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Dealing With The Always-Breaking Family PC? 204

Posted by Cliff
from the curse-of-being-the-family-geek dept.
Corby Ziesman asks: "I am sure many on Slashdot are entrusted to maintain computers for their family members. I've built a few computers for my sister over the years; however she constantly complains to me that 'something's wrong' with the computer, and claims that it 'just stopped working' all by itself. She blames the computer I built, calling it 'a piece of crap', yet it works flawlessly once I start using her old computer after she has upgraded. I've considered revoking her access to Windows, and giving her Ubuntu Linux or something, however she has a lot of games and art applications like Corel Painter that require Windows. How do I get her up and running, so that I don't have to keep fixing the computer every month? I'm tired of digging in the registry, checking the processes for spyware, and all that. I have also tried to educate her about how to use a computer intelligently, but she seems to lack common sense when it comes to what software is suspicious and bloated, and what is trustworthy. So I ask the Slashdot community: how do you cope with your family members who have a talent for torturing computers?"
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Dealing With The Always-Breaking Family PC?

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  • No problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig DOT hogger AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @08:50PM (#15808227) Journal
    4 years ago, the machine I made for my mother with (a pirated copy of) Windoze-2000 crapped five minutes after I installed it. In a jiffy, I decided to install Mandrake Linux on it.

    It never failed once, and I never had to fix it, and my mother is very happy with it to write letters and her e-mails.

  • by kosmosik (654958) <{ten.kisomsok} {ta} {sok}> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @08:51PM (#15808231) Homepage
    Don't give her admin rights...
    • Exactly. Create limited user accounts, and only let them use those. Many (poorly-written) pieces of software claim that administrator privileges are necessary, but there are (almost) always F/OSS equivalents that don't have such a ridiculous requirement.
      • by kosmosik (654958) <{ten.kisomsok} {ta} {sok}> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:20PM (#15808361) Homepage
        > Exactly. Create limited user accounts, and only let them use those.

        I've meant that as a punishment. :) But when you take admin rights from users that means you are the admin for them. And that will lead to less mess/work that allowing clueless users to admin. Really. :)

        > Many (poorly-written) pieces of software claim that administrator
        > privileges are necessary, but there are (almost) always F/OSS equivalents
        > that don't have such a ridiculous requirement.

        That is bullshit. In deed many of closed source software are poorly written and *tend* (go on with reading) to require admin rights. But stating that FOSS has all the equivalents is plain bullshit and a lie that in the end will make no good for FOSS.

        FOSS is nice for some task but it *lacks* some of the apps and don't lie anybody that it doesn't. It is a bad advocacy and serves no purpose.

        As for old Windows applications that conflict with LUA principle - that can be get over with. You just need to work around it. There are plenty of tools which help - compatibility mode, toolkits and so on. You can set access rights for apps and so on. So really some stupid app writing directly to C:\ can be tricked to work under LUA. It just requires some knowledge, but please don't state that it can't be done.

        As a disclaimer - for my own computing needs I use Linux only and I love it.
    • Other than games, there's probably nothing she needs to run on Windows that needs network connectivity. (Obviously Windows's updates and her anti-virus software need to run and use the network, but you should set them up to do that automatically, because she's the type for whom that makes sense.) There may be a few things like Photoshop if she's a professional, or Turbotax and equivalents, and you may need to be Administrator to install a few of these. But she certainly doesn't need to run a browser unde
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Set it to automatically scan for spyware, etc, at a time when she isn't on but the computer is.

    And make her use Firefox if she isn't.
    • by Mistlefoot (636417) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @01:24AM (#15809454)
      Once again I'll suggest the easiest solution I have come across. And it really does work. Visit http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm [mvps.org] and download the hosts file. Set it up (takes about 2 minutes) and then make it read only. Once a month or so - whenever you visit, update the hosts file. The file on this site is updated regularly. The last update is from yesterday. This file is released under the Creative Commons license and prevents 'bad' pages or sites from loading. Obviously, spyware from unknown sites is not stopped by this but it prevents such a high percentage of unwanted crap that it has resulted in NO calls from friends or family members to fix spyware related problems on their pc's.
  • First time I tried it I fired up a random application (mIRC) and was surprised that everything (that I tried at least) worked flawlessly.

    Should help ease the transition, but don't forget that you can probably find native Linux apps that do what the Windows apps do as well, might be worth looking into them. So WINE can be used as a stepping stone or a permanent solution.

    • It is not about the apps - it is about file formats. No app for Linux that opens Corel files.
      • http://ariya.blogspot.com/2006/07/eiffel-in-perfec tion.html [blogspot.com] Obviously, this is a work in progress and not quite the same as native support for Corel documents, but it's worht mentioning.
  • simple (Score:4, Funny)

    by smash (1351) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @08:55PM (#15808252) Homepage Journal
    Get one of these: http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/frustrations/388b / [thinkgeek.com]

    Tell him/her to buy a Mac.

    Problem solved.

    • I know people modded that funny, but that isn't a bad idea. However, since the poster mentioned Linux, why not set Linux up on a dual boot, disable all internet access on MS Windows, then set up internet access on Linux only. That way, the sister will still be able to run the "holy" Windows programs, but will not easily be able to download and install malware. No XP Professional required.

