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Dealing With The Always-Breaking Family PC?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the curse-of-being-the-family-geek dept.


Corby Ziesman asks: "I am sure many on Slashdot are entrusted to maintain computers for their family members. I've built a few computers for my sister over the years; however she constantly complains to me that 'something's wrong' with the computer, and claims that it 'just stopped working' all by itself. She blames the computer I built, calling it 'a piece of crap', yet it works flawlessly once I start using her old computer after she has upgraded. I've considered revoking her access to Windows, and giving her Ubuntu Linux or something, however she has a lot of games and art applications like Corel Painter that require Windows. How do I get her up and running, so that I don't have to keep fixing the computer every month? I'm tired of digging in the registry, checking the processes for spyware, and all that. I have also tried to educate her about how to use a computer intelligently, but she seems to lack common sense when it comes to what software is suspicious and bloated, and what is trustworthy. So I ask the Slashdot community: how do you cope with your family members who have a talent for torturing computers?"

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Replace it (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808221)

Your family, that is.

But serious, look at some sort of OS imaging system. VMWare, Deep Freeze, a Live CD, etc. Then just create an area where they can save data. If they need new applications, you add them to the image.

Re:Replace it (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808346)

all of those do not work well with pc's games VMWare has no 3d. Deep Freeze will have to updated every time there is a new game update and any type of on line games is worse as they need to down load maps and other new files form the server.

No problem (2, Interesting)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808227)

4 years ago, the machine I made for my mother with (a pirated copy of) Windoze-2000 crapped five minutes after I installed it. In a jiffy, I decided to install Mandrake Linux on it.

It never failed once, and I never had to fix it, and my mother is very happy with it to write letters and her e-mails.

Well let's see... (1, Troll)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808247)

...I think the key word here is "pirated".

Re:Well let's see... (1)

SirSlud (67381) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808511)


Don't give her admin rights... (5, Insightful)

kosmosik (654958) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808231)

Don't give her admin rights...

Re:Don't give her admin rights... (2)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808309)

Exactly. Create limited user accounts, and only let them use those. Many (poorly-written) pieces of software claim that administrator privileges are necessary, but there are (almost) always F/OSS equivalents that don't have such a ridiculous requirement.

Re:Don't give her admin rights... (3, Insightful)

kosmosik (654958) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808361)

> Exactly. Create limited user accounts, and only let them use those.

I've meant that as a punishment. :) But when you take admin rights from users that means you are the admin for them. And that will lead to less mess/work that allowing clueless users to admin. Really. :)

> Many (poorly-written) pieces of software claim that administrator
> privileges are necessary, but there are (almost) always F/OSS equivalents
> that don't have such a ridiculous requirement.

That is bullshit. In deed many of closed source software are poorly written and *tend* (go on with reading) to require admin rights. But stating that FOSS has all the equivalents is plain bullshit and a lie that in the end will make no good for FOSS.

FOSS is nice for some task but it *lacks* some of the apps and don't lie anybody that it doesn't. It is a bad advocacy and serves no purpose.

As for old Windows applications that conflict with LUA principle - that can be get over with. You just need to work around it. There are plenty of tools which help - compatibility mode, toolkits and so on. You can set access rights for apps and so on. So really some stupid app writing directly to C:\ can be tricked to work under LUA. It just requires some knowledge, but please don't state that it can't be done.

As a disclaimer - for my own computing needs I use Linux only and I love it.

The schedule feature is your friend. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808232)

Set it to automatically scan for spyware, etc, at a time when she isn't on but the computer is.

And make her use Firefox if she isn't.

WINE (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808235)

First time I tried it I fired up a random application (mIRC) and was surprised that everything (that I tried at least) worked flawlessly.

Should help ease the transition, but don't forget that you can probably find native Linux apps that do what the Windows apps do as well, might be worth looking into them. So WINE can be used as a stepping stone or a permanent solution.

Re:WINE (1)

kosmosik (654958) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808243)

It is not about the apps - it is about file formats. No app for Linux that opens Corel files.

Re:WINE (1)

SaDan (81097) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808291)

Export the Corel files to something GIMP or whatever can read. Pretty simple solution, if that's all that's holding you back from dumping Corel.

Re:WINE (2, Informative)

kosmosik (654958) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808326)

Yeah right. Not that Corel does vector graphics and gimp is retarded (and does bitmap graphics). ;) Not that she probably uses Corel since she gets these files from work or some other third party. And so on...

I happen to work in a company that uses Corel for its main business (drawing maps of trade fairs - Corel is a wordlwide standard) and I assure you - there is no piece of software for Linux that does what Corel does in sane (from wide point of view, features/price/user-friendlyness etc.) way. Just live with it.

I use Linux mostly for all my computing needs - but please stay connected with reality.

Oh and WINE will not do any good since it really cannot run Corel in usefull way.

Re:WINE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808428)

You are aware that Corel is a company and not a piece of software, right? Are you referring to CorelDraw, or Painter, as the original poster mentioned? Oh, and they also make Paint Shop Pro. And btw, Painter is a bitmap program, not a vector-based program. It's strength is that it's a natural media simulator--it's relatively easy for a traditional artist to pick up since it simulates various brushes and paint types on different types of media. But I'm sure you knew all that, being an expert at "Corel."

Re:WINE (1)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808504)

Let's not forget Corel did produce a serviceable Linux distro and ported WordPerfect to the Penguin as well.

simple (3, Funny)

smash (1351) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808252)

Get one of these: / []

Tell him/her to buy a Mac.

Problem solved.

Permissions necessary for a networked computer! (3, Interesting)

sowth (748135) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808610)

I know people modded that funny, but that isn't a bad idea. However, since the poster mentioned Linux, why not set Linux up on a dual boot, disable all internet access on MS Windows, then set up internet access on Linux only. That way, the sister will still be able to run the "holy" Windows programs, but will not easily be able to download and install malware. No XP Professional required.

I don't understand why they wouldn't supply the basic security features in the Home version. In fact, they should have put it in Windows 95. Linux and FreeBSD both had file permissions from the beginning--okay I haven't been using them that long, but I know it was before '95. I wonder why that is...oh yeah, MS doesn't care about their customers, they just want to fleece them.

Family that refuses to learn. (2, Insightful)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808253)

I take family that refuses to learn, and leave them to their own devices. They were smart enough to get into this mess, they can figure their way out. At most I would give them URL's to self-help websites and the like. It's given me a lot of peace of mind, and a few relatives that now "get it".

Re:Family that refuses to learn. (2, Funny)

Shai-kun (728212) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808714)

Would you be so kind as to share your list of self-help websites?

Re:Family that refuses to learn. (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 8 years ago | (#15809111) works for me.

Or if I'm feeling beneficial, they tell me the problem, I have a general idea of how to fix it, so I google the problem and forward them some relevant links. It takes 30 seconds to do, and gets them off my back. I only intervene in person if it's actually a serious problem, such as impending failure of hard disk, or power supply failure.

Get a Mac (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808256)

Install Windows on it for the games and the few applications that are Windows only that have no Mac equivalents. Tell her to use Windows for the games only, otherwise due to her unwillingness to actually learn how to use a computer it will just fuck up again. Then hit her to ensure the point sinks in. You might also want to 'zidanity' her too, just for fun.

Tell her to use the Mac side of things for all the internet stuff - install all her favourite applications there, or equivalents thereof, and don't install them on the Windows side.

Also on the Windows side, don't give her admin rights, so she can't install it if she tried.

Then slap her about a bit to get the point home.

