Planning for OS update to my 84-year old mothers PC

I plan to update all the operating systems in my mother’s ancient PC during the month of November. Her PC is an old Dell Dimensions 2100, with a 900 MHz CPU and 512MB of RAM.

While I live in Europe, my mother lives in Canada, so I don’t visit often. In October she is moving from one province in Canada to another, and hence when I visit in November I have a week to setup her PC in her new place, setup her internet connection in the new place, and update all the OS on her PC. Currently her PC has 3 boot partitions :

  • WinME (no longer bootable as it is virus infected and it has been removed from grub boot menu by me)
  • WinXP (mother told me earlier this week that it is now incredibly slow - possibly virus infected)
  • openSUSE-11.1 with KDE3 (which still runs very very well)
    Plus her PC has a 4th data partition (and also the standard Linux swap, and separation of / and /home into different partitions).

I currently maintain her openSUSE-11.1 from Europe, using nx, vnc, and ssh. I setup her router some time back to allow access. I’ve been doing this remote mainenance for a number of years now.

Last week my wife and I shipped our used 80GB external hard drive to my mother from Europe (about 10 euros to ship). This external drive is cigarette pack size. The intent is she plug it in to her PC when it is booted to Linux, and I’ll then take over her PC from Europe, and backup all data to the external hard drive. Then she removes the external drive, and carrys it with her during the move. That way if her PC gets damaged in the move (by the movers), her data is all backed up.

I’m thinking of reformatting her PC hard drive completely, and putting a dual boot with

  • winXP in one boot partition, and
  • openSUSE-11.3 KDE4 on the other partition, and
  • a 3rd partition for data (FAT32 formatted)

Her PC has old Intel graphic hardware so I’m a bit worried about Linux graphic compatibility. I’m also a bit worried that she will struggle with KDE4 (after her having used KDE3 for years) but we will see. She is pretty adaptable and I can align/label the desktop icons to make the KDE4 desktop look close to the KDE3 desktop. I considered installing LXDE on my mother’s desktop, but LXDE is missing a feature that my mother REALLY likes, which is being able to easily drag and drop items on to the desktop. LXDE is complex for that, and NOT 84-year old mother friendly there. Thats unfortunate, as LXDE is much faster (than KDE4) when there is only 512MB of RAM.

I’m a bit puzzled how to setup her WinXP. My wife normally handles that, but my wife failed to setup her PC during the last 2 visits so we could remotely access my mother’s PC via the WinXP remote desktop. I don’t think I can rely on my wife to dig up an answer here. The problem was even though the router was properly setup, the ZoneAlarm Firewall my wife put on the PC (on WinXP) blocked our dynamic IP access. We don’t have a static IP and using Free Domain Name Services does NOT help in a case like this. Teaching my mother how to edit the WinXP ZoneAlarm access-menu’s each time our IP address changes did not work - the winXP ZoneAlarm menus are simply too complex for an 84-year old. I asked my wife to try and locate a different free firewall for WinXP that provides the superior user friendliness of the openSUSE firewall in this specific area but she has not - and I don’t expect she will find anything.

Now remotely accessing the Linux boot partition from a continent away has never been a problem so I have no worries there with Linux.

I also need to setup printer, scanner, webcam, … etc … the usual stuff. :slight_smile:

What makes this critical is it MUST work reliably when I have finished, as my being a continent away means if it breaks, I can not get there to fix it, and no one else in the family knows how (to fix PCs at this level).

We also may leave our old Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo 7400M laptop with either my mother or my sister, so that if my mother’s desktop finally dies, there is the laptop as a backup. Which means I also have to setup that laptop for remote access.

So it looks like I have an interesting time ahead planning everything.

Very enlightening. Could you keep us informed as to your progress? I for one, could use details in order to help distant friends, and I am sure there are others in a similar situation.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Looks like a real challenge.

Just one comment:
You may consider teamviewer for remote access to the windows xp (it can be
set up to start automatically with windows). Our helpdesk uses it at work,
the linux version (it uses wine internally it is not really native) works
flawless with connections from linux to windows and is fast (the linux
version is a beta version but I did not notice any instability until now
when helping others on windows machines including xp, vista and win 7 in our
For private users it is free of charge.