      I don't understand why they wouldn't supply the basic security features in the Home version. In fact, they should have

    • Honestly I would consider getting a Mac and instructing her only to boot Windows when she absolutely had to.
    • Family and friends always bothered me to fix their windows machines. When it came time for them to get new computers, I convinced most of them to buy a Mac. Problem solved. I still get the occasional call, but it's usually something like "how to I export a video so I can email it?" rather than "my computer is slow and porn keeps popping up on the screen, and my printer won't work."

      Tell them you won't work on their computer unless it's a Mac. :)
  • by Stoutlimb (143245) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @08:55PM (#15808253)
    I take family that refuses to learn, and leave them to their own devices. They were smart enough to get into this mess, they can figure their way out. At most I would give them URL's to self-help websites and the like. It's given me a lot of peace of mind, and a few relatives that now "get it".
  • I got my Parents a Mac, set it up to their printer. Because my brother was connected to broadband and only surfed the web, I put him on Ubuntu. Since set up of bother, I only have 1/10 of the hassle, if that.

    Do one or the other. There are a lot of programs for Ubuntu that are free and have the same capabilities as Windows software. Your sister may be even happier if she finds even more programs (because it is free) than she could use before hand. If your sister uses a lot of graphics programs, Mac may
    • I forgot to mention, with Ubuntu Linux, repartition/resize the harddrive. There are some free tools (I think the Mepis installer has one that does it before installing itself) that do this that won't break your Windows install (back up anyway). Then install Ubuntu on a seperate partition.

      Grub, at start up will give you a choice which OS to use.

      Next time Windows breaks, have her use Ubuntu during that time. Then there will be no rush to fix the Windows partition on her box.^_^
  • Install decent firewall/AV software, maybe NOD32 and Outpost (Kerio kills my system sometimes). If she still keeps breaking her computer, give her the XP install CD and stop fixing it for her. If your sister can force you to fix her computer for free over and over, you've got other issues.
  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @08:58PM (#15808262)
    Because PC's are marketed as appliances, and appliances (as we all know) "just work" for years without our having to think about, most users are incapable of grasping the facts that any geek takes for granted (and which I won't recap here).

    Your path is clear, unless you *want* to be a Windows support specialist, or have a secret masochistic streak; the next time your sister's box goes on the fritz give her the 800 number to Dell...and let them deal with her.

    At the very least, after a Bangalore call center experience she *should* come back to you with a better attitude.
  • Appreciation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by digitallife (805599)
    If a family member or friend of mine called a bunch of work I had done for them (for free) 'crap', I would take the hint and not do stuff for them anymore. Seriously, why are you maintaining your sisters computer? Is your time less valuable than her money or something?
    • You do that. Then twenty or thirty years down the road, when you two are trying to figure out how to split the responsibilities of caring for your aging parents, you can say, "remember all those times *I* bailed *you* out?"

      And she'll just say, "No."

      I was raised to believe that family is the one thing in this world you can count on. When one of us is in trouble, it's time for the rest of us to dig in and smooth things out for them. The moment you step back and start demanding to know "What's in it for me?
  • I play the foaming at the mouth linux zealot for my family. No matter what the problem, I reload with Linux and recommend a few good books.

    They don't bug me for computer help anymore. Yes, I'm a dick. But I don't want to fix their windows crap and if they actually take to linux I'm willing to help.
  • Three words... (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Otter (3800)
    Buy. A. Mac.

    I'm not anti-Linux, I use Linux where it's appropriate, but in this case it's just going to make them even more dependent on you.

  • by TerminaMorte (729622) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:00PM (#15808271) Homepage
    If she calls a computer you built for her "a piece of crap", then forget it. She obviously doesn't respect you, or the work you're doing for her. Let her buy her own PC, and when it fails, let her take it to Best Buy and see how much they charge.

    That should change her tune quickly. The only reason she's not learning how to manage a PC is that there are no consequences when she breaks it. She'll just get you to fix it. If she has to PAY for it, however, she'll learn quickly enough.
    • by kraut (2788) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:36PM (#15808427)
      This is the most insightful comment. The real problem is between you and your sister, not between your sister and her computer.
      • he real problem is between you and your sister probably not, it sort of sounds a lot of people, give them the special deal they whine for or insane turn-arround time and not only is their no appreciation, but they feel that they've gotten something inferior. The only way to deal with them is at the first hint of them dickering for a lower price you have to lock in your heels and tell them your so busy that it'll take 25% longer. If they want quicker than normal service you have to sock on an outragious rush
    • I was going to mod you up, but yes. HELL YES.

      I supported my Father through 2 or 3 of my "hand-me-down" machines (ones I thought would be just good enough for him) and even though the hardware stayed in top shape, it always had some sort of spyware or other nonsense installed that just made me want to cry.

      My other siblings asked me recently if I would build a machine for them; I point them to Dell's website. I tell them "First, they can build it cheaper; second, you can call them for support..." I support
    • So true. I support family computers, but not for free. If they don't like my rates, they are free to chose from any number of less competent services that will charge more. A computer is a privilege and not a right, and I have no motivation to waste my time.

