Mumbuntu – A computer for my Mum

For a while now my Mum has wanted a computer. She’s never owned one, and never really used anyone elses computer, not recently anyway.

Nearly 30 years ago I had my first computer, a Sinclair ZX81 that I got for Christmas. Later I had a 16K Sinclair Spectrum that my Mum bought for me. Since then whilst I lived at home, I’ve had various computers including an Amstrad CPC 464, an Epson 8086 PC-AT and an IBM Model 50Z. After that it all goes a bit beige.

Over all that time my Mum has been in awe of computing, and my ability to operate them. She’s expressed an interest in learning more about them, but not enough that she’s sat down and actually done it yet. Every opportunity I’ve tried in the past to introduce computers to my Mum has ended in failure. This was down to a lack of patience on my part and a lack of commitment on my Mums. It was also inconvenient for Mum to use my computer to learn because I only had one, and I was on it all of the time.

She’s not a technical person at all, despite being a GPO Telephonist many years ago. Her role since then has focussed on the home, raising myself and my silblings and providing for us when she and my Father split up. None of her jobs required her to use a computer. Since she retired though, something has rekindled her desire to start using a computer. There have been times over the years when she’s asked me to mail someone for her, buy something online, or look something up for her. She clearly wants the independence to do that for herself.

As I’m the only one of her children that lives nearby, and I’m the geek, it kinda falls to me to help her with this. This is going to take time, effort and quite a bit of patience on my part. Mum has said she wants to ‘do email, a bit of facebook and maybe do some family tree stuff’. “Easy” I think, Ubuntu can do all that (and more), however it’s not as simple as that because there’s some history.

A few years ago my Brother was in a similar position. He wanted a PC so I gave him one with Ubuntu pre-installed. He used it for a year or more for basic web stuff, using email, playing and organising music and photos from his digital camera. However after a while he decided to switch from Ubuntu to Windows XP. I think this partly came down to incompatibility with a few things (although not much) and some pressure from his partner who had a work Windows XP laptop. If my Brother wanted to ask for help he had to ask me, because his partner only knew XP. Given I live 130 miles from him and his partner lives in the same house, it makes sense to him to have support ‘local’.

So I’ve learned a few lessons from that experience. I certainly need the remote support to be top-notch for Mum, although given I live about 4 mins drive (one mile) from her, I can pop round and fix things when they go wrong. If I give Mum Ubuntu then I am the only person she can go to (in her social circle) who can provide help, so I’m really lining my self up for some work over the next year or so, as she gets up to speed. I see my Mum maybe once a week or more, so if she needs to explain stuff to me (or vice versa) we can do that over a cup of tea.

My brother got a new laptop for Christmas, so the old PC I gave him a few years ago is now no longer required. He’s offered that to Mum, so she doesn’t have to spend out on getting a the computer, which helps. He had a local IT company (and friend of theirs) copy his data from the desktop to his new laptop, and ‘clean’ the desktop up for my Mum. So the state of play right now is that there is a Compaq Evo (1.6GHz, 512MB RAM, 250GB HDD) desktop sat at my Mums house, ready for me to take a look at it.

I’d like to install Ubuntu for her – hence the title of this blog post – ‘Mumbuntu’. As a brand new computer user she has no baggage of experience with other platforms, and I know that Ubuntu can do what she’s after. Of course I could just relent and support her on Windows XP. I personally won’t give her Vista or 7 because I don’t have enough experience of it to be useful. I’ve used XP for years at work and in virtual machines at home that I know it well enough to be helpful to her. But it feels like defeat if I give her XP. She’ll have the benefit that others can help her, because XP is so ubiquitous, but I’m not entirely sure that’s actually a good thing…

More on that in the next blog post.

I’ll be tagging all my posts on this subject with ‘mumbuntu‘. So if you’re interested in them but not the other posts in my blog then you can subscribe to the mumbuntu only feed.

18 thoughts on “Mumbuntu – A computer for my Mum”

  1. I sold my mother the idea of Ubuntu a couple of years ago, after a few weeks of her using Vista on a generic HP desktop PC. She’s more than happy with it: it does everything she needs a computer for (internet, email, word processing, skype) and, in her opinion, it looks better and runs much faster than Windows did. No viruses, no crashes, no automatic update reminders insisting on her restarting her machine.

    The only flaw in the diamond was the upgrade from Jaunty to Karmic. The machine start freezing 2 minutes into every boot… this was a bug I tracked down on Launchpad with the motherboard’s specific Intel chipset, and there was no solution apart from disabling Desktop Effects. I’m hoping Lucid has this fixed this one.