Wow, the mother with the best IT support in the world, I’m sure. :good:

Thanks for that suggestion. I note this on the teamviewer website:

Works behind firewalls

The major difficulties in using remote control software are firewalls and blocked ports, as well as NAT routing for local IP addresses. If you use TeamViewer you don’t have to worry about firewalls: TeamViewer will find a route to your partner.
Thats a MAJOR advantage and hence I’ll push my wife to look into this as a priority item !

Another cross-platform (Java based) remote app is yuuguu. Free for personal use.

Thanks, I’ll take a look at that : yuuguu web site

… of course having remote control software is not the issue with WinXP … the issue is the Zone Alarm firewall on my mother’s PC blocks our access. This is not a problem for someone more computer literate than my mother, but it is a problem for my mother and her PC. Given the suceptibility of MS-Windows to virus, we do not like the option of switching OFF the firewall. Teamviewer made a claim about functionality behind firewalls (that I plan to check out) , I note yugguu makes no such claim … so thats a consideration. Still, all suggestions are worth considering as I still have time to prepare (early Nov being over a couple of months away).

I think yuuguu works in a similar way to Skype, either by UDP hole punching or a relay. As such it should work behind a firewall. I’ve used it to remotely access a desktop where both of us were behind NAT router/firewalls.

ken yap wrote:

> I think yuuguu works in a similar way to Skype, either by UDP hole
> punching or a relay. As such it should work behind a firewall. I’ve used
> it to remotely access a desktop where both of us were behind NAT
> router/firewalls.
That yuuguu sounds interesting, next time I have to give one of my windows
relatives support I will give it a try to see how it works.
(I mentioned elsewhere that I started to refuse to help windows users, but
the reality is sometimes … let’s say different if these people are friends
or belong to the family, maybe some time in the future I can convert them to
something that works).

+1 for teamviewer, my MIL is running 11.3 Gnome on her notebook as well
as XP Pro. Have yet to use it except to login remotely as a test. It
also have VOIP as well…

It has spent more time running linux than XP to date as well… :wink:

Cheers Malcolm °¿° (Linux Counter #276890)
openSUSE 11.3 (x86_64) Kernel 2.6.34-12-default
up 9 days 23:29, 2 users, load average: 0.00, 0.03, 0.00
GPU GeForce 8600 GTS Silent - Driver Version: 256.44

Howdi! Your mom rocks. She got the best IT in openSUSE world. My 84 neighbor can’t drive now for three months because of his worsening cataract to think that he had just won twice in the lottery scratch crossword one 25 grand Canadian & 50 grand Canadian last summer and now he is even struggling to read the letters he is scratching in the Canadian lottery crossword scratch card.

You can try xfce in your mothers computer, very simple to dump file on desktop or /home using thunar.

My wife was keen to try out Teamviewer last night (during a quiet midnight shift). So just before I went to bed she called me on the phone, and she asked I install it on the Windoze partition of PC of mine (ie a PC with a Windows boot partition), so she could test it from work. In the middle of my trying to install TeamViewer she called me back and said, forget trying to test tonight. Turns out no sooner had she started it up on an OfficePC, than Norton Anti-Virus ( ? ) on the office PC raised an alarm about an unauthorized application being installed on the PC at the office, and Norton immediately removed it from the office PC ! rotfl!

… which was just as well, as it took me 2.5 hours to install it on my WinXP partition. Now that time was NOT the fault of TeamViewer. Note I always boot to WinXP with massive trepidation. And it Turns out I have not booted WinXP on this PC (my athlon-2800) for over a year ! What happened to me was as soon as I flashed up WinXP was the mouse did not work. No mouse.

So I ran across the apartment and grabbed our laptop bag, pulled out its mouse, ran back to the PC, and plugged it in. That mouse worked. Then puzzled for 5 minutes trying to figure out why the 1st mouse did not work via a KVM. Eventually I got it working, only to have the mouse cursor freeze on me a few minutes later. Again, plug in the laptop mouse, get the KVM mouse working, and finally this time it stayed functional.

But when I launched FireFox on WinXP, Firefox came up in German language! Then I recalled over a year ago I leant my computer to a Thai friend of my wife’s and her German husband. Naturally they would tune everything to the German language. So I had to find the WinXP language settings, which for a Windows challenged person like me was a struggle. But that was not all, even after changing the language settings in WinXP, Firefox menu’s were still in German. So I concluded it was a German version.