      I do have to wonder what this woman was doing because I've never needed to extract spyware from any of my family's computers. Granted, they don't play games, and thankfully don't download random crap.
    • by MarkX (716) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @08:19AM (#15810579) Homepage
      This post is closest to my personal feelings. It comes down to a perception of value. She doesn't value the computer because she paid nothing for it, and gets her support for free, while at the same time ridiculing the person who is supporting her.

      I used to be the support person in my family. Then I started running Linux, then I got a Mac. Over time my Windows skills greatly diminished because I just forgot the stuff. Then I realized that there are solutions that work, Linux and Macs. The fact that people could just keep tapping me for free Windows support was what made it possible for them to run Windows. It was my time and energy that allowed them to live in denial. So, I stopped supporting Windows. I made it a policy that if you wanted support from me you either had to run Linux, or get a Mac. My support outlay dropped precipitously. Slowly my friends switched. Started using their computers a lot more, and I get almost no calls. But when I do I know something is actually wrong, not some virus, or the latest malware BS. Most of the time I can trace it back to a hardware issue, which I do not consider a waste of my time. I'm happy to trouble shoot actual problems.

      I don't have an issue with doing support for free. After all we are talking about family, but if they are simply going to use you so they can take the cheapest route, one we know will lead to problems, then I don't feel like I need to support that. It would be like some family member buying a used Yugo, a car that is known to be bad, and repeatedly asking for help fixing it, for free.

      Mark
  • by Clover_Kicker (20761) <clover_kicker@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:00PM (#15808273)
    Make her run as a dumb user - now she can't install stupid shit.

    Test each of her apps to make sure they still work without admin access.

    If an app breaks, you can troubleshoot with regmon and filemon, i.e. many apps need r/w perms in their own directory for some retarded reason.

    If she has a fast internet connection, set things up so you can RDP or VNC into her machine for the few times she'll legitimately need to install new software.
    • If an app breaks, you can troubleshoot with regmon and filemon, i.e. many apps need r/w perms in their own directory for some retarded reason.

      There are a lot of reasons for this, and they aren't all retarded. Sometimes it makes sense to install and run multiple instances of an application; e.g., one where each instance uses a specific virtual COM port. When the OS, in a misguided attempt at being trendy and "multi-user" and all that, forces everything to write to a user-specific data directory, that conve
      • > each instance uses a specific virtual COM port

        You're 100% correct, if you need direct hardware access you run as admin. I'll go out on a limb and predict this guy's sister isn't using that sort of software.

        > I have yet to hear a coherent explanation of why writing to my own .INI file
        > under \program files\appname is a security risk.

        It isn't a security risk, but INI files in application directories have been causing problems since WinNT, you'd think developers would have noticed by now.

        The Officia
      • They're mostly retarded though.

        Anyway, Aaron Margosis has some informative comments [microsoft.com] on fixing non-admin bugs in this month's TechNet magazine [microsoft.com]. This was originally 3 entries in his "non-admin" blog [msdn.com] but has been taken up to get it to a wider audience.

        And yes, I hate to link to the great Satan, but sometimes some of those are actually useful (at least to those of us who do occasionally have to deal with Windoze crap)...

  • 1) Point out to her that her computer is as likely to stop working on its own as a rock is likely to hit her on the head on its own. It's not completely impossible, but it's very unlikely.
    2) Tell her that if she keeps breaking her computer, you're going to start charging her (or simply stop providing support altogether).
    3) Warn her of the dangers that lurk deep within the tubes of the internets (basically, scare her). Point out that these dangers are completely subject to 1 and 2 above. (She has to do somet
  • The holy trinity of security software is important to protecting Norms computers. Antivirus, Antispyware and Firewall. I make sure anyone's computers who I won't see often (who are not particularly computer literate) has Avast anti-virus installed, spyware - search and destroy and lavasoft adaware & Zonealarm.

    I find avast particularly useful for protecting peoples computers as its free for private use (register for free for a serial) and has in my use of it and all the other computers I've set it up in
  • Do the Pro method (Score:5, Informative)

    by jellomizer (103300) * on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:02PM (#15808281)
    I say do what the professionals do. Use XP Professional, and set family up with User level access, and tight security settings, that will stop her from doing stupid stuff. Giving them Linux or a Mac usually works best but if you family is going to need windows only apps and give a fuss if they don't have it. Then spend the extra cash and get XP Professional.

    When setting up permissions make sure they cannot install software without access. And don't give them Administrator access and not the admin password. But make sure these is enough for their apps to work.

    The next step is removing as many traces of Internet Explorer as possible and get them to use Firefox or Opera as the default browser. Also make sure they have a Virus Protection software and anti-Spyware tools. If they are not freeware make sure they are registed and will keep themselves updated automatically.

    Finally explain to you family about the last system they said was broken and state you noticed no problems with it. Let them know their actions can damage the Software, and there is nothing that you can do, or Dell or Compact, to stop that. You need to tell them that it is not worth it to overly cutify your PC, while some are reputable most will damage the software, and for most cases there is no good way to know if it bad or good from observations, or guessing by the quality of the website, or the terms in the legalese.
  • I was about to say make her buy a Mac but half of the posters already said it.