Family PCs aren't worth the hassle, get them something that is far harder to go wrong if used by retarded assmonkeys. And in this case, a good candidate is Mac OS X. Also you'll feel at home if you have to use it too, which is a bonus, because it also gives you all the nice geek toys too.

Then kick her in the ovaries.

Ubuntu Linux or a Mac (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808260)

I got my Parents a Mac, set it up to their printer. Because my brother was connected to broadband and only surfed the web, I put him on Ubuntu. Since set up of bother, I only have 1/10 of the hassle, if that.

Do one or the other. There are a lot of programs for Ubuntu that are free and have the same capabilities as Windows software. Your sister may be even happier if she finds even more programs (because it is free) than she could use before hand. If your sister uses a lot of graphics programs, Mac may be a wiser choice.

I don't think there is a windows based solution right now that will make you happy right now.

Re:Ubuntu Linux or a Mac (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808293)

I forgot to mention, with Ubuntu Linux, repartition/resize the harddrive. There are some free tools (I think the Mepis installer has one that does it before installing itself) that do this that won't break your Windows install (back up anyway). Then install Ubuntu on a seperate partition.

Grub, at start up will give you a choice which OS to use.

Next time Windows breaks, have her use Ubuntu during that time. Then there will be no rush to fix the Windows partition on her box.^_^

Re:Ubuntu Linux or a Mac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808372)

I hear this story a lot, and I always wonder if you don't hear so many problems because the user just doesn't use the computer as much - it's all unfamiliar now, and they can't find freecell or get cute puppy screensavers to install. Or that maybe even they can't figure out how to email you their problems.

Yeah, I use and love linux but I'm a geek. I've never watched a newbie try and live with it as a day-to-day OS. My semi-newbie parents are smart enough to install it themselves (they've done so at least once), but they seem to be running windows whenever I visit.

Re:Ubuntu Linux or a Mac (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808454)

Hm, I don't think Ubuntu is that hard - especially in the last few years I take this as a myth not affecting 80% of users. I mean, for most things it's not at geek level anymore unless you want to do geek-level type stuff which of course applies to Windows as well (if you want to do change anything in Windows, better know your stuff as well).

I have several caveats:

1. Do the installation + setup for them. Including printer, etcetera. (But it has gotten so easy the past few years......)
2. Install easy ubuntu and run it, installing codecs and all that, so they are really set up.
3. Install OpenOffice. (I think it's on there already but I forget....)
4. Point them to a forum, preferably just in case they do have minor problems. (Apple has a forum too, afterall.)
5. Show them synaptic and the wonderful world of installing free software.
6. Cater to their needs - if they are into music, show the Amarok/Muine/etc and make sure they have the ripping software they need, etc. If they are into photos, download Digikam for them, and so on. I think Picasa is also available on Linux. People usually fall off the bandwagon because they never were given a good footing on it in the first place. Once they have a few programs they like, they are more apt to stick with it.

I migrated several people over to linux from their own accord and all of them stuck with it. Granted, they were motivated enough to seek me out for help, not the other way around. With proper setup, in the first few days, they usually just ran into problems when they think that the software they want to run has the same name as the windows version. I usually can point them to suitable software they are happy with. If not, I would reevaluate the choice of Ubuntu and get a Mac instead.

*The second most common problem was lan-sharing networking. For some reason, Ubuntu was using a broken version for a long time (not Mac compatible) which was downright stupid of them.

firewall/av/ignore (1)

timothv (730957) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808261)

Install decent firewall/AV software, maybe NOD32 and Outpost (Kerio kills my system sometimes). If she still keeps breaking her computer, give her the XP install CD and stop fixing it for her. If your sister can force you to fix her computer for free over and over, you've got other issues.

The fault lies with the marketing department (5, Interesting)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808262)

Because PC's are marketed as appliances, and appliances (as we all know) "just work" for years without our having to think about, most users are incapable of grasping the facts that any geek takes for granted (and which I won't recap here).

Your path is clear, unless you *want* to be a Windows support specialist, or have a secret masochistic streak; the next time your sister's box goes on the fritz give her the 800 number to Dell...and let them deal with her.

At the very least, after a Bangalore call center experience she *should* come back to you with a better attitude.

Appreciation (2, Insightful)

digitallife (805599) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808263)

If a family member or friend of mine called a bunch of work I had done for them (for free) 'crap', I would take the hint and not do stuff for them anymore. Seriously, why are you maintaining your sisters computer? Is your time less valuable than her money or something?


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808710)

This sister doesn't deserve any support, period.

Re:Appreciation (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15809131)

You speak the truth. I'd buy back that computer from her and tell her she is off the free support list.

Let the bitch deal with the people at circuit city/best buy/whatever, deal with expense and hassle of constant downtime their support people will put her through, then in a year or so when she has apologized sincerely and abjectly you might consider supporting her again.

install linux (1)

Yonder Way (603108) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808266)

I play the foaming at the mouth linux zealot for my family. No matter what the problem, I reload with Linux and recommend a few good books.

They don't bug me for computer help anymore. Yes, I'm a dick. But I don't want to fix their windows crap and if they actually take to linux I'm willing to help.

Re:install linux (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808455)

you're a flaming faggot dickhead

Three words... (1, Flamebait)

Otter (3800) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808270)

Buy. A. Mac.

I'm not anti-Linux, I use Linux where it's appropriate, but in this case it's just going to make them even more dependent on you.

No respect, no computer. (5, Insightful)

TerminaMorte (729622) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808271)

If she calls a computer you built for her "a piece of crap", then forget it. She obviously doesn't respect you, or the work you're doing for her. Let her buy her own PC, and when it fails, let her take it to Best Buy and see how much they charge.

That should change her tune quickly. The only reason she's not learning how to manage a PC is that there are no consequences when she breaks it. She'll just get you to fix it. If she has to PAY for it, however, she'll learn quickly enough.

Re:No respect, no computer. (3, Insightful)

kraut (2788) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808427)

This is the most insightful comment. The real problem is between you and your sister, not between your sister and her computer.

Re:No respect, no computer. (1)

karnal (22275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808434)

I was going to mod you up, but yes. HELL YES.

I supported my Father through 2 or 3 of my "hand-me-down" machines (ones I thought would be just good enough for him) and even though the hardware stayed in top shape, it always had some sort of spyware or other nonsense installed that just made me want to cry.

My other siblings asked me recently if I would build a machine for them; I point them to Dell's website. I tell them "First, they can build it cheaper; second, you can call them for support..." I support 700 PCs on a daily basis (as well as network and phone switch, not to mention moves, adds and changes) and really, my idea of a relaxing night is NOT being modem'd in to my dad's PC to fix something.

(He lives in rural PA. Still on dial-up... ugh.)

Re:No respect, no computer. (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808598)

So true. I support family computers, but not for free. If they don't like my rates, they are free to chose from any number of less competent services that will charge more. A computer is a privilege and not a right, and I have no motivation to waste my time.

I do have to wonder what this woman was doing because I've never needed to extract spyware from any of my family's computers. Granted, they don't play games, and thankfully don't download random crap.

don't give her admin access (3, Insightful)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808273)

Make her run as a dumb user - now she can't install stupid shit.

Test each of her apps to make sure they still work without admin access.

If an app breaks, you can troubleshoot with regmon and filemon, i.e. many apps need r/w perms in their own directory for some retarded reason.

If she has a fast internet connection, set things up so you can RDP or VNC into her machine for the few times she'll legitimately need to install new software.

