. For the most part, they seem to work OK except they’re a little slower than XP Pro! Also, I am unable to connect to my home router (Linksys WRT600N) A Techie friend of mine claims Ubuntu requires a lot of tweaking to make this connection. This is contrary to what I read. I can’t find any documentation to help me through this setup. Anyone have any suggestions?

Respond via email