    Seriously, I wish my mother and sister had bought a Mac.

  • Charge her. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:05PM (#15808296) Homepage Journal
    Charge her your standard rate, as if she were calling a business to fix it. You spend two hours cleaning Bonzi Buddy and 180solutions out of her machine....charge her for two hours labour.

    Once it starts hurting her pocketbook, maybe she'll realize it's easier to learn it herself.

    That's what I do with my relatives, and it works quite nicely. The only ones who get free support are my parents, and my wife's parents. And they're both on dialup, so they don't get a lot of crap to begin with.

    Next time she foobars it, fix it, but tell her you're going to start charging her $40/hr or so, starting with your next visit. Make it $10-15 less than the going rate for most techs in your area.

    She'll probably get pissed, and call around to a few other places, only to find out they're all more expensive. But she'll learn something in the end.
    • Let other people rape her. According to the poster,

      she has a lot of games and art applications like Corel Painter that require Windows.

      If she's got the money and need for those programs, she should also have the money to get the system fixed "right". She's obviously not going to pay for what she expects for free and what she calls "crap", so let her get the same crap and help from someone who cares much less. The full price of non free software is much larger than the purchase price, let her bear all

  • My family has been PC for over 15 years, since our first computer (I have my own setup with Macs or Linux boxes, a long way away from them). The thing is, I can only be so helpful over the phone, and then I'm useless because they can't even explain the problem to me really. Then they have to take it to a shop, which is a tragedy, and end up with some wierd peripherals and upgrades. It's really a mess. A linux box is a solution for a very small percentage of people. Web. E-mail. Ok. My parents like to
    • I'm not sure about video editing, as I haven't found a good application yet, but I haven't looked very hard. But as far as digital cameras go, I think that Linux has much better stuff than what you get with windows. Digikam for KDE or F-Spot for Gnome will make digital picture management a lot easier than what ever they are using on windows. It's usually the stuff that's included with the camera, which sucks beyond everything. Even Kodak "easyshare" stuff which is supposed to be some of the best, is som
  • An other option is to make a custom Ghost Image of the OS and all the Apps.
    Partition the drive one with all the software and the other drive has her documents and music and stuff. So when she messes it up tell her to put the CD in and wait an hour and it will be good as new.
  • ...not necessary when you know what you're doing. I set up both my dad's laptop and my mom's desktop (and laptop, but she almost never uses it) and I had no problems with either of the systems. They both have limited accounts, use Opera, and have an anti-virus running (NOD32) as well as auto-update enabled. My dad spent a good part of the last year away, so I haven't touched it in that long, and the only problem he asked me about was to get rid of the WGA shit, which I did through VNC. The computer my mom u
  • I had similar problems with my big brother.

    His windows mashine always had a virus or some other problem.
    He where asking for help around ones per month.

    But then I installed linux on the mashine one day.

    His windows friends where very skeptical about it.

    But now I only had to help him twice the last 2 years.

    Okey, All he does is send email and surfe the net,
    but for this linux is ideal.
    • I did the same thing with my older brother. Can't really say he likes Linux very much, but he likes it a lot more than Windows. He's planning on buying a new computer, this time probably a Mac. I think that switching him to Linux has shown him the light. 2 years with Mandrake and he hasn't had any problems, whereas he'd run into problems every other week with windows. He wants to go to Mac because there is better programs available, which is true to some extent. If I were him I'd stick with Linux. Hi
  • by Pantero Blanco (792776) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:15PM (#15808340)
    "She blames the computer I built, calling it 'a piece of crap', yet it works flawlessly once I start using her old computer after she has upgraded. "

    I'm guessing your sister is a preteen or teenager, but this isn't a bad idea even if she's an adult.

    Stop building her computers if that's her attitude, and explain to your her and your parents why. Chances are, she's doing something that's causing the problems or she just wants a newer computer. Let her spend some cash and wrestle with Dell tech support.
  • by heinousjay (683506) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:17PM (#15808348) Journal
    she seems to lack common sense when it comes to what software is suspicious and bloated, and what is trustworthy

    Nothing about a computer is common sense. Nothing about a computer is intuitive. It is entirely learned, and much of it is complicated and esoteric.

    I suggest at least part of the problem is your unrealistic expectation that everyone have complete knowledge of computers.
  • Answer's easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doomstalk (629173) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:19PM (#15808354)
    Don't make a computer for anyone who insults your handiwork.
  • 1) do not build computers for your sister, or any other relative that isn't going to learn to use them appropriately.

    2) let dell, or geek squad, or whatever local mom and pop support shop deal with the problem.

    i don't think that anyone can fault you for not wanting to deal with this anymore after genuinely making the effort to help your sister and being repaid by ingratitude. once support starts costing your sister, she's going to think twice about using it. she's going to have motivation to become more sav
  • Ground Rules (Score:5, Informative)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:29PM (#15808395) Journal

    The basic thing I do is lay some ground rules for whether I will fix a computer.