I removed the German language Firefox, and then with MS-Explorer went to the Firefox web site to download English language Firefox. But I must have clicked on the wrong link for MS-Explorer as it then wanted to install Outlook express. I nixed that, but then Zone Alarm complained it was in desperate need of an update, and if I did not update Zone Alarm immediately I would get some virus it made reference to.

By then I had Firefox up and running but as soon as it started, it complained Adobe Flash MUST be installed. So I started that, but it did not work, until I realized Firefox had blocked the AdobeFlash website download popup. Hence disable that, try again and AdobeFlash installation started with various Firefox restarts. It was around this time when Outlook Express again wanted to install. Clearly my previous nix attempt was inadequate, so again I nix’ed Outlook Express’s install attempt (hopefully for good this time). With a now functioning Firefox, I told Zone Alarm to go ahead and download an update. … mind you that was only after navigating through a number of somewhat tricky web pages trying to download the commercial version of Zone Alarm instead.

But once ZoneAlarm was downloaded, I had no idea where it went. Turns out in all the excitement I forgot to tell Firefox where to download files (this can happen to Linux users also) but in this case, I am so pathetic with Windoze I have no idea where this Windoze download directory is. So instead I edited Firefox settings to ASK me where to download files, and I downloaded ZoneAlarm a second time to a location where I knew I could find the ZoneAlarm update executeable. Of course, I had to navigate again through all the ZoneAlarm attempts to trick me to install their commercial version.

So eventually (over 45 minutes later) Adobe Flash was installed and the download of Zone complete. I clicked on the ZoneAlarm update, and it started installing and after an even longer time, with some warnings about the old ZoneAlarm (?) being shutdown because of the new, I was told to restart the PC. … So I restart the PC, but this time as soon as the reboot was complete, the AVG anti-virus complained it was out of date. … BUT Zone Alarm was not finished, as it then wanted to scan the PC to see how it should treat all the programs on the PC. So that process started, while AVG started downloading its update. Finally Zone Alarm finished its scan (now over 1 hour from first start) but no indication of what AVG was doing although it did say it would update, and ZoneAlarm was complaining of AVG activities on the web (forcing me to look them up … what did they mean ?? ) … so presumably somewhere in the background quietly ?? … some trust/faith on my part was needed here.

… but never mind waiting for AVG, I went to the TeamViewer web site, and downloaded their MS-Windows version. But no AVG to scan it for virus.

So I then, low on faith/trust, started navigating the AVG anti-virus menu’s to figure out what it was up to. After 10 minutes of that I finally got it to show it was not yet in the middle of a large download of an update. Now I have a VERY fast Internet connection, but it took an HOUR to download the AVG update. Incredibly slow from their site.

We are now well over 2 hours after my wife’s 1st request asking me to install TeamViewer. Finally AVG was happily updated, and I was then able to scan the TeamViewer executable for Trojan’s/Virus. None ! I clicked on the TeamViewer executable to install and I was immediately hit by ZoneAlarm warnings. Time then spent looking those up. And I struggled a bit navigating TeamViewer’s options, although overall I have to say its menu is reasonably good. I’m simply pathetic with Windoze as the philosophy is so different from Linux.

In the end, almost 2.5 hours later, it appears I ‘might’ have this PC setup for TeamViewer. [Note I can setup a PC for openSUSE Linux in a FRACTION of that time]. Maybe we will try later from one of our laptops, but I’ll let the wife install TeamViewer on XP in that laptop. Note I said ‘let the wife’ install … my Windoze patience has been tested … ::stuck_out_tongue:

I then left the PC running (WinXP) and via my KVM went back to my Linux PCs (one running LXDE and the other KDE4). Finally, as it was early in the morning now, I woke up at my chair, realized I had fallen asleep in front of the computer, so I went to shut down the WinXP on the PC for the night. I was told it would NOT shutdown now and I was NOT to shut it down now. It had 52 updates to install !! …

Me, I’ve had enough of Windoze for this weekend. rotfl!

