My mom requests a Linux computer

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In December 2007, I finally got my mother back on Linux for Christmas.

The backstory

My mom, who was then 87 and is now 95, had a computer for several years. It started before dad died while they were living in Crossville, Tennessee, and not near any family. (At least not near any of us who had any real computing knowledge.) A cousin of mine built a computer for her from an old one that he had. He collects old ones and does some refurbishing, reinstalls Windows and makes them more or less workable. But he also lived far away and visited infrequently.

Mom was finding this computer frustrating because the hardware was very old and slow to start with, so I built her a computer in about 2000 that had Linux on it. She liked the Linux computer very much, in part because I had provided her with written instructions about how to perform the basic tasks she wanted to do.

Mom also had a slow dial-up connection as she and dad lived in a rural resort community that did not have cable at that time. Even after getting cable they did not have the option of high speed internet access through their cable company.

We live in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is a brutal eight to nine hour drive from Crossville, so I had to do all maintenance remotely through this very slow dial up line. I had written a little program that would detect the IP address and email it to me. All mom had to do was click an icon on the KDE Panel and I could use SSH to login and perform maintenance.

She used to have guests occasionally and, despite the fact I had set up a guest account, she allowed them to use her login account once too often. One of them who thought he knew a little about Linux managed to damage the dial-up configuration while trying to login to his own ISP. After that it was impossible for me to get in to fix things and she could not get her email.

At that point one of my brothers gave her an old laptop with Windows 98 on it and set her up with AOL. AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!! But it allowed her to get back online although some things did not work well.

She kept asking me to get her a Linux computer because she liked it better, but she had become entrenched in AOL.

After Dad died, mom moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she was near my brother and his family. There was little reason to get her back onto a Linux computer as my brother was local now and could help her with her problems. Unfortunately, over time, this computer experienced the usual performance decay and it became pretty much unusable for her.

She continued to ask me to get her a Linux computer because she liked it better. Every time we talked to her on the phone or visited, I got the same request; she wanted a Linux computer.

The new computer

I finally decided that 2007 would be the year I got mom a new Linux computer for Christmas. Mom already had Time Warner Cable for her TV, and I encouraged her to get RoadRunner so she would not have to wait hours for large graphics people sent her to download. She did that and even got Time Warner digital phone service.

I rebuilt an older computer I had with a new motherboard, additional memory, and a SATA hard drive. Her new system had an Intel 2.6GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and and 80GB SATA hard drive. I figured that should be good enough for several years for email, web browsing, and a little word processing. I also got her a new keyboard, mouse, flat-panel LCD display, and a UPS.

I installed Fedora 8 on mom’s new computer and did a good deal of basic configuration on her desktop so she would have her most used icons right there in front of her.

My wife Alice and I went up over Christmas and I installed her new computer. I set her up with a Gmail account. Alice reentered all of her email address book from AOL into Gmail. Alice and I showed her how to use Gmail, and I showed her the basics of her new Linux computer.

Happy again

Mom was happy and sending emails again. She could keep in touch with her friends around the world and get pictures of her great-grandchildren through her Gmail account.

It is now 2015 and, after a couple of upgrades, mom is still happy with her Linux computer. The last time we were up to visit one of the fans was getting noisy, so I will have to do some hardware surgery the next time we visit.

So my mother has been using Linux for 15 years, although not continuously. I am impressed with her desire to learn new things and to utilize technology to keep in touch with friends and family now that she no longer travels. With my mom as an example, I find it hard to imagine not continuing to learn and be involved with life for as long as I possibly can.

David Both
David Both is an Open Source Software and GNU/Linux advocate, trainer, writer, and speaker. He has been working with Linux and Open Source Software since 1996 and with computers since 1969. He is a strong proponent of and evangelist for the "Linux Philosophy for System Administrators."


What did she mean by "a Linux computer"? A personalized system that lets her do what she wants with minimum interference?

Mostly she meant one like the previous Linux computer I had built for her while she was in Tennessee. But she also meant something that worked and, as you say, worked with minimum interference.

Her Linux computer just sits there and runs with no interruptions or slowing down. So she is happy and therefore I am happy. ;-)

In reply to by Somewhat Reticent (not verified)

Hardware surgery? Come on, David, give in and get her some newer hardware!


But us geezers do need all the help we can get in staying up to date - thanks for your part!


I'm about an hour west of you, and my 92 year old great aunt just converted to Kubuntu, although for different reasons. Her Lenovo laptop is pretty much up to date, so it will run whatever, with the restriction that 'whatever' be designed well. When she said that she was going to download the Windows 10 update, I held my tongue. I'm biased, I know that I'm biased, and I didn't think that I should push her in a direction she might not want to go. No need to worry about me doing that, Microsoft pushed her into a direction that she hated. After a month, she asked me whether I was having any frustrations with Windows 10. I told her that I didn't use Windows, and, if she wanted, I could let her try what I use (Kubuntu) in the spring when I upgrade my hardware. That was our agreement, then, and then MS had to send out an update that broke her installation. I took it to a shop, since I have been away from Windows too long to be a reliable expert. Their only option was a clean install, so I told my great aunt that I could either reinstall Windows 7 or she could try Kubuntu. Her answer was clear, she wanted to try Kubuntu. I told her that I could put Windows back on later, if she wanted. She's been crystal clear; she doesn't want Windows back.

My mother is 91 and has been using Linux for ten years. The calls to my help desk dropped of to zilch after getting her off of Windows.

I managed to get both of my parents to switch to Xubuntu. My dad is an engineer and was becoming frustrated with his Windows machine and how slow AutoCAD was running. Now that he's using Xubuntu and Draftsight (not as good as AutoCAD) he gets his work done and doesn't have to pull his hair off because the computer is too slow. Same thing with my mom, she loves Xubuntu and LibreOffice and the other day I heard her telling her friends how "modern" she is, haha.

It's stories like this that keeps me wanting to learn as much as I can. They say that once you stop learning you're done (in more than one sense). The way I see it is if someone like David's mom can learn and use a computer (let alone Linux) then everyone can keep learning something new. Your mom wanting her Linux computer back says a lot too. It works, even for someone who has no coding or tech skills.

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