    For instance: If there is enough space to backup an image of the OS, I create that backup, and lay Ground Rules of:

    • Run the automagic backup program and make sure it's working. (Best if it's automated, but hey.)
    • Every time you install/configure something on Windows that's important (and going to be a pain to do again), including Windows Updates, you should:
      1. Backup your data
      2. Restore the software image
      3. Restore your data
      4. Install/configure new software
      5. Confirm that it works
      6. Backup your data
      7. Backup the software image

      Yes, that's a pain, so do it once every couple of months. But have a schedule, and stick to it.

    • If you've proven that you cannot be trusted to choose software, do NOT install software without permission. Ideally, you won't be allowed to -- you should have a very limited account.
    • Don't use Internet Explorer to look at porn. Use Firefox for that, if you must.
    • Don't use Internet Explorer to visit any site you don't trust.
    • Please, just don't use Internet Explorer, period.

    Now, if these instructions didn't work, or if you didn't follow them, here's the rules for when I swing by to help out:

    • I am the boss. I'm willing to work with you to find something that's easy for me and works for you. But at the end of the day, it's my way, or I don't help. I don't have to be doing this.
    • This is a favor. That means you don't get to complain to me that I'm doing it wrong. Instead, you get to do me a favor in return -- bake me cookies, bring me tea and coffee. I don't have to be doing this.
    • I'm going to need access. Either tell me any passwords I'll have to know, or log me in (type your password, I won't look) and change it to something temporary that I can use. I refuse to come find you and get you to type your password every time I have to reboot -- which will probably be a lot.
    • Let me drive. This was a phrase an old boss used, and it means "Give me the keyboard, and let me sit down." Chances are, the solution to your problem is something you really don't want to learn how to do by yourself.
    • If I have something to teach you, then I'll let you sit down, because that makes it easier for you to remember. But follow my instructions exactly. I can point you to some hilarious but disturbing examples [ubergoth.net] of what happens when you do what you think I mean, and not what I said.
    • Do what I say, exactly. My mother has this insanely irritating habit of finishing my sentences for me, and she has never, ever been right that I can remember. Let me put it this way -- I say "Now I want you to..." and she says "Do this?" I shout "NO" just as she anihilates what we were doing, and we have to start over. The problem is, she gets deeper and deeper into the wrong thing because she assumes she knows what I'm trying to say.
    • I am your tech while I'm here. Unless I tell you to, do NOT go to another person for help while I'm here. "I'm not sure you know what you're talking about here, let me call Jim." Only not quite so obviously, but that is what you're saying when you want to call Jim and I don't. Look, if I don't know what I'm talking about, I'll say so, and I'll tell you to call Jim or whoever you need to call.
    • I know more than you do about this problem. It's arrogant, but true. Feel free to offer your advice, but unless I defer to your greater knowledge of BloatyAppX, you don't get to second-guess me. If we've got to reinstall Windows from scratch, then that's what we'll do. It will be a huge pain in the ass, but not as much as it would for me to fix it in the state it's in. If you don't like it, I stop helping.

    These are not intended to be as oppressive as they are. I'm actually fairly nice, cheerful, helpful, knowledgeable, and understanding.

  • by linuxtelephony (141049) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:31PM (#15808401) Homepage
    Assuming the hardware and RAM is beefy enough to support it, consider the rather drastic approach of virtualization for this problem.

    Using Linux as the host OS. Set it up so you can remotely SSH in to "fix" things when something breaks. Then use something like VMware to create a Windows virtual PC. Keep a copy of the finished image (or create a snapshot if you are using VMware tools).

    Follow the advice of the person that gave the suggestion to use Ghost -- use a second drive for documents, email, etc. When she breaks something, all you have to do is shut down the Windows virtual machine, restore the snapshot, and restore it.

    You could even go as far as creating an icon on a special linux user login -- "Fix my PC" -- and have it to it automatically.

    Of course, you'll be sacrificing some of RAM and a chunk of CPU performance due to virtualization.
    • I was going to say pretty much the same thing - except to add that if VMware isn't available or usable, do what I used to do years ago and simply make a copy of the base install on a separate partition. Leave the user with a DOS (this was Win9x days) batch file which will copy everything back over in the event of an otherwise-unrecoverable problem, and make sure they never use C:\ to store documents.

      But if VMware, or better still Linux of one form or other, is an option then by all means go with what the o
  • Do you hand hold them through supper preparations, lawn care, car maintenance? Probably not.

    Take the same approach to computers.

    When the n00b users finally get pissed off with the generally lousy quality of their OS and applications, maybe they'll number enough to force the developers to make computers work the way they *should* work: effortlessly.

    In my decades of computer use, I've always been thrilled to find software that works intuitively and sophisticatedly. It doesn't happen often enough. It should
  • by Ant P. (974313)
    If they somehow manage to break that, add glue.
  • by PotatoHead (12771) <dougNO@SPAMopengeek.org> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:38PM (#15808442) Homepage Journal
    Have learned a coupla things:

    -the wife is generally not so willing to make changes

    -the kids will bitch but will also deal with change far more easily

    -nobody really needs all the crap they think they need.

    After doing the whole win32, image, anti-virii, anti spyware dance one too many times, I finally just setup two computers.