    I’ve recommended Ubuntu to many people whole-heartedly, but there’s still a problem with these incidents. They’re infrequent, but often unfixable.

    And remember to tell them to get an Android phone and not an iPhone. It’s Apple’s pig-headedness that’s behind this of course, but it’s an important thing to explain if you’re convincing someone to switch. Thank the gods that there are now decent Android phones out there.

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  2. tired of frequently problems with my parent’s PC (Viruses, crashes, spyware etc.), I installed them Ubuntu 8.04 LTS

    They are quite happy, as in your case they mainly use web and word processing.
    My father complains about the missing of Excel (he didn’t get used with OpenOffice)

    Regarding what joseph said, i sticked on a LTS version in order to avoid such kind of issues.

    The only thing i need is a way to connect remotely to their PC, i’m living 1.5 hours driving from them

    I’m going to follow your post 🙂

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  3. A few years ago I was in the same position with my parents. They live 200 miles from me. So I setup a PC with Ubuntu (DAPPER at that time) and also made sure that I could take over the machine from afar.

    I created large icons on the desktop that served the applications they used. I also created actions lists for specific tasks such as sending an email. This worked very well, and i happily would chat with my parents using Pigeon. He was very happy that his favorite cardgame (windows only) would run under Wine and could be played with ubuntu..

    When I would see that there were updates, I would ssh into their machine and perform an update there too. My father passed away last year and my mother doesn’t want to use the computer, so it just sits there. In the years that they (or my father) used the computer only once I had to take over the machine to solve a problem. All other issues could be solved with a simple chat or email.


  4. I’ve got some success stories with ubuntu and people not so savvy with computers :p
    Story 1:
    My sis-inlaw lives downstairs from me, so, I’ve build an FrankenPC with parts i’v got around the house and installed XP… she couldn’t got a connection to my wireless network… same machine with Ubuntu… et voilá, she was surfing on the tubes!
    Later on, she upgraded the hardware and I’ve installed Vista (She always asked for ms office) and 10 minutes later… “Err… can you install Ubuntu back?” 😀
    Now she has and Ubuntu Desktop and a Win7 laptop with MS Office :p

    Story 2:
    My in-laws live next to me, and my mother-inlaw started to look for a laptop, just for solitaire :p, I’ve suggested a netbook, but she wanted a bigger screen, now… shell out 300eur to play solitaire, that’s plain dumbness, so I’ve got my hand on a old compaq e500, 500MHz… yeah.. for solitaire it’s enough, don’t you think? The last OS she had tried was Windows Me, so the transition to Ubuntu was smooth, now she plays solitaire, my father -inlaw surf the web to find a nice 2nd hand car (my 9 yo daughter teached him that), and rarely I’ve problems with it 🙂

    Story 3:
    This is my unsuccess story, my father! He lives nearby, like your mother, but he’s a thinkerer… but a bad one, and he likes to have the top notch OS, so he thinks, now he wants Win7, but for his needs (casual mailing, web surfing and a little worksheets) Ubuntu is the right way to go… he just don’t know it yet… or learned yet :p Oh well I’ll keep on trying with him 🙂

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  5. you could also look at putting ubuntu netbook remix on the desktop PC. that would make it even easier for her to use, and harder to accidentally screw up.

  6. great post. my mum who is well into her 40s only started using a computer for the first time about two years ago. Sadly back then I was still on Windoze myself. She has a Vista based Lenovo laptop and it works well for her. One thing I will say if you do consider the MS platforms, despite you saying you don’t have enough expierence of Vista or 7, the security on these platforms out the box is far superior to that of XP. Especially if you setup her an account that does not have admin rights. Installing software is easier because it just prompts for the account with admin rights rather than having to log off etc, much like Ubuntu does.

    Security is always the most important thing for an older genreation in my book. facebook is great for them but they won’t be upto speed enough to know about a potential dodgy message sent from a friend claiming to have a video of them in with a URL that leads to some nasty malware. I’ve spent this week alone clearing malware of two of my friends PCs from getting those annoying pop-ups etc claiming to be AV software and then hi-jacking IE.

    I’d probably go down the Ubuntu route first and foremost unless a need for a specific MS platform comes up and even then, there’s always virtual box if your Windows license is legit!

  7. Have you thought about posting your experience with ‘Mumbuntu’ in the Full Circle Magazine. I’m sure the team will embrace this article with open arms!

