What makes you say that Blue Iris is free, is their website incorrect in stating that the LE version costs $30 and the full version costs $50? Or do you mean it is free for the 15 day trial period, which might be all the poster needs?
Firebug works fine on FF 5-12.
Can anyone share their opinion on using robocalls for things like Appointment Reminders, or for a public library letting you know that the book you requested is in or that a book is overdue. Are those valid uses?
Thanks for taking the time to compose all this, I think you point out some interesting situations. I would like to suggest a few things that may help out, although they all have their drawbacks so you might have already dismissed them.
Win xp comes with the shutdown.exe program which can be used both locally by the user (A shortcut on the desktop to shut down the machine) or via the task scheduler to shut down at a certain time, or remotely to shutdown other machines that can be reached and authenticated to on the network.
For your users that have trouble with the steps to shut down a computer, you could setup a shortcut that they would just need to double click to start the shutdown process. It sounds like they still might have trouble with double clicking, so maybe you could teach them to click once and then hit enter.
It sounds like you already script shutdowns for linux machines, so you could also try setting up scheduled tasks to shut down on a regular schedule. I don't really like this method because if a user leaves something open that they didn't save, and the force shutdown method is used, they may loose work. You could use the not forced shutdown method, but users might get confused the next day when they need to deal with all sorts of "Close this program?" dialogs, along with needing to restart the machine when they get in, although I think the restart can be canceled at that point.
Both of the options I mentioned so far require that changes be made to each machine. If you use the remote shutdown features you could potentially setup the scheduled shutdown on one of your servers. It depends on how your user accounts/authentication is setup though. By default windows only allows administrators to remotely shut down a machine, but that can be changed via gpedit.msc. ( Computer Config - Windows Settings - Security Settings - Local Policies - User Rights - Force shutdown from a remote system)
I would take out the step of turning off the power bar, unless there is really a good reason for it. If you did that then you could use WOL to start machines in the morning. Just start them all 30 minutes before someone normally comes in. Also, many newer bios versions have the ability to just setup a regularly scheduled start time, but that takes setting it up on each machine again, unless you use dell openmanage or something equivalent that lets you manage bios settings for all your machines.
The thing that I like about WOL is that anyone can run it. If you have one staff member that gets in early, just add a little WOL script to his computers startup folder, every time he starts his machine, he can start up all the machines in his department. When there is a holiday, he won't be in, so the machines won't get started. Of course, if he is sick, the machines won't get started, but this is just an example.
You should look into use WSUS to manage your windows updates. It sounds like you just have each machine set to download updates from MS and install them. If you used WSUS you could choose when to install updates for the entire organization, or for departments in the org.
Consider this scenario - Patch Tuesday comes around. You approve the updates to a few machines just to test them out. If nothing bad happens to those machines in the next week you approve the updates for all your machines at 9am on Thursday morning. During the day all the machines check in, see that there are updates and download them. You have all the machines set to install updates at 7am on Friday. At 6:45am on fri, you do a system wide WOL, which wakes up all the machines, they install windows updates and reboot and are ready to go for staff that come in at 8am. (The 6:45 time is also a good spot to schedule virus def updates. Adjust the time to fit your bandwidth and machine speed. Maybe it needs to be 4am)
In a not AD environment, setting the windows updates settings takes running gpedit.msc and setting some values on each machine, so again it will take some work. If you deploy common images that would give you a spot to make changes once.
I liked your footnote about your grandma and taking pictures. Sometimes users just don't realize they are doing something, or consider that an integrated part of the task, not something worth mentioning.
If you have any questions, please let me know.