Re:don't give her admin access (2, Interesting)

John Miles (108215) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808328)

If an app breaks, you can troubleshoot with regmon and filemon, i.e. many apps need r/w perms in their own directory for some retarded reason.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and they aren't all retarded. Sometimes it makes sense to install and run multiple instances of an application; e.g., one where each instance uses a specific virtual COM port. When the OS, in a misguided attempt at being trendy and "multi-user" and all that, forces everything to write to a user-specific data directory, that convenience goes out the window.

I have yet to hear a coherent explanation of why writing to my own .INI file under \program files\appname is a security risk. Prevent me from writing to someone else's installation directory if you like, and certainly to the OS directory, but for Christ's sake, let me write to my own directory, already.

Re:don't give her admin access (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808390)

> each instance uses a specific virtual COM port

You're 100% correct, if you need direct hardware access you run as admin. I'll go out on a limb and predict this guy's sister isn't using that sort of software.

> I have yet to hear a coherent explanation of why writing to my own .INI file
> under \program files\appname is a security risk.

It isn't a security risk, but INI files in application directories have been causing problems since WinNT, you'd think developers would have noticed by now.

The Official Windows Way of storing app config data is the registry, and has been for over a decade. Microsoft has a bunch of "Designed for Windows" documents on their website, they describe recommended (and supported!) ways to do things. Somewhere in there is a list of ways to make your program play nicely when run by non-admin users.

I hate the registry as much as the next guy, but every platform has braindead crap you have to put up with.

Re:don't give her admin access (1)

gormanly (134067) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808408)

They're mostly retarded though.

Anyway, Aaron Margosis has some informative comments [] on fixing non-admin bugs in this month's TechNet magazine [] . This was originally 3 entries in his "non-admin" blog [] but has been taken up to get it to a wider audience.

And yes, I hate to link to the great Satan, but sometimes some of those are actually useful (at least to those of us who do occasionally have to deal with Windoze crap)...

Use a clue bat... (1)

Mattintosh (758112) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808277)

1) Point out to her that her computer is as likely to stop working on its own as a rock is likely to hit her on the head on its own. It's not completely impossible, but it's very unlikely.
2) Tell her that if she keeps breaking her computer, you're going to start charging her (or simply stop providing support altogether).
3) Warn her of the dangers that lurk deep within the tubes of the internets (basically, scare her). Point out that these dangers are completely subject to 1 and 2 above. (She has to do something to be "infected" and if she does it, you will refuse to help or will charge for your time and effort).

My family and friends have all been put on notice that I charge "dinner" for setup, but don't provide support unless they use a Mac or pay me money (or more dinners - note the plural). Macs aren't as trouble free as you might assume, but they're easier to fix than a Windows box. I'm always very clear about possible dangers and try to educate people, but there's only so much you can do. Scaring them goes a long way toward keeping them out of trouble in most cases.

The Holy Trinity (1)

thelost (808451) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808278)

The holy trinity of security software is important to protecting Norms computers. Antivirus, Antispyware and Firewall. I make sure anyone's computers who I won't see often (who are not particularly computer literate) has Avast anti-virus installed, spyware - search and destroy and lavasoft adaware & Zonealarm.

I find avast particularly useful for protecting peoples computers as its free for private use (register for free for a serial) and has in my use of it and all the other computers I've set it up in *always* caught all the viruses coming through in mail.

Set anti-spyware apps to run regularly.

Set a restore point when you do a fresh install.

Make a disk image of the fresh install. Keep it on a different partition or removable media. Worst comes to worst use that image to have the fresh install you set up (drivers, apps and all) up in under 30 minutes.

Repartition the hard drive or add an extra one. Move 'My Documents' and any other data they use to a non-system partition.

Consider disabling icons on the desktop so to force them to browse to 'My Documents'. This encourages them to keep all their work in one place.... hopefully. I've seriously found people keeping word documents in the wastebin in the past.

As I said though, the holy trinity of Windows Security. It's a necessity.

Oh and obviously, set them up on a limited user account rather than an admin one!

Do the Pro method (4, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808281)

I say do what the professionals do. Use XP Professional, and set family up with User level access, and tight security settings, that will stop her from doing stupid stuff. Giving them Linux or a Mac usually works best but if you family is going to need windows only apps and give a fuss if they don't have it. Then spend the extra cash and get XP Professional.

When setting up permissions make sure they cannot install software without access. And don't give them Administrator access and not the admin password. But make sure these is enough for their apps to work.

The next step is removing as many traces of Internet Explorer as possible and get them to use Firefox or Opera as the default browser. Also make sure they have a Virus Protection software and anti-Spyware tools. If they are not freeware make sure they are registed and will keep themselves updated automatically.

Finally explain to you family about the last system they said was broken and state you noticed no problems with it. Let them know their actions can damage the Software, and there is nothing that you can do, or Dell or Compact, to stop that. You need to tell them that it is not worth it to overly cutify your PC, while some are reputable most will damage the software, and for most cases there is no good way to know if it bad or good from observations, or guessing by the quality of the website, or the terms in the legalese.

Re:Do the Pro method (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808319)

A lot of games do not work with User level access. Some will not run at all with out admin. Also some Virus Protection software for home users do not update if you are not a admin.
and you will need to install every game update, add on, mod, and so on if you try to lock it down.

windows defender is a good anti-Spyware tool.

Re:Do the Pro method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808352)

And why do you suggest XP Pro? User Permissions can be set in the XP Home Edition afaik.

I would do the following:
- Add each family member as Normal Users (no admin rights)
- Install firefox, thunderbird, and plugins like flash
- Remove all IE and outlook icons
- Install all other Software they might use and check if it's working without admin rights
- Install all windows update (will take a while)
- Config Windows AutoUpdate

Easy (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808292)

First, stop making her computers. Make her get a Dell or something and use their support. I guarantee you - if you persist and make her a computer and put Linux on it - every user error she encounters will be your fault, not hers - and this is based on what she's already doing. Get out of it now before it stresses your relationship too far...

Second, if she uses your support - charge her appropriately. I've found that if a client has to pay because they clicked some spyware into the system, they learn and don't do it again. Or... I make a regular income from them...

Buy a M... (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808294)

I was about to say make her buy a Mac but half of the posters already said it.

Seriously, I wish my mother and sister had bought a Mac.

Charge her. (4, Insightful)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808296)

Charge her your standard rate, as if she were calling a business to fix it. You spend two hours cleaning Bonzi Buddy and 180solutions out of her machine....charge her for two hours labour.

Once it starts hurting her pocketbook, maybe she'll realize it's easier to learn it herself.

That's what I do with my relatives, and it works quite nicely. The only ones who get free support are my parents, and my wife's parents. And they're both on dialup, so they don't get a lot of crap to begin with.

Next time she foobars it, fix it, but tell her you're going to start charging her $40/hr or so, starting with your next visit. Make it $10-15 less than the going rate for most techs in your area.

She'll probably get pissed, and call around to a few other places, only to find out they're all more expensive. But she'll learn something in the end.

Tell them to Mac it... (1)

posterlogo (943853) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808303)

My family has been PC for over 15 years, since our first computer (I have my own setup with Macs or Linux boxes, a long way away from them). The thing is, I can only be so helpful over the phone, and then I'm useless because they can't even explain the problem to me really. Then they have to take it to a shop, which is a tragedy, and end up with some wierd peripherals and upgrades. It's really a mess. A linux box is a solution for a very small percentage of people. Web. E-mail. Ok. My parents like to use their digital camera also, for example, or *try* to edit their home videos off their camcorder. This isn't even easy in Windows, let alone Linux. So let's not pretend Linux is the solution to everything just because it is stable. It is not easy to use (yes I use it - even Ubuntu, I know from first hand experience). I'm just going to get them a mac (or help them buy it and set it up next time I'm in town). Atleast I know I'll be able to properly diagnose things over the phone, and I suspect they will get the hang of it quickly as well. I'm no blind fan boy, but Macs are simpler yet cover more bells and whistles out of the box for simple people, like my parents, than any other OS/box.