    The kids have been running Linux for about the last 4 years. Was rough at first because I had to do some extra admin to make devices and applications work. Recently my workload has dropped to almost nothing. (That's my benchmark for how well desktop Linux is doing, BTW --and it's coming along nicely.)

    The kids PC is now running Ubuntu Dapper Drake. It's just sweet in that it mostly just works. They've been burning CD's, dealing with cameras, surfing, word processing, etc... with no issues to speak of. I set up user accounts for them, they ended up sharing one go figure. If they want an application, I find them one and they deal with it. All in all, a very nice solution. Interestingly, their friends come over to use the machine a lot. They like it because it's not a hassle. None of them have had any significant problems using the machine.

    When they ask for something windows only, we talk about why they think they need it and what the alternatives are. Not a bad conversation to be having with one's kids, IMHO. Mine know the tradeoff between all the bad programs and learning how to do some things differently. Positioned right, they can use the computer uninhibited, or use it with extreme care. They choose uninhibited and safe every time!

    For my wife, she does online poker. That means win32 for the best overall experience these days. So, we've got a machine running a default copy of XP Home, that I got at a steep discount. ($200!) We load only a few open tools and her poker clients. The rest of the machine stays factory with updates off. This machine is used for paying bills online, banking, etc... so general web surfing is out. There is a VM installed for that. Once the sites are known, it's easy to differentiate which ones can be surfed from the native OS and which should be surfed through the VM.

    I don't run anti anything either. I've got the home network sitting behind a simple NAT, running Linux. (Quest routers are great!) The only inbound connections allowed are for gaming and are mapped to the console IP, or the Linux box as necessary.

    The Linux machine receives it's normal updates and has performed just great. No issues at all. We did get the win32 machine hosed a while back. (Switched client based e-mail to gmail and that is not likely to happen again.) Restore from the discs provided, overlay drivers and install apps and it's all good again. Takes about an hour and I printed up a quick and dirty cheat sheet and burned a CD with the installers necesary for the box.

    The spyware people target kids. If you are running a win32 box, with kids on it. It's gonna have everything under the sun running on it no matter what you do. Actually that's not totally true, but your admin burden goes way up if you lock the box down too tight. --nothing works unless you deal with it. Ubuntu has been great about this. I admin the box only when major changes are necessary (new printer, network, device....); otherwise it just does it's thing in user space.

    Putting the kids on Linux brought the problems to a screeching halt. I suspect a Mac would have the same effect. (I just went the cheap route.)

    As for sharing computers. I've no problems sharing a win32 box with my wife. We both know what the machine is used for and do exactly that. Anything goofy happens in a VM or on the Linux machine. (I did setup quick icons for doing both of these things. The family thought it was interesting that more than one person can be using the Linux box at the same time! VNC or X window, whatever you prefer --I do the X thing personally.)

    Sharing a win32 machine with kids is a mess! The Linux
  • I used to be the default repair guy for my entire family until a few of them (mostly sister in law and an aunt) started branching out and "freelancing" me to their friends. As I grew more tired of the antics and the basic unwillingness to do simple things like run some sort of firewall and not open every email attachment sent, I suddenly became much more "stupid" in their eyes. I suddenly couldnt fix the simplest problem, I let their computer sit unusable and those that wanted one bought Hp's or Dells and
  • Try this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM (7445) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:40PM (#15808449) Homepage
    Sit them down in front of you, look them in the eye and say:

    "This is not working. I try to do my best helping you with your computer problems in any way I can; I even built your last computer to save you some money. I have been at your beck and call, day and night, for years. What I get from you is a constant stream of complaints."

    "Clearly, what I can offer you in help is not good enough by far. I do not know the reason - it could be incompetence on my part, it could be you inadvertently doing things you should not, or it could be that Windows, and the programs you want to run on it, just aren't very good quality. Quite possibly it is a combination of these. It doesn't matter, though - you are miserable, and that makes me miserable too."

    "So from now on I will not interfere. No longer will my bungled attempts at fixing things just make everythng worse. I suggest you buy your next computer from a real vendor, with a service contract, and contact their professionals if you ever experience a problem with your new machine. You will be a lot happier knowing you can rely on people who help users for a living, and I can be free of the guilt of trying to do things that are perhaps over my head."

    "I am truly sorry I have inconvenienced you like this for years. I wanted to help but of course I whould have known better."
    • Excellently said. Very nice job.
    • (.....) with a service contract, and contact their professionals if you ever experience a problem with your new machine. You will be a lot happier knowing you can rely on people who help users for a living, and I can be free of the guilt of trying to do things that are perhaps over my head. I am truly sorry I have inconvenienced you like this for years. I wanted to help but of course I whould have known better."

      And then before she has a chance to say something, stand up and turkey-slap her two or three t
  • I just say that linux on my machine doesn't have that problem, so I don't know why they are having that problem. They usually keep asking, in hopes that I'll get annoyed enough to take a look, but I keep giving the same answer. If they keep pushing, I reason that it's probably spyware, a virus, a windows bug, or a bad program, none of which I know about because I spend all my time tweaking linux instead of learning windows oddities. I don't ask them to fix my linux machine because they wouldn't know what
  • For years my sister was the same way. She'd have botched up her PC to the point of it needing to be reformatted at least once every few months. I told her she couldn't install all those P2P apps, explorer toolbars and things like WeatherBug on her PC anymore because they load a ton of shit that kills her PC. She retorted with "It's my computer and I'll install anything I want on it!" To which I said OK, but I've told you how to not break your computer, so if you do it again, I'm not fixing it.

