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Switching My Dad to Linux--Part Two

By Keir Thomas
May 15, 2009 09:31 AM ET

PC World - As mentioned in my last posting, I'm not a very good Linux evangelist. I don't try and convert family and friends to Linux. Therefore, as surprising as it sounds, putting Ubuntu on my dad's new laptop--as I did a week ago--was the first time I've ever directly converted another individual to Linux. It's safe to say I've indirectly converted 100s of thousands of people with my books (Ubuntu Pocket Guide) has been downloaded over 500,000 times, for example). But this was my first "hands on" experience. It was fun. To my dad, a computer is primarily a magical eBay machine. Like many in the older generation, he loves online auctions. He knows practically nothing about how computers or operating systems work. He just has no interest. A computer is a tool, not an end in itself. He also browses a lot and sometimes prints off letters using OpenOffice.org. I switched him to Firefox and OpenOffice.org years ago on his old XP laptop. As it transpired, this made the transition to Ubuntu a lot easier because I didn't have to deal with Microsoft's proprietary file formats. Additionally, everything on Ubuntu looked mostly the same as far as he was concerned. My father's computing demands might sound trivial but are actually quite demanding. He has to be able to get photographs off his digital camera, for example, so he can put them online for his eBay auctions. He needs to be able to tweak them if necessary. He has to be able to print his letters. Like most people nowadays, he has DSL and a wifi router, so it was necessary to get wifi working. Let's update from an Ubuntu perspective the points raised in the previous posting that drove him (and me) away from Windows Vista:

Updates, Updates, Updates

I set his new Ubuntu 9.04 install to update automatically and invisibly (System > Administration > Software Sources, and make the selection under the Updates tab). Very few system updates under Ubuntu require a reboot. That's just not the way Linux works. If the update does require a reboot, it can wait until the computer is shutdown at the end of the session. My father certainly won't be nagged by a pop-up dialog box that won't take no for an answer.

The end result is that I sleep safe at night knowing that my father's computer is as secure as it can be. He gets invisible security. That's how it should be.

Where is everything?

From my father's perspective, things look mostly the same because he's been using Firefox and OpenOffice.org for years under WinXP. I altered the color scheme to a Windows-like blue, and I also installed the msttcorefonts package, so fonts looked the same on websites. I even compared his old XP laptop alongside his new Ubuntu laptop, to ensure everything looked as familiar as possible! The only slight stumbling block for him was locating his digital camera snaps after he imported them. I had to teach him to use the Places menu to open a file browsing window, and also teach him about the concept of the Home folder, where his personal data lives. To my surprise, he understood this easily. I guess the metaphor of a Home folder is actually pretty intuitive. From my point of view, I know Ubuntu backwards so I'll be able to help him out over the phone without having to sit in front of the computer to fix problems. (Techies might be interested to know that for security reasons I didn't enable SSH, as useful as it might have been.)

Reprinted with permission from PCWorld.com. Story copyright 2012 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.
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