Re:Tell them to Mac it... (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808927)

I'm not sure about video editing, as I haven't found a good application yet, but I haven't looked very hard. But as far as digital cameras go, I think that Linux has much better stuff than what you get with windows. Digikam for KDE or F-Spot for Gnome will make digital picture management a lot easier than what ever they are using on windows. It's usually the stuff that's included with the camera, which sucks beyond everything. Even Kodak "easyshare" stuff which is supposed to be some of the best, is some of the most annoying software there is. Placing tons of temporary files all over your hard drive that never get deleted.

Custom Ghost CD. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808308)

An other option is to make a custom Ghost Image of the OS and all the Apps.
Partition the drive one with all the software and the other drive has her documents and music and stuff. So when she messes it up tell her to put the CD in and wait an hour and it will be good as new.

unfortunately.. (1)

shiningdays (991952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808312)

you're either going to have to downgrade her account (i'm assuming she's on admin) or you're going to have to deal with it. I share a computer with 3 other tech-illiterate family members - i'm not a crazy codemonkey or anything myself, but i know a spyware-infested program when i see one, so it falls to me to keep the computer clean. i basically end up rooting through their shit on a monthly basis and removing anything i find suspect. if anyone complains, i run a spyware scan, and, when 10-20 spyware/malware programs show up in their doc's/local settings/etc., they generally don't complain anymore. but i'm getting the impression you don't want to do that, so they only way is to limit what she can via account controls until she smartens up. Flat-out refusing to fix her computer would probably help, too. If no one's going to clean up after her shit anymore, she's either going to learn to be more careful or learn to fix it herself. Both are positive outcomes.

Linux / Mac... (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808322)

...not necessary when you know what you're doing. I set up both my dad's laptop and my mom's desktop (and laptop, but she almost never uses it) and I had no problems with either of the systems. They both have limited accounts, use Opera, and have an anti-virus running (NOD32) as well as auto-update enabled. My dad spent a good part of the last year away, so I haven't touched it in that long, and the only problem he asked me about was to get rid of the WGA shit, which I did through VNC. The computer my mom uses is my old PC, still with the original XP install from around 2002, dad's is about 2-2.5 years.

Of course, this doesn't mean it's possible in your case, after all, you can make everything idiot-proof, but someone will make a better idiot (don't take this personally)

Linux (1)

AeiwiMaster (20560) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808335)

I had similar problems with my big brother.

His windows mashine always had a virus or some other problem.
He where asking for help around ones per month.

But then I installed linux on the mashine one day.

His windows friends where very skeptical about it.

But now I only had to help him twice the last 2 years.

Okey, All he does is send email and surfe the net,
but for this linux is ideal.

Re:Linux (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808952)

I did the same thing with my older brother. Can't really say he likes Linux very much, but he likes it a lot more than Windows. He's planning on buying a new computer, this time probably a Mac. I think that switching him to Linux has shown him the light. 2 years with Mandrake and he hasn't had any problems, whereas he'd run into problems every other week with windows. He wants to go to Mac because there is better programs available, which is true to some extent. If I were him I'd stick with Linux. His distro is 2 years old and Linux has come a long way. But he doesn't want to upgrade, because if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

What i do... (1)

jarg0n (882275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808336)

Give her a power user account Install Firefox, disable IE Install ClamWin anti-virus

For Such Pigs, I Will not Play. (2, Insightful)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808340)

"She blames the computer I built, calling it 'a piece of crap', yet it works flawlessly once I start using her old computer after she has upgraded. "

I'm guessing your sister is a preteen or teenager, but this isn't a bad idea even if she's an adult.

Stop building her computers if that's her attitude, and explain to your her and your parents why. Chances are, she's doing something that's causing the problems or she just wants a newer computer. Let her spend some cash and wrestle with Dell tech support.

Remove the beam from your own eye (3, Insightful)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808348)

she seems to lack common sense when it comes to what software is suspicious and bloated, and what is trustworthy

Nothing about a computer is common sense. Nothing about a computer is intuitive. It is entirely learned, and much of it is complicated and esoteric.

I suggest at least part of the problem is your unrealistic expectation that everyone have complete knowledge of computers.

Uh-Oh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808353)

Here come all the Apple fanbois to tell how they got their parents to buy a Mac. If my kid told me that, I'd beat his ass and then disown him.

Re:Uh-Oh... (4, Informative)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808734)

Nice to see you put computers and operating systems before your own family.

As for your actual comment, this is exactly what I did: someone in family bought a Mac and ever since the only questions are about how to use the computer/which software to use. I haven't had to "repair/fix" his computer since he bought it almost a year ago (Mac mini G4/1.25GHz, 512MB).

To be honest, with OS X and all the software it comes with (iLife, etc), the Mac really is the computer for the average user.

Answer's easy (2, Insightful)

Doomstalk (629173) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808354)

Don't make a computer for anyone who insults your handiwork.

The obvious missing answer... (1)

pagley (225355) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808379)


Yes, that's right, tell her to get a Dell.

If she doesn't appreciate or respect the abilities or labor you provide to her, then politely decline for any number of reasons, such as:

1) I am really quite busy lately, perhaps you should seek help from a full time support technician at .
2) I'm not up on the latest adware/scumware/malware removal techniques, but I've heard that is really good, I think carries it.
3) I'm not familiar with that application, perhaps you can call for assistance?
4) I'm really short on time to research the problem, have you tried finding the answer on ? ... whatever, and suggest that she purchase her next computer from Dell, pointing out that it comes with full tech support for X years, they're available 24 hours, and so on.

Then, one of 4 things happens:

1) She's thrilled with the support they give her, and your problem is solved.
2) She's frustrated with the support they give here, she falls back to you for support, in which case you politely recite a reason above and point out that she has free support with her shiny new PC - your problem remains solved.
3) She learns to use her computer responsibly, and to be somewhat self sufficient at "fixing it", and your problem is solved.
4) She despises the supprt she recieves from Dell, learns to appreciate your efforts and in the process becomes a much kinder, more understanding person when asking for help - and your problem is stil solved.

Regardless, suggest she "get a Dell" regardless of the reason, and your problem is solved.

If you really want to stir the pot, and get to scenario 4 above much faster, suggest she buy a new PC from Walmart instead. That virtually guarantees your place amongst the Gods of Tech Support in a matter of days.


lessons learned (1)

blackcoot (124938) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808389)

1) do not build computers for your sister, or any other relative that isn't going to learn to use them appropriately.

2) let dell, or geek squad, or whatever local mom and pop support shop deal with the problem.

i don't think that anyone can fault you for not wanting to deal with this anymore after genuinely making the effort to help your sister and being repaid by ingratitude. once support starts costing your sister, she's going to think twice about using it. she's going to have motivation to become more savvy on her own and you're not going to have to deal with her frustration and ingratitude. sounds like a win all around.

Ground Rules (4, Informative)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808395)

The basic thing I do is lay some ground rules for whether I will fix a computer.