    Ignorance
  • I've Dealt with this (Score:3, Informative)

    by miyako (632510) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `okayim'> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @09:51PM (#15808507) Homepage Journal
    I used to have to deal with this with my Aunt and Uncle. They were nice about it, never rushed me, and always offered to pay, but eventually it was still a pain to have to drive over there every week or two to remove viruses, etc.
    Eventually, I sat down and talked to them about installing Linux. I didn't go into technical details, but I explained that they could do everything they did under Windows, but it would take them some time to get used to different programs. I also explained that my cousins games wouldn't work. They decided to let me give it ago, and Installed Suse 9.1 (the newest version at the time).
    I set up wine and got most my cousins games working, set up seperate accounts for each family member, set up their email, etc. Since then there hasn't been a single problem with that computer. A couple of months ago, they were given another computer that is running Windows XP. After a couple of months of the same cleaning up crapware off the machine every couple of weeks, they even asked me to install Linux on it as well. Unfortunately, some software that my Uncle runs on it won't run under Wine, and I haven't been able to find any alternative to it under Linux (it's some custom software written by a friend of his that ties in various topography maps with a database keeping track of caves and other geological stuff in the area). It's funny though, with the exception of my Uncle who needs to use this software, everyone else in the family prefers the Linux box, and only uses the Windows machine for iTunes or if someone else is on the Linux box.
    If you approach them diplomatically and explain that installing Linux will require that they learn things a little different, but that in the long run it will make it easier on everyone, you might be surprised how receptive non-technical people can be toward the idea. My own experience (not just with my aunt and uncle, with others as well) has show me that, while most people may not be proficient enough to install and configure Linux, if you set it up for them and then walk them through common tasks, people can run just fine with Linux.
  • by Eneff (96967)
    Let her deal with their technical support instead.

    It's not worth your aggrivation. I stopped building computers for others long ago. They can take responsibility in their own hands.
  • by SirSlud (67381)
    You grow a set, and ask her to reciprocate all the time and effort in an area of her expertise. If she can't, offer her a reasonable rate to fix her computer. If she declines, tell her shes on her own. Tell her you suck at fixing computers, as evidenced by 'your track record'.
  • This isn't so hard. The answer is simple: Support them when YOU have free time, not when they do.

    The last time my mother's computer went fritzy, I forced her to just buy all new parts. She tried the "Dell has a computer for $x" approach and I said "Ooooh, good. I won't have to do tech support any more." She didn't buy a Dell. I eventually got her new parts, but I think I spent about 2 months doing it. She had to limp along with a slow-as-snails malfunctioning computer for that whole time.

    The other me
  • Your sister is an ingratious person who doesn't appreciate the effort that you put into furnishing her a computer in the first place. My advice to you is that, if she wants a store-bought computer, and feels that it will be better, let her have one, and stop giving her tech support. On the other hand, you might also consider getting a new, more appreciative sister.
    • Well said. I was going to suggest he get his sister a brain, but your solution is more elegant and, therefore, better.
      • by NitsujTPU (19263) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @11:54PM (#15809073)
        The problem with purchasing his sister a brain is the installation process. Most users don't want to open the cases on their bodies, or have the requisite expertise. I'm sure that his sister could be sent back to the factory, they'll refurbish her put in the brain if necessary, and sell her at a discount, and he'll get a nice new sister.
  • All my family's just using Ultima Linux [ultimalinux.com] (disclaimer, I'm the developer...) – took a while to convince them to switch, but after they saw what it was like they were all impressed – been working beautifully. Most of our machines still have Windows on them and are dual-booting, but it's been several months since anyone ever actually switched back, we just don't have any reason to... as far as games, etc. go, Cedega [cedega.com] works beautifully for most of them... got all the printing handled through CUPS and
  • Set the machine up to your liking, then use Deep Freeze to ensure that it never changes.

    Or, if they're the media types (digital photos, home videos, burning DVDs, etc) get them an iMac and maybe one of those iLife 06 how-to books. $1299 buys a dual core iMac with DVD burner, Radeon X1600 graphics, the iLife suite, remote control for the media center stuff, etc etc etc.
  • I have supplied my parents and mother in law with G3 macs over a year ago, and have not had any problems or calls since.
    My best friend, brother in law and 2 coworkers have also switched from unsatisfactory PCs to new Macs. (Minis and iBooks).

