The Back Story

Since I am the token computer scientist of my family, of course everyone comes to me for all their computer problems, which most of the time is due to spyware/malware. It happens. I get it, despite my best efforts it happens. I tell them to use Firefox, someone slips up and uses Internet Explorer the one day they go to a bad site. Even if they use Firefox, someone downloads something and runs it there-by borking (technical term) their system. Files get deleted, changed, what have you. Things just go wrong. Yes it is ultimately the user’s fault, however I do believe the operating system takes some of the blame for allowing things like this to be done in the first place. Well it has come to that time again for format another laptop and reinstall everything. Fine. I don’t mind it at all. They are family. However I am not going to just reinstall Windows again. It is time for an experiment. This time I am going to install Ubuntu 8.04.

Here’s the experiment: take a family that has been using a Windows-based computer for about two years and no real affinity for how things are done and throw them into the world of safe computing with Ubuntu. Can it work? Has Ubuntu finally gotten to a point of maturity where anyone can start using it comfortably? Drivers won’t be an issue other than the first initial install since nothing will be upgraded on the laptop. And here’s to hoping that Ubuntu picks everything up from the get-go. The only important thing is the wireless adapter which Ubuntu 7.10 (on a live cd) picked up. The video card is some on board trashy one so that really is a non-issue.

The Preparation

I asked my little cousin to write down a list of things he and his father do on the computer. His father doesn’t do anything more than check his web-based email, and play PartyPoker (both can be done within the browser), so that is taken care of. However my cousin, being (of this writing) 10 years old, is the more technical one in his family and by that, I mean uses the computer the most and can figure out what to do when I tell him things over the phone. He plays his flash-based games, and thankfully there is a decent Flash plug-in, school work which Open Office can take care of and load up his Ipod which I guess (but I’ve never used) gtkpod takes care of. I have yet to check the list myself, but I don’t foresee it being a huge problem. If worse comes to worse, Wine is at a fairly mature level and will suffice. But lets not jump the gun yet.

The list will be what I base my install and configuration on. I hope to get everything set up on Thursday (2008-04-24) night since that is the release day of Ubuntu 8.04 with LTS. Then give it back this weekend and spend a few hours helping everyone get accustomed to the new operating system. If all goes well, I shouldn’t need to touch their computer again for at least 3 years. But we’ll see.

One thing I would love set up is a VPN solution so that if need be, I can ssh into the computer over the vpn. Unless their internet goes down, I should never really need to leave my house to solve their problems. I have OpenWRT installed on my Linksys WRT54GL so it would be nice to be able to take leverage that of that and the vpn to accomplish this.