Thats food for thought. … I’m afraid the xfce layout is so different (re:start menu) that my mother may struggle there. But I do note xfce is available as a liveCD for openSUSE-11.3 with download directory here: Index of /repositories/X11:/xfce/images/iso

Well, lots to suggest here like a motherboard and memory but keep it simple.
Optional and not too time consuming -
You can get a motherboard+cpu for $60USD with integrated audio and HDMI video from the USA maybe get it shipped to Canada. Another $40-85USD for DDR2 1-2GB memory and she’d have an updated PC capable of running everything. AMD and Intel ship with stock cpu fans so make sure its not OEM cpu.

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Also, some decent used PC are for sale cheap, check eBay and Craigslist.

Agreed only dual boot. Only WinXP SP3 is supported by Microsoft, ie, WinME was a disaster when released, so, suggest only WinXP updating to SP3 and openSUSE 11.2 or 11.3.
WinXP also uses less memory than WinVista and Win 7, but almost every application works with WinXP.

I question the need for a 4th partition (Fat32), especially with ntfs-3g and Ext2IFS that you can setup to read/write NTFS files or EXT3/4 files. You have the portable hard drive that can be used for backup or additional storage after vacation. Personally DVD-RW backups work for data files. While in Win 7 I can read and execute files from /home and when in openSUSE 11.1 I can read C: and all directories below and whatever folders I’ve chosen to share/mount.

KISS. She knows KDE3 a change to KDE4 might not be noticeable but … A switch to LXDE wouldn’t be keeping it simple.

I’m using OpenDNS for my portal but I hear Norton started its free public beta DNS service. It provides recursive DNS for home users.
**Norton DNS Beta: **Norton DNS Public Beta ** ****and **
Open DNS: OpenDNS | Internet Navigation And Security ** and **

I’ve dropped Zone Alarm a few years ago for the **free Comodo Internet Security **(firewall, program execution, anti-virus) which has a slight learning curve but uses much less resources. Likewise Avast A-V for my anti-virus although you can use Comodo.

Firewall Antivirus Software Free Download from Comodo™

HP’s inexpensive printer, scan, copier (and fax) has worked really good for me. The HP drivers for openSUSE 11.x work much better than the Windows drivers and software. Much better :). Other benefits for inexpensive HP PSCs is the ink lasts, also inexpensive and easy maintenance.

My webcam is an old Logitech but it works with openSUSE and Win XP - Win 7.

… indeed, tarapharazon excellent suggestions. In fact if one looks at my mothers 9-year old Dell PC, only the motherboard, case, powersupply, and floppy driver are the same as they were 9 years ago. Hard drive, RAM, CD drive, and Monitor have all been replaced. But each time the replacement was done under the glare of an unhappy mother who wanted nothing changed on her PC … Conversation would go like

oldcpu: " But mom, even old cars need replacement parts " …

momcpu: " If my car is so bad that the engine needs replacing I’ll buy a new car ! "

oldcpu: " ok … we can do that, … there is this great deal on a computer … "

momcpu (interrupting): " … Is the engine BROKE and drive train BROKE ??? "

oldcpu: " huhh ??? "

momcpu : " … Is the engine and the drive train BROKE ??? "

oldcpu " … you mean the motherboard and CPU ? "

momcpu : " OLDCPU !! (almost yelling) … If it ain’t broke ! Don’t fix it !! Oldcpu if you touch anymore hardware on that PC - I’ll never speak to you again ! … "

oldcpu: " But … "

momcpu: " OLDCPU I’m warning you !! " (shaking her finger).

End of discussion and 84-year old momcpu wins ! (again). :frowning:

So buying a new hardware is ONLY possible if the movers break the PC … hmm … which gives me a wicked idea ! :slight_smile:

Yep been there.
Image the switch to LXDE!!
She might go for an upgrade if you talk her into starting now, especially from a more memory, easier to use on the cpu, ie, tune up not replacement. After a week of using it she won’t complain.

OTOH, a 9 y/o Dell doesn’t strike me as a motherboard upgrade candidate. You’ll have to check the specs with Dell Online to see if its a generic case and motherboard. PC133 512mb costs as much as 1Gb DDR2.

That leaves new or used PC and PartitionMagic, because I think shipping one already setup from Germany is more costly, even as luggage.

Good point.

Thinking back, I first created the FAT32 back before we had the NTFS-3G driver. Now adays NTFS-3G is widespread and reliable. There is no need for an extra FAT32 partition.

