March 7, 2002

Setting up Linux for Mom and Dad

Author: JT Smith

- By Josep L. Guallar-Esteve -

My mom and dad run Linux. No, she is no nuclear physicist. She is a mom who works as a government employee, a regular job. At her job, she uses
some kind of Windows. She knows it is Windows, but she doesn't know the
version, why should she care? She just uses Word and Excel. She
started using computers at her work about four years ago.

My dad, on the other hand, is trained as an electrical engineer. He started back
where there were no computers available for most users. He now works as the manager of a motorcycle shop. At work, he has been using computers for several years.
He has been using a text-based data entry and queries. No, not Windows
or DOS, but something called "Theos," an old multi-user thing.

They are both over 50 years old. How is this possible that they use Linux at home? Isn't Linux just for the initiated, the gurus, the 37337, the hackers?

Well, last Christmas when I was visiting, I installed Mandrake
Linux 8.1. I configured KDE 2 with colors and icons just
like Windows.

Why did I install Linux? They have a computer, but it's kind of slow. It was running Windows. They were able to receive email -- when the computer wasn't crashed, wasn't infected with viruses, or ... you get the picture. But they were unable to send email.

The ISP where they had an email account offered poor service. But this
email address is the one they had been passing around. Their old ISP was so bad that
they signed up with another ISP, one that was fast to connect to. But this second
email system just plain sucked. And when my parents were connected with the second ISP, the first ISP didn't let them use its smtp server to send email, even
with the proper username and password.

So I installed Linux, connecting through the second ISP to Internet,
getting email from the first ISP and sending email with Postfix on the
local machine. I configured Internet access (Kppp), a mail program (Kmail) and a Web
browser (Konqueror) with the most common plugins: JRE, Flash, and

I setup two accounts: for "Mom," and "Dad." They do not know about root, nor they need to know. They are users, not administrators.

I showed them how to log in, that the "Internet" icon is how the PC
connects to Internet, that the "email" icon starts the email program
(and what button they have to click to download and send email), that
the "browser" icon is the way to surf the web, and that the "home" icon
will put them in their "own" directory.

My parents live in a town near Barcelona, Spain, and I live in North Carolina, so I need them to have a working, non-crashing computer so we can email each other and exchange digital pictures. Their computer is configured to use their language, Catalan. Because Catalan is only spoken by 10 million people, Microsoft makes little effort to
translate its products. See my Linux in Catalan here:

Microsoft gets money from the local Catalan Autonomous Government
(something similar to the government of a state in the United States) to
translate Windows. So far, Microsoft has a history of taking the
money, taking its time to release a few programs in Catalan and then
releasing a new Windows version in English, not in Catalan.
As far as I know, Office has never been translated into Catalan. So, in real life,
it's hard to find Microsoft products in Catalan.

But Linux is being translated in Catalan. Check out the kde-i18n-ca package.
KDE is very advanced in its translation.

The next thing I'll set up for my parents will be Gnomemeeting. They still have a Windows partition with MS-Netmeeting to use the webcam, so we can have video conferencing. But sometimes Windows refuses to work right. Soon Gnomemeeting will work better with their camera, and Windows will disappear from their computer. There will be no need for it.

Because their computer has 96MB of RAM and a small hard drive, I
decided to not install StarOffice. But I know from my computer that
OpenOffice can handle all Microsoft Office documents. It has opened all of them
so far.

Now my parents' computer doesn't crash -- it used to crash a lot when
it was running Windows. They get no viruses now. They do not need to update their antivirus program every month. I get no phone calls asking me to fix the computer, which isn't easy for me to do now that I'm living in the United States.

They have their connection to the Internet. They can send and receive
email. It works. They only need to know about clicking around on their desktop.

Linux can work for everyone, as long as it is installed


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