For instance: If there is enough space to backup an image of the OS, I create that backup, and lay Ground Rules of:

  • Run the automagic backup program and make sure it's working. (Best if it's automated, but hey.)
  • Every time you install/configure something on Windows that's important (and going to be a pain to do again), including Windows Updates, you should:
    1. Backup your data
    2. Restore the software image
    3. Restore your data
    4. Install/configure new software
    5. Confirm that it works
    6. Backup your data
    7. Backup the software image
    Yes, that's a pain, so do it once every couple of months. But have a schedule, and stick to it.
  • If you've proven that you cannot be trusted to choose software, do NOT install software without permission. Ideally, you won't be allowed to -- you should have a very limited account.
  • Don't use Internet Explorer to look at porn. Use Firefox for that, if you must.
  • Don't use Internet Explorer to visit any site you don't trust.
  • Please, just don't use Internet Explorer, period.

Now, if these instructions didn't work, or if you didn't follow them, here's the rules for when I swing by to help out:

  • I am the boss. I'm willing to work with you to find something that's easy for me and works for you. But at the end of the day, it's my way, or I don't help. I don't have to be doing this.
  • This is a favor. That means you don't get to complain to me that I'm doing it wrong. Instead, you get to do me a favor in return -- bake me cookies, bring me tea and coffee. I don't have to be doing this.
  • I'm going to need access. Either tell me any passwords I'll have to know, or log me in (type your password, I won't look) and change it to something temporary that I can use. I refuse to come find you and get you to type your password every time I have to reboot -- which will probably be a lot.
  • Let me drive. This was a phrase an old boss used, and it means "Give me the keyboard, and let me sit down." Chances are, the solution to your problem is something you really don't want to learn how to do by yourself.
  • If I have something to teach you, then I'll let you sit down, because that makes it easier for you to remember. But follow my instructions exactly. I can point you to some hilarious but disturbing examples [] of what happens when you do what you think I mean, and not what I said.
  • Do what I say, exactly. My mother has this insanely irritating habit of finishing my sentences for me, and she has never, ever been right that I can remember. Let me put it this way -- I say "Now I want you to..." and she says "Do this?" I shout "NO" just as she anihilates what we were doing, and we have to start over. The problem is, she gets deeper and deeper into the wrong thing because she assumes she knows what I'm trying to say.
  • I am your tech while I'm here. Unless I tell you to, do NOT go to another person for help while I'm here. "I'm not sure you know what you're talking about here, let me call Jim." Only not quite so obviously, but that is what you're saying when you want to call Jim and I don't. Look, if I don't know what I'm talking about, I'll say so, and I'll tell you to call Jim or whoever you need to call.
  • I know more than you do about this problem. It's arrogant, but true. Feel free to offer your advice, but unless I defer to your greater knowledge of BloatyAppX, you don't get to second-guess me. If we've got to reinstall Windows from scratch, then that's what we'll do. It will be a huge pain in the ass, but not as much as it would for me to fix it in the state it's in. If you don't like it, I stop helping.

These are not intended to be as oppressive as they are. I'm actually fairly nice, cheerful, helpful, knowledgeable, and understanding. But it would be a good idea to put these in writing, print them out, and make them known. You don't have to make your family member sign it, but you should make it known that you're unlikely to continue providing free techsupport when a rule is broken.

Personally, I charge double my normal hourly rate as a freelance programmer to do "favors" I hate doing, even for family. That means, feel free to break these rules, but if you do, I will be charging you for my time, if not walking away altogether.

It seems to have worked pretty well for me. My family is reasonably computer-literate, though. Let me know how it holds up to the truly abusive users!

Re:Ground Rules (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808772)

Screw all that. This guy's sister sounds like a piece of ass. Perhaps he should consider payments of another form, heh heh heh.

I would be willing to fix computers all day for some of that. Corby should really consider the putang for repair payment plan. If all those Egyptian Pharoahs can love their sisters, why can't this guy?

Virtualization? VMware w/Linux Host, Windows guest (2, Interesting)

linuxtelephony (141049) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808401)

Assuming the hardware and RAM is beefy enough to support it, consider the rather drastic approach of virtualization for this problem.

Using Linux as the host OS. Set it up so you can remotely SSH in to "fix" things when something breaks. Then use something like VMware to create a Windows virtual PC. Keep a copy of the finished image (or create a snapshot if you are using VMware tools).

Follow the advice of the person that gave the suggestion to use Ghost -- use a second drive for documents, email, etc. When she breaks something, all you have to do is shut down the Windows virtual machine, restore the snapshot, and restore it.

You could even go as far as creating an icon on a special linux user login -- "Fix my PC" -- and have it to it automatically.

Of course, you'll be sacrificing some of RAM and a chunk of CPU performance due to virtualization.

Re:Virtualization? VMware w/Linux Host, Windows gu (1)

bscott (460706) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808539)

I was going to say pretty much the same thing - except to add that if VMware isn't available or usable, do what I used to do years ago and simply make a copy of the base install on a separate partition. Leave the user with a DOS (this was Win9x days) batch file which will copy everything back over in the event of an otherwise-unrecoverable problem, and make sure they never use C:\ to store documents.

But if VMware, or better still Linux of one form or other, is an option then by all means go with what the other posters in this thread have said, there's good advice here.

Tell them how to use the computer (1)

stevenvi (779021) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808429)

I recently built a computer for the cluster of my family which still lives under the same roof. What I did was install all the basic needed programs, then I included a fairly detailed HTML file containing documentation, and instructed them all to read it before using the computer. It contained information about how to intelligently use the Internet, that free software which does not come with source code should not be trusted (basically everything for Windows), and instructions about regularly running AdAware. (I was able to setup Spybot to run as a scheduled event every Sunday at 3 am, so they don't need to ever worry about that.)

The final step was to boot to Linux using a boot CD and swapping a hard drive in temporarily. I made an exact copy of the hard disk contents and used dd to get the excact boot and partition records and wrote my own hard disk restore program to put on a CD. This is actually rather trivial if you know how to use dd and make a bootable CD.

So far they haven't complained yet about the computer, though it's been less than a month. They have a copy of the restore disc though just in case they manage to screw things up royally. (I run a server out of their house using their cable Internet connection, and they have ftp access to it so that they can easily back up their data if they need to do a disk restore.)


My Answer: No Support. (1)

FFFish (7567) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808433)

Do you hand hold them through supper preparations, lawn care, car maintenance? Probably not.

Take the same approach to computers.

When the n00b users finally get pissed off with the generally lousy quality of their OS and applications, maybe they'll number enough to force the developers to make computers work the way they *should* work: effortlessly.

In my decades of computer use, I've always been thrilled to find software that works intuitively and sophisticatedly. It doesn't happen often enough. It should.

LiveCD (1)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808438)

If they somehow manage to break that, add glue.

Been through this since the mid 90's. (2, Informative)

PotatoHead (12771) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808442)

Have learned a coupla things:

-the wife is generally not so willing to make changes

-the kids will bitch but will also deal with change far more easily

-nobody really needs all the crap they think they need.

After doing the whole win32, image, anti-virii, anti spyware dance one too many times, I finally just setup two computers.

The kids have been running Linux for about the last 4 years. Was rough at first because I had to do some extra admin to make devices and applications work. Recently my workload has dropped to almost nothing. (That's my benchmark for how well desktop Linux is doing, BTW --and it's coming along nicely.)

The kids PC is now running Ubuntu Dapper Drake. It's just sweet in that it mostly just works. They've been burning CD's, dealing with cameras, surfing, word processing, etc... with no issues to speak of. I set up user accounts for them, they ended up sharing one go figure. If they want an application, I find them one and they deal with it. All in all, a very nice solution. Interestingly, their friends come over to use the machine a lot. They like it because it's not a hassle. None of them have had any significant problems using the machine.