Aligned there !

If LXDE allowed easily dropping icons on the desktop I might consider it, but its a more convoluted process to put icons on an LXDE desktop, and hence I think KDE4 will be less of a shock when migrating from KDE3. I’ll put the EXACT same icons on her new KDE4 that she has on KDE3 (with same wall paper, etc … ) such that the differences will be minor. My wife will also do the same with the replacement winXP, such that the winXP and KDE4 desktops will look reasonably similar (as much as too vastly different OS can be).

I had dyndns setup for my mothers PC for sometime, with a cron job updating her IP address to an (or something like that) for a while, but the cron job stopped working over a year ago (even though nothing changed) and I have not been able to figure out why.

So instead I put a big firefox icon on her desktop with the label “ip-address” and when clicked firefox is launched, and it goes direct to a web site with her “ip-address” in big letters across the firefox window. So when I want to access her PC, I ask her to email me her ip-address. She knows to click on that icon, and get her IP-address, and she even knows her IP-address is a changing address on the Internet where I can find her computer.

Thanks !! I’ll look that up.

Aligned !! Over a year ago we purchased an HP-Desktop F4280 for my mother (printer, scanner, copier) and my mother loves it!

My mother has an old Intel webcam. It stopped working a year ago. I don’t know why and I can’t get my hands on it being over 5000 miles away. I’ll check it out when I get to Saskatchewan (in Canada) and possibly purchase a new webcam for her.

I probably need to research webcams. My mother liked the old Intel webcam, because it had a small sliding door over the lens, that she kept shut most the time, so no one would see her if they hacked into her computer ! rotfl!

My wife told me earlier this evening she wants to try Teamviewer again.

She is on shift this weekend, where most of her time is spent baby sitting hardware and software with long hours of nothing happening. So her plan is to take our 1.5 year old Dell Studio 1537 to the office, use the office wireless for “guests”, and try to access from that laptop, to the winXP partition (with TeamViewer) that I setup at home on one of my older PCs. It will be an interesting trial ! :slight_smile:

It it works, this could be our preferred method for maintaining my mothers winXP partition.

I turn my web cam so it faces a wall and not me!!

My wife and I tried TeamViewer today with my mother’s PC a continent away. Previous to that attempt, we installed TeamViewer on our ancient Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo 7400M laptop (while runing its winXP partition) and in a test with both my wife and I at home, via the TeamViewer website I logged on to that laptop of my wifes from my desktop openSUSE-11.2 PC (my Core i7 920) using firefox (via the TeamViewer website)! ie we were about 5 meters away from each other for that test.

So next with my 84-year old mother’s help, we installed Teamviewer5 on her winXP partition, this time a continent away (ie from 5 meters to > 5,000 miles). First I logged on to my mother’s openSUSE partition (via vnc) from my openSUSE PC, and downloaded the MS-Windows version of Teamviewer on to my mother’s PC, but instead of saving in her openSUSE, I copied it to her winXP partition desktop folder (thanks to NTFS-3G providing write permissions). I then rebooted her PC from openSUSE to winXP and had my mother launch tightvnc from her winXP PC (I have it as an icon on her winXP destkop). Now tightvnc has never worked well on her winXP PC, as its too slow, taking about 60 seconds for a single screen refresh. But despite being slow, I was able to connect to her WinXP tightvnc session with my openSUSE-11.2 PC (again, my Core i7) and it gave enough information to guide her in installing Teamview. When she was puzzled over a Teamviewer installation menu selection, she just needed to wait a couple of minutes for my vnc connection to update with a display of her winXP screen, and I could then give her guidance. In the end, success, she had teamview installed, she gave me her ID and password, and we logged on via Teamviewer (again, I was using my openSUSE Linux PC to work on her winXP desktop). Its MUCH MUCH faster than the unworkable vnc.

However we did struggle with the mouse-click. It did NOT work well under the java/flash and basically teamviewer5 was not workable for most of what we wanted to do if menus of mouse clicking were involved. Its only real advantage was its speed relative to vnc and its ability to seemlessly go thru the firewalls. …

So we may try different software. A possibility is we may use teamviewer to walk my mother through opening up zone alarm firewall, so we can then connect via the nominal Remote Desktop.

In conclusion, we have not fully succeeded yet, but progress is being made.