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.