When they ask for something windows only, we talk about why they think they need it and what the alternatives are. Not a bad conversation to be having with one's kids, IMHO. Mine know the tradeoff between all the bad programs and learning how to do some things differently. Positioned right, they can use the computer uninhibited, or use it with extreme care. They choose uninhibited and safe every time!

For my wife, she does online poker. That means win32 for the best overall experience these days. So, we've got a machine running a default copy of XP Home, that I got at a steep discount. ($200!) We load only a few open tools and her poker clients. The rest of the machine stays factory with updates off. This machine is used for paying bills online, banking, etc... so general web surfing is out. There is a VM installed for that. Once the sites are known, it's easy to differentiate which ones can be surfed from the native OS and which should be surfed through the VM.

I don't run anti anything either. I've got the home network sitting behind a simple NAT, running Linux. (Quest routers are great!) The only inbound connections allowed are for gaming and are mapped to the console IP, or the Linux box as necessary.

The Linux machine receives it's normal updates and has performed just great. No issues at all. We did get the win32 machine hosed a while back. (Switched client based e-mail to gmail and that is not likely to happen again.) Restore from the discs provided, overlay drivers and install apps and it's all good again. Takes about an hour and I printed up a quick and dirty cheat sheet and burned a CD with the installers necesary for the box.

The spyware people target kids. If you are running a win32 box, with kids on it. It's gonna have everything under the sun running on it no matter what you do. Actually that's not totally true, but your admin burden goes way up if you lock the box down too tight. --nothing works unless you deal with it. Ubuntu has been great about this. I admin the box only when major changes are necessary (new printer, network, device....); otherwise it just does it's thing in user space.

Putting the kids on Linux brought the problems to a screeching halt. I suspect a Mac would have the same effect. (I just went the cheap route.)

As for sharing computers. I've no problems sharing a win32 box with my wife. We both know what the machine is used for and do exactly that. Anything goofy happens in a VM or on the Linux machine. (I did setup quick icons for doing both of these things. The family thought it was interesting that more than one person can be using the Linux box at the same time! VNC or X window, whatever you prefer --I do the X thing personally.)

Sharing a win32 machine with kids is a mess! The Linux is such an improvement, I can actually just leave it logged on to one account and we all just work together. Just show them how the multiple desktops work and you are good to go. Mine will sit down and see something in progress, ask for a fresh desktop, then do their thing.

Work hard to invest your time into teaching them very core things that enable good computing practices. Discourage activities that require significant involvement on your part. Encourage learning, but also provide an environment that allows this to happen with as few issues as is possible. This is why my kids enjoy the Linux machine, because they can do what they want with few worries about breaking the machine!

Lead by example. I used to run all kinds of stupid utility crap. Truth is that simply brings with it a dependancy you really don't need. Work with the tools that come out of the box as much as is possible. Speed comes with time --most utility things simply crunch time but bring dependancy along for the ride. Do things the UNIX way; namely, using specific purpose apps together to achieve results instead of always looking for that one application that does it all. IMHO, you will get sharper minds as a result, including your own!

Be willing to say no to some things. Example, I firewalled social networking sites and inbound e-mail and bad webmail sites. This forced using solid e-mail solutions (like Gmail) and kept the doors closed on a lot of potential incoming crap. Recently, I've lightened up on the social networking sites, but only on the Linux box. Set the family expectation right now that using a networked computer comes with it a responsibilty and trust relationship that is very similar to driving actually. Nobody just gets to drive a car around without some guidence and help. Same for the computer!

Once this is done, your core issues will be kept to a minimum. Then you can enjoy computing with your family instead of working for them! Where the kids are concerned, this trust relationship is very important as well. If the kids know they can come to you for help, without getting into trouble, they are going to seek your help, thus allowing you to mentor them into good netizens. If they fear you, they are gonna hide their activities. You will regret this when they become teens, trust me!

Open computing is totally viable for family / home use. Think about it this way. How much different is the learning burden between a modern-day Linux machine and dealing with all the potential issues that come with a win32 machine? (There really is no signficant difference!) Since you are going to have to invest some time in home education on these things, why not invest it in ways that empower?

Pick and Choose who's computers get service (1)

grapeape (137008) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808445)

I used to be the default repair guy for my entire family until a few of them (mostly sister in law and an aunt) started branching out and "freelancing" me to their friends. As I grew more tired of the antics and the basic unwillingness to do simple things like run some sort of firewall and not open every email attachment sent, I suddenly became much more "stupid" in their eyes. I suddenly couldnt fix the simplest problem, I let their computer sit unusable and those that wanted one bought Hp's or Dells and it became those companies problems. I was my experience that the 'piece of crap' mentioned in the article was usually sitting in the computer chair rather than on the desk.

Other like my mother for example, have always made a point of watching and writing down things when im fixing common problems and have become nearly self-sufficient, they still call when there is a big problem but are almost appologetic in doing so. Im more than happy to help them and sometime initiate giving their machine a "checkup" when im visiting.

Try this (5, Insightful)

JanneM (7445) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808449)

Sit them down in front of you, look them in the eye and say:

"This is not working. I try to do my best helping you with your computer problems in any way I can; I even built your last computer to save you some money. I have been at your beck and call, day and night, for years. What I get from you is a constant stream of complaints."

"Clearly, what I can offer you in help is not good enough by far. I do not know the reason - it could be incompetence on my part, it could be you inadvertently doing things you should not, or it could be that Windows, and the programs you want to run on it, just aren't very good quality. Quite possibly it is a combination of these. It doesn't matter, though - you are miserable, and that makes me miserable too."

"So from now on I will not interfere. No longer will my bungled attempts at fixing things just make everythng worse. I suggest you buy your next computer from a real vendor, with a service contract, and contact their professionals if you ever experience a problem with your new machine. You will be a lot happier knowing you can rely on people who help users for a living, and I can be free of the guilt of trying to do things that are perhaps over my head."

"I am truly sorry I have inconvenienced you like this for years. I wanted to help but of course I whould have known better."

Re:Try this (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808691)

Starts strong, ends pathetic. Some judicious editing:

"This is not working. I try to do my best helping you with your computer problems in any way I can; I even built your last computer to save you some money. I have been at your beck and call, day and night, for years. What I get from you is a constant stream of complaints."

"Clearly, what I can offer you in help is not good enough by far.[cut] So from now on I will not interfere. [cut] Buy your next computer from a [cut]vendor, with a service contract, and contact their professionals if you ever experience a problem with your new machine. "

Now walk away.

As stated somewhere above, your sister is the problem. You don't have to tell he that to her face, but DON'T take the blame on yourself, even sarcastically. That would be playing into her game (and it IS a game).

Re:Try this (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808781)

You don't have to tell he that to her face, but DON'T take the blame on yourself, even sarcastically. That would be playing into her game (and it IS a game).

It is a game, and you want to take all the blame you can humanly get - and not sarcastically at all, but quite sincerely. The fact is, with respect to helping this woman, you do suck, by the simple measure that you're not able to help. The base fault may lie with her and her inability to follow even simple precautions, but you have failed too, by your inability to impress her with the need to follow them. You are a bad match as a support person. I'm not saying anybody else would be good match for her, but it's plain that you are not.

And by making all agree that you're absolutely inept at anything support-related, you have a gold-plated excuse no matter how bad the situation may get, without imperiling your relation with your sibling. You suck, so for the love of your sister there is no way you'll interfere and making things worse. Her computer could be on fire and you can quite plausibly state that trying to put it out would only have resulted in worse consequences than the house burning to the ground.