  8. When my wife got her first computer, I set her up with Ubuntu. She only had a very small experience using a web browser. She’s got email, Mah-jongg, and a blog, and has been happy with it for years now. Just keep it simple for her.

    And set yourself up some support tools, ssh, and vnc. Give her a static ip on her router, and set the router up to publish its IP address where you can find it.

  9. I installed Ubuntu Karmic on my father’s dekstop as well as on my mother’s laptop (which I used to use before I got a new one). In general they’re quite happy with it and their systems don’t get polluted day after day so I don’t have to fix all these issues and clean up everytime I visit them.

    The only thing that’s a real pain in the ass is that sharing their desktop through empathy (jabber) is not working due to a bug in Xorg that I hope will finally be fixed in Lucid.

  10. One click VNC support in Empathy has been wonderful for me. I have a friend in China who I provide occasional support for, and I live on the East coast of the United States.

    When I’m talking to people about Linux, I’m always careful to make sure they have realistic expectations of what the experience will be like. I let them know all of the advantages of Ubuntu, how it differs from Windows, and I warn them that learning a new system is actual work. I also teach them about the VM/dual-boot options for running Windows software.

    There are two types of people who I introduce Linux to: non-geek people who are not afraid of change, and people afraid of computers who need basic web browsing and word processing, who can’t be trusted to maintain Windows. I don’t really bother with people in the middle. With this strategy, I’ve converted a number of people to Linux, with a high success rate.

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  11. I set my family Father, Mother, and Sister’s computer up with Ubuntu 9.10 and I keep it up to date and trouble shoot via ssh. I live in Massachusetts they are in TN.

    There were some initial problems with the video that I found diffucult to fix via shh because I couldn’t see the computer boot up, but otherwise things are going well.

  12. Great post! Looking forward to reading the rest.

    My experience of working with first-time or or not-for-a-long-time computer users is that the choice of operating system is irrelevant. What counts is speed and ease of use. Splashtop on the Asus Eee Box is really good for that!

    My wife uses and prefers Ubuntu on her dual-boot laptop. In fact, she refuses to use Windows Vista because of her fears of viruses etc. and her aversion to the dreaded updates and rebooting. Also, Ubuntu is much faster 😉

    I was going to Ubuntu my Mum, too, but my old desktop, which had been running Ubuntu for me, somehow refused to deal with a fresh install, so she ended up with XP. Generally works fine and on the couple of occasions she’s needed help I had the foresight to install Crossloop on her machine for remote assistance. Mind you, getting her to actually use Crossloop the first time was a bit of an ordeal!

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  13. My mum has an old Toshiba laptop with Xubuntu 9.10 on it, and she absolutely loves it. She’s never used Windows (except years ago on one of my old boxes, but that was just for web surfing)

    I think the only thing she’s ever complained about it that someone couldn’t send her “Winks” over MSN (stupid little Flash emoticon style things) which I, of course, explained are not a good idea anyway. They’re pointless. She shrugged and seems happy enough now.

    Overall, she gets on fine with it, and it’s set up exactly how she likes to use it (shortcuts to “Internet” and “MSN” on the desktop.)

    My other success story would be my grandma who’s really into technology. My grandparents have 3 machines between them (and an iPod touch!). 2 of the machines run Windows and her main desktop runs Ubuntu. At one point she wiped Ubuntu and put XP back on, within 2 weeks she was begging me to re-install Ubuntu. She prefers the games, the way the desktop is laid out and the fact that everything just works better.

    She was confused that when she bought a WiFi USB adapter, the CD that came with it “didn’t work”. Obviously the CD was for Windows machines, which I did explain. Anyway, the device worked straight out of the box, without anything needing to be done. She now loves Ubuntu even more.

  14. Wow, thought I was onto something new, I coined the term mumbuntu a couple of weeks ago when I set up Ubunu UNE 10.04 on a toshy notebook for my mum. Just goes to show, there is nothing new under the sun.

    So, I was not the first to think of it, will still take it as a compliment, that great minds think alike.

    I used remastersys to make a “distro” disc which includes all the setup I have done, just in case mum needs to reinstall, not likely though, as I can “hide” all the sys utils in UNE.

    Gotta love Ubuntu.

  15. We love helping the community, when companies donate their old computers we refurbish them with Ubuntu, there given away to people that have never used a computer, we think that Ubuntu is user friendly and has better protection against spyware and viruses.

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