Letters To The Editor

August 11, 2007

Dear Ol' Dad Got a New Computer... With Linux

Back in the 20th century, my dad took notice of all the commotion about this newfangled thing call the Internet, and decided he wanted to see what it was all about. Being retired and in his 70's at the time, he wanted to make sure he didn't turn into an "old fogey" and get left behind. He bought what was then a fairly high end home computer - a 350MHz Pentium II, with 64MB (count 'em, 64MB) RAM, and a huge 6GB hard drive, running Windows 98SE. He had been using it ever since... until recently, that is.

During our conversations over Mothers' Day dinner, he mentioned that he hadn't turned the thing on for six weeks. Seems it just wasn't any fun anymore. With all the necessary anti-virus and anti-spyware software running, coupled with the huge downloads of signature updates that greeted him at every boot, it was taking forever just to get to a usable desktop. Couple that with a slow dialup account trying to load web pages that were by now much more content heavy than back in the old days, and the once fun and exciting Internet experience had turned to drudgery. And then there was the spam...

He told me it was time to either do something different, or get out. So that's when I made my pitch:

I told him that if he got himself hooked up to a high speed connection, that I would fix him up with a new computer, running Linux, that would be faster, be just as easy to use as his old one, and wouldn't be vulnerable to viruses and spyware and all that nonsense. And that we'd take care of his spam problem, too.

The old goof took me up on it! A week or so after we'd talked, he called me to say that he'd ordered DSL, and that the kit would be delivered within the week. It was time for me to make good on my promise.

Hardware wasn't a problem - I have a collection of old, "obsolete" computers that I've rescued from the landfill or been given directly. I've taken to refurbishing these old machines, upgrading their hardware with pieces from other old machines that I've cannibalized, and finding good homes for them. Dad was to become the proud owner of an old Dell PIII/700MHz, with 384MB RAM, and a 13GB hard drive. What I had to do was decide on the particular flavor of Linux operating system I wanted to put on it.

I've been dabbling in Linux for over two years now, and recently made a wholesale transition to desktop Linux for my personal computing environment. I'm no guru, but what I am able to do is install and configure most any mainstream distribution. Believe me, I've tried a bunch, and have come to the conclusion that for the unsophisticated home user looking to transition from Windows you can't beat PCLinuxOS. I won't bother you with all the technical details - suffice it to say that PCLinuxOS looks, acts, and feels like Windows, only better.

That's what he got - a PCLinuxOS Linux computer, set up for basic email, Internet, and word processing. The high speed connection setup was automagic - once the DSL modem was configured (which did require using Windows, but blame that on AT&T, not Linux), PCLinuxOS connected immediately on the first boot. The icing on the cake was when I crossed my fingers and went to set up his old Lexmark printer, and it was already there!

What followed was a short session that consisted of showing him what buttons to click to do what -- "click this button to go on the Internet", "click this button to read your email", and "click this button to write letters". That's been it.

He's been on his own for a month now. So far, so good. You must understand that my dad barely knew how to operate his old Windows computer - he never learned to save documents (all those scathing Letters to the Editor got printed and snail-mailed), never learned how to use the Internet Explorer Favorites, and never learned how to use the Address Book in Outlook Express. He actually is the perfect candidate for desktop Linux, as he doesn't have any ingrained expectations about how a computer should behave. I'm encouraged by the fact that he recently said he'd spent two hours reading sports blogs just that day, and then asked me how to find the Daily Kos. I've gotten two "support" calls so far, both having to do with setting up his Address Book. He's got the hang of it now.

Once again, you may ask "what's the point?" There are several, but for the purposes of this essay, I'll be brief and leave it at this:

Desktop Linux is ready. If Dad can do it, anybody can.

Mark Warner
Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Thanks for the inspirational story Mark. Many of us have similar stories, but few of us have put them into words as succinctly as you.


I would like to thank you guys for publishing the magazine that you do. I've taken a look at it from time and time and have been very impressed with the heart-felt stories being told by living, breathing, everyday people. I think you might find this tidbit interesting. I have been distro-hopping for quite some time now. The purpose: find the distro that would work right for me as I am working on THE *NIXED REPORT, the online magazine. Debian 4.0 Etch almost became the main distro of choice. Almost. There was one thing holding it back: Skype 1.4 beta. I did not wish to use that version of Skype as I figured out very quickly that it had tremendous problems (i.e. sounding like a tin can, etc...). 1.3 works perfectly, but skype.com never offered 1.3 at that point... it was either 1.4 or don't bother at all.

I also do a radio show and podcast with my co-host Justin Breithaupt of mindblowingidea.com. For that reason, I have chosen the main distro for business related things: PCLinuxOS 2007. Not only does it work very well, but it also detects my media card reader, external drives (hard drive and DVD-burner), and my HP scanner/copier/printer. Finally, there is a copy of Skype 1.3 in the PCLinuxOS repositories. Thanks so much for offering an excellent publication, and may there be many more issues to come. :)

Thomas Holbrook II
Founder and Editor in Chief
THE *NIXED REPORT: Unix and Overlooked Pop Culture

Thank you very much Mr. Holbrook for your inspirational letter. The staff and myself greatly appreciate when someone has found value in our labors, as do the development team.