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808480)

I got sick of weird questions from my dad, so I finally just started suggesting he get a Dell or a HP with a support contract. He was happy to have a no brainer solution, and I felt he got what was coming to him for asking me dumb questions. Plus the nice support folks get to deal with him instead, and he doesn't get paranoid I'm going to "accidentally" find the porn in his browser cache. I guess for a perfect stranger it's fine though LOL

Torture them back. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808488)

Just punch her in the face.

Feign ignorance (1)

bhmit1 (2270) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808500)

I just say that linux on my machine doesn't have that problem, so I don't know why they are having that problem. They usually keep asking, in hopes that I'll get annoyed enough to take a look, but I keep giving the same answer. If they keep pushing, I reason that it's probably spyware, a virus, a windows bug, or a bad program, none of which I know about because I spend all my time tweaking linux instead of learning windows oddities. I don't ask them to fix my linux machine because they wouldn't know what they are doing, so why should they expect me to give good help on a windows box?

There are a few people that I try to help, but they keep their requests to a minimum and invite me over to bbq's. The other people you may consider helping are those that can help you in some way, working out a "scratch your back if you scratch mine" type of deal. But when it's someone looking for free advice, playing dumb is the best thing I can suggest.

What happened with my sister... (1)

zoomba (227393) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808502)

For years my sister was the same way. She'd have botched up her PC to the point of it needing to be reformatted at least once every few months. I told her she couldn't install all those P2P apps, explorer toolbars and things like WeatherBug on her PC anymore because they load a ton of shit that kills her PC. She retorted with "It's my computer and I'll install anything I want on it!" To which I said OK, but I've told you how to not break your computer, so if you do it again, I'm not fixing it.

Ignorance of computers is one thing, and I can understand it to some extent. But when that ignorance becomes INTENTIONAL, that's where I draw the line.

I've Dealt with this (2, Informative)

miyako (632510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808507)

I used to have to deal with this with my Aunt and Uncle. They were nice about it, never rushed me, and always offered to pay, but eventually it was still a pain to have to drive over there every week or two to remove viruses, etc.
Eventually, I sat down and talked to them about installing Linux. I didn't go into technical details, but I explained that they could do everything they did under Windows, but it would take them some time to get used to different programs. I also explained that my cousins games wouldn't work. They decided to let me give it ago, and Installed Suse 9.1 (the newest version at the time).
I set up wine and got most my cousins games working, set up seperate accounts for each family member, set up their email, etc. Since then there hasn't been a single problem with that computer. A couple of months ago, they were given another computer that is running Windows XP. After a couple of months of the same cleaning up crapware off the machine every couple of weeks, they even asked me to install Linux on it as well. Unfortunately, some software that my Uncle runs on it won't run under Wine, and I haven't been able to find any alternative to it under Linux (it's some custom software written by a friend of his that ties in various topography maps with a database keeping track of caves and other geological stuff in the area). It's funny though, with the exception of my Uncle who needs to use this software, everyone else in the family prefers the Linux box, and only uses the Windows machine for iTunes or if someone else is on the Linux box.
If you approach them diplomatically and explain that installing Linux will require that they learn things a little different, but that in the long run it will make it easier on everyone, you might be surprised how receptive non-technical people can be toward the idea. My own experience (not just with my aunt and uncle, with others as well) has show me that, while most people may not be proficient enough to install and configure Linux, if you set it up for them and then walk them through common tasks, people can run just fine with Linux. (1)

Eneff (96967) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808534)

Let her deal with their technical support instead.

It's not worth your aggrivation. I stopped building computers for others long ago. They can take responsibility in their own hands.

Simple (1)

SirSlud (67381) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808547)

You grow a set, and ask her to reciprocate all the time and effort in an area of her expertise. If she can't, offer her a reasonable rate to fix her computer. If she declines, tell her shes on her own. Tell her you suck at fixing computers, as evidenced by 'your track record'.

Slow support. (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808571)

This isn't so hard. The answer is simple: Support them when YOU have free time, not when they do.

The last time my mother's computer went fritzy, I forced her to just buy all new parts. She tried the "Dell has a computer for $x" approach and I said "Ooooh, good. I won't have to do tech support any more." She didn't buy a Dell. I eventually got her new parts, but I think I spent about 2 months doing it. She had to limp along with a slow-as-snails malfunctioning computer for that whole time.

The other method is a little tougher. Make THEM do everything, with you on the other side of a phone. Preferably while you're busy doing something else, even if it's just a video game. About the 10th "eh, what?" will bang it into their heads that maybe they should try harder to understand what's happening. And make them feel stupid when you've told them to do something more than twice. "Did you X?" is usually enough with my family. Sometimes a "Why not?" gets the point across. "Maybe you should do that before calling me" is the final try. This is typically used for 'Have you rebooted the computer?" and other pointlessly mundane things that they should understand as instinct. The first thing my mother says now is usually "I tried rebooting it."

The last method is to make sure that EVERY fix hits their pocket book. I haven't had to resort to this yet, but from experience when it HAS taken money to fix it, they are reluctant to even want a fix if they think it'll cost money. I don't mean charge your family a service charge... Mom didn't charge you for thousands of dinners she cooked. But make sure it requires a new part... graphics card, mouse... Something related to the issue, but generally as cheap as you can get it. (This IS a drastic measure.)

And if you can't get any of that to work, simply don't help them buy the next computer. Make them buy a Dell or some other piece of crap and deal with that tech support for the next 5 years. Things will change.

K.I.S.S. (1)

juventasone (517959) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808588)

There's posts here talking about all sorts of outrageously expensive or involved solutions. In your question, the only problem you actually mention is spyware. If this is true, then I suggest a simple mix of education and configuration.

Education is just a matter of explaining the common sources. Explain to them that anything advertising to give you something for free, often has a catch--just like real life. You can trust someone established, but otherwise ask someone who might know for sure (ie: you).

Configuration has to be done by you. Enable Automatic Updates (including installing). Enable the Windows Firewall. Install Windows Defender (have it auto-update as well). Mozilla Firefox certainly isn't a bad choice either (it updates itself pretty smoothly now). It's all free, and it all works rather well, and best of all, it works on its own. I wouldn't go crazy with "Security Suites" or Anti-Everything software, they cost money, they cost system resources, and sometimes have a habit of causing more problems than they solve. The education you gave her, or as I like to call it, common sense for the internet, is the best product of all.

Change your sister (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808617)

Your sister is an ingratious person who doesn't appreciate the effort that you put into furnishing her a computer in the first place. My advice to you is that, if she wants a store-bought computer, and feels that it will be better, let her have one, and stop giving her tech support. On the other hand, you might also consider getting a new, more appreciative sister.

Re:Change your sister (2, Funny)

KwKSilver (857599) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808812)

Well said. I was going to suggest he get his sister a brain, but your solution is more elegant and, therefore, better.

Re:Change your sister (4, Funny)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#15809073)

The problem with purchasing his sister a brain is the installation process. Most users don't want to open the cases on their bodies, or have the requisite expertise. I'm sure that his sister could be sent back to the factory, they'll refurbish her put in the brain if necessary, and sell her at a discount, and he'll get a nice new sister.

Image Install (1)

MADnificent (982991) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808638)

This is what I like to do (but I don't know how legal it is).

  1. Create seperate partitions for windows/linux/data/media/pr0n (maybe you don't need that last one for relatives ;-) )
  2. Install windows
  3. Install *nix (setup grub to go to windows after 2 seconds)
  4. Create an image of the windows disk on the *nix system (with only the standard apps installed), dd windowsPartition | bzip > windows.img
  5. Create a script (+ corresponding menu-item) to put the image back
When the user ruins [his|her] install, [he|she] can repair it [him|her]self, this way you'll be bothered much less. There are only complaints when they want extra apps necessary in the base windows install (you could make a separate disk for these, but they won't think about what's needed and whats extra, so they will -most likely- put everything in there...).

