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+ - Ask slashdot: Remote support for disconnected, computer-illiterate relatives.

Submitted by Anonymous Coward
An anonymous reader writes "I use email to communicate with my folks overseas. Their "ISP" only allows dial-up access to their email account (there is no option of chaning ISP), that can receive messages no larger than 1MB nor hold more than 15MB (no hope of changing that either). They are computer-illiterate, click on everything they receive, and take delight on sending their information to any nigerian prince that contacts them, "just in case this one is true". Needless to say, thir PC is always full of viruses and spyware. In my next yearly visit, instead of just cleaning it up, I'd like to gift them with some "hardened" PC to use for email only that would hopefully last the year before someone has to fix it. So far, these are the things I have in mind:
  • Some kind of linux distro, or maybe even mac. Most viruses over there are windows only and propagate via Autorun.inf or by email attachments, not having Windows could prevent both.
  • Some desktop environment that hides anything unrelated to connecting to the net and accessing their account (dial-up software, email client, web browser, exchanging files between their hard disk/email attachments and USB drives). By "hide", I just want the rest to be out of the way, but not entirely removed, so that if necessary, I can guide them over the phone. For this, Ubuntu's Unity seems like a particularily bad solution, but a Gnome desktop with non-removable desktop shortcuts (is this possible?) for the file manager, browser, email client and dial-up program could work. An android system is unlikely to work (they have no wifi, and they were utterly confused with Android's UI).
  • This could be a life saver: some kind of extension to the email client that executes commands on specially formated emails (e.g., signed with my private key), so that I can do some basic diagnostics or install extra software if I have to. This las point is important: they currently rely on aquaintances who may not be competent (they can't evaluate that) if something happens between my visits. They, most likely, wont know how to deal with anything non-windows, so all tech support would fall on me. (This is the reason I haven't moved them from windows yet.)
  • Another very useful extension would be something to automatically re-assemble attachments split into several emails, to overcome the 1MB message limit.

Does any of that exist? If I have to build that system myself (or parts of it), do you have other suggestions? For the inevitable and completely reasonable suggestion of getting someone competent for tech support: I've tried that too. The competent ones don't last beyond the third visit."

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead

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