    If people are not happy with their current Wintels, they are not so hesitant towards switching to Macs.
    My "converts" all LOVE them and love using them.
    All that and no support calls.
    The best part... no more thanxgiving weekends spent cleaning up spyware on a dialup line!
  • I just gave a computer to my in-laws. They are computer stupid. I got an email the other day asking how to open a zip file without WinZip installed. *sigh* Before I gave the computer to them, I made a ghost image and burned it to a DVD marked "Initial computer configuration -- Use to restore system". That was just for the worst case scenario that things are just too broke for me to help with over the phone. Since I hate hate hate phone support (worked a helpdesk for long enough, thank you very much), I inst
  • Less Harsh... (Score:3, Informative)

    by evilviper (135110) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @02:50AM (#15809753) Journal
    I'm tired of digging in the registry, checking the processes for spyware, and all that. I have also tried to educate her about how to use a computer intelligently, but she seems to lack common sense when it comes to what software is suspicious and bloated, and what is trustworthy.

    Assuming every other comment here is jumping to the wrong conclusion... Perhaps your sister is incompotent, ignorant, and frustrated, rather than actually evil and malicious?

    For the most illiterate of computer users, I've found that making shortcuts to the important maintenance apps (antispyware, antivirus, defrag, Windows update, etc.) in a single "Monthly Maintenance" folder on the desktop, and replacing the IE icon with a link to Firefox (perhaps named "Internet Explorer", with the IE icon, in the worst cases) solves all the ignorance and incompotence problems. Now, if person X won't do that simple and basic task every month, THEN you can really assume the worst, and dump them on their ass (for their own good, as much as yours) as every other comment here has suggested.

    She blames the computer I built [...] yet it works flawlessly once I start using her old computer after she has upgraded.

    That one I can't account for. You really need to find out what the problem is. Arogance and condecention can cause intelligent people to ignore REAL problems, just because the user's poor description of the problem happens to sound dubious.

    The ONE THING this sounds similar to, is people not knowing the difference between a Network/Website problem, and a computer problem. I find it's absolutely necessary to explain that things that happen while using the internet are NOT computer problems, and may solve themselves in a few days. That takes care of the ads that look like pop-up system error messages...

  • Always breaking "PC"? You misspelled "Windows". Sift this discussion for tips on how to stop enabling your sister's and the monopoly's tyrannical behavior. Use Linux, MacOS, or extreme policy. Tough love.
  • You're enabling bad behavior. Tell your sister to take care of her PC herself. Problem solved.

  • I'm thinking with the reasonable power of current machines plus half a gig or more of RAM, a base VM of Windows+all applications, with daily or weekly revert to the stored copy. Data can be stored on a separate drive. New applications will be wiped out automatically, clean registry, etc.

    This might be easier and cheaper (in time and money) than any other solution, especially given that VMWare has a free version. Given one of the newer Intel processors with hardware virtualization support, Xen + a windows VM
  • Ok, this might sound a little mean, but it DOES work. If you always help people as soon as they have a problem, they'll never work things out for themselves. They go into Moron Mode and stop thinking.

    The best way, is to either say you can't help, or offer to help but you can't do it yet. If you leave it just about long enough, they'll have worked it out for themselves by the time you get there. Most problems are usually user error, rather than a fault with the PC. If you get there and they still have the fa
  • There's a free full version of Corel Photopaint for Linux. It's from the Corel Draw 9 package (the best CD imho). I bought a commercial licence of the entire package and it's still the best design package that runs on Linux. Somewhere there must still be a download of Corel Photopaint for Linux, look around.
    Mac OS X + Mac Mini. Problem solved.

    No matter what you do, your sister should show you some respect.
  • 1. For *everyone* who wants you to fix their PC, push Linux. Hard. My kids use Linux for all their IM, surfing, homework, downloading etc., and I'd devote 10% of the time maintaining their PC compared to when they used Windows.
    2. If they insist on Windows, consider whether you want come back again in 6 months when "your fix didn't work". Think hard about this; it's as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow...
    3. Ignore all requests except from family members. "Sorry, I don't do my 9-5 job at home" wil
  • Get a Mac (Score:3, Informative)

    by skinfitz (564041) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @08:59AM (#15810668) Journal
    I talked my mother into switching from XP to an iMac just over a year ago.

    Only problem she's had since was a full mailbox at her ISP.

    I'm sick of supporting Microsoft's problems - whenever people ask me for advice these days my answer is simply 'buy a Mac'. When they go and buy a PC instead because they think it's cheaper in the short term, afterwards when they come to me complaining about problems x/y/z I feel quite justified when I say - 'If you don't want to take my advice that's fine, but why is this now my problem?'
  • The old-time reporter called this kind of story an "Evergreen."

    Something for the dog days of summer when the mind goes blank, the boss needs filler, and it is too damn hot to think.

    The piece writes itself, it draws the predictable response, and everyone goes home happy.

  • To invoke the old saying, stop giving them fish. Removing spyware isn't rocket science in most cases. Tell them you are busy and give them detailed isntructions on how to run antispyware. Tell them to try that and if it doesn't work to get back with you.
  • You wanna install Linux? Oh man. For crying out loud, GET THEM A MAC!

    whj
  • If you're serious about helping her out, and feel like going through the brain damage, make sure you install some sort of reasonably secure remote access software - so when she claims "it's not working" you can SEE what's going on in the GUI.

    It truly sounds like your sister may just be one of those people who aren't meant for computers. There are people that shouldn't drive, people that shouldn't be in a kitchen cooking, people who shouldn't be allowed to get anywhere near houseplants, and yes...

    People who

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