If performance is not really needed, you can install qemu/vmware and let them run an image (with a clean image on the side). If there is a problem, they can use the standard image super-easy. I believe this last way is a good one to 'convert' them to *nix.

Right now... (1)

martinultima (832468) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808703)

All my family's just using Ultima Linux [] (disclaimer, I'm the developer...) – took a while to convince them to switch, but after they saw what it was like they were all impressed – been working beautifully. Most of our machines still have Windows on them and are dual-booting, but it's been several months since anyone ever actually switched back, we just don't have any reason to... as far as games, etc. go, Cedega [] works beautifully for most of them... got all the printing handled through CUPS and our home network... plus, on the offchance that a problem does occur, all our machines have SSH enabled, so fixing stuff's almost trivially easy, at least as far as I'm concerned.

By the way, in case anyone's wondering, we have seven machines that are more or less always-on, two or three others that are sometimes in use, and then a single Windows laptop that my dad sometimes brings home from work – other than that, most everything's running Linux. As far as printing we have an EPSON all-in-one in my room, a Brother all-in-one in our family room, a Lexmark inkjet that my brother and sister share through the network... three machines hard-wired in, most of the others on wireless... all sorts of different hardware and configurations, and yet it runs just fine... so yeah, I'd say just switch to Linux, guaranteed to solve all your problems in no time :-)

Deep Freeze or buy an iMac (1)

green pizza (159161) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808756)

Set the machine up to your liking, then use Deep Freeze to ensure that it never changes.

Or, if they're the media types (digital photos, home videos, burning DVDs, etc) get them an iMac and maybe one of those iLife 06 how-to books. $1299 buys a dual core iMac with DVD burner, Radeon X1600 graphics, the iLife suite, remote control for the media center stuff, etc etc etc.

Microsoft Shared Computer Toolkit (1)

dfloyd888 (672421) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808785)

A free (WGA retina scan needed) tool from Microsoft that can help with a family computer is Microsoft's Shared Computer Toolkit.

URL: fault.mspx []

This has similar functionality like DeepFreeze, is free, has a good amount of features like rollback-ing if the machine gets spyware infected (Note: you will need to repartition to be able to use this functionality.)

It also has a great number of tools for locking down users. It may not be all what you need, but its a start, and the price is right.

Put these programs on it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808848)

AVG free
AdAware SE
Firefox/Opera(Whichever you prefer)

Set the first three to auto-update and auto-run at maybe 3:30 in the morning, and tell her not to ever ever use IE ever again ever.

If she uses IM alot, tell her that AIM is adware-riddled shit that is 100% guaranteed to mess her computer up even worse that taking a hammer to it and that she should keep it away from her computer and put Trillian on it. Tell her that if she does install AIM you won't offer support ever again. Check every week to make sure its not on there. (AIM crippled my system several times, so this advice is from experience)

If she insists on using P2P, Ares and BitComet are what I use. Ares is generally clean, and what little gets through is killed by Spybot or AdAware.

Alternatively, if she manages to mess that up, just tell her to make you a list of what she wants and you download it whenever you have spare time.

Is she somehow still manages to mess this up, tell her she should just stay away from computers.

This is basically what I did for my friend's sister's computer. He was more or less in the same situation as you are, and I owed him a favor. I basically just took her computer, virtually duplicated my setup, and told her just to be careful and not to click on anything that prompts her to install something(Unless it was Flash or something similar). Luckily, she fell in love with Trillian(Her main problem was AIM kept putting stuff on her computer) and Ares(Periodically got some spyware off of limewire) and she hasn't had a problem that required anything more than a basic reboot since last October or so. ...some of ya'll are sadistic. Nobody should ever say the phrase "Get a Dell" to anyone ever

A few things (1)

AndresCP (979913) | more than 8 years ago | (#15808917)

I tried to switch my parents to Mac computers, because they are more forgiving to users, but they didn't want to.

I make lists for them in extremely untechnical language and leave them in an easy to find place. Then whenever they call I tell them to look at the lists. They contain such helpful information as "unplug the purple thing (modem) and the silver thing (router). Plug them back in." Once you see what problems crop up over and over, you can deal with them like this.

Also, try switching them to less dangerous software, ie, teach them to use BitTorrent instead of limewire or something. That saved me a lot of time.

Finally, know when to refuse to help. When you've taught them how to run ad-aware a thousand times for naught, get out of there, and maybe reference them to someone who's paid to deal with inanity.

Just do what my parents did (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808956)

They sent their son to Engineering School.

High maintenance means high price (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15808996)

High maintenance family and friends should buy their own computers from the mega-corp computer vendors. The geeks of the world have enough to do without working as full time IT for their family, friends, and all associated off-shoots. Let them talk to tech-support in India a few times and see how their tune changes.

Don't Bother (1)

NousCS (180385) | more than 8 years ago | (#15809043)

If someone (regardless if they are family) calls a computer you took the time to build for them a "piece of crap" then they no long deserve your help. Unless it really is a piece of crap in which case you should no longer build computers.

If you are dead set to go down this road then your best bet is to build the computer and setup the software exactly to their specifications. Of course, give them recommendations and help them along to good choices but do not be pushy. If as some later point they have complaints gently remind them that the computer was made to their specifications.

My Story (1)

Tibor the Hun (143056) | more than 8 years ago | (#15809178)

I have supplied my parents and mother in law with G3 macs over a year ago, and have not had any problems or calls since.
My best friend, brother in law and 2 coworkers have also switched from unsatisfactory PCs to new Macs. (Minis and iBooks).

If people are not happy with their current Wintels, they are not so hesitant towards switching to Macs.
My "converts" all LOVE them and love using them.
All that and no support calls.
The best part... no more thanxgiving weekends spent cleaning up spyware on a dialup line!

Deepfreeze. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15809204)

I can't speak about that computer configuration, but I can speak for where I work at, and that's an internet café which gets 100, 150 different persons a day, doing all kinds of stuff.

We don't use any kind of restrictive software (like CyberCafé Pro, or similar), or anything else that blocks or stops the user from doing something. It's in our policy or similar. Apart from the normal apps (Office, MSN Messenger, etc...) there's only one other program that's installed and most people don't even notice it.

It's called Deepfreeze, and according to their rd [] :

"Deep Freeze instantly protects and preserves baseline computer configurations. No matter what changes a user makes to a workstation, simply restart to eradicate all changes and reset the computer to its original state - right down to the last byte. Expensive computer assets are kept running at 100% capacity and technical support time is reduced or eliminated completely. The result is consistent trouble-free computing on a truly protected and parallel network, completely free of harmful viruses and unwanted programs."

It'll set you back around 30USD, that for sure. But from our experience here at the cybercafé, it saves us from reformatting it each month. Just a reboot and voilá, just as it was 3 or 5 months ago. Just set up a "ThawSpace" drive, with sufficient space for her saved documents, mp3, what ever and instruct your family to save their stuff there. It'll be there in the next reboot, and forever (until they decide to delete it of course). Windows configuration, virii, trojans, insert malicious piece of code here) will have a REALLY bad time from there on.

I've been using it for almost 10 months now... and I haven't reformatted a computer since (apart from hardware failures.) Need to change something? Just push the magic key combo (CTRL+ALT+F6 default) and input the password, set it to off on the next reboot and change what you need. After you finish just reboot it once more and the changes you did will be kept.. forever.
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