Monday, 10 July 2006

Setting up a PC for your mum and dad

by Charles Pooter

What do you do if your mum and dad ask you to set up a PC for them? Your mum insists on using Windows because it's "what she's used to". "I'm not interested in Umbongo Linux" says your dad. This guide presents some tips I've learnt from setting up and fixing PCs for friends and relatives.

  1. Resign yourself to having to help out again in the future
    If you're setting up a Windows PC for a close relative like your mum or dad, it's probably going to be a long-term commitment. That's OK though, you do actually like these people, right?

  2. Make a restore CD
    Make a CD or DVD that installs Windows with their favourite apps and your settings automatically. When (not if) they screw up their PC, they can just pop in the bootable CD and reinstall.

  3. Consider setting up restricted accounts
    Install all the software they need and set them up with restricted accounts. That way they are unlikely to screw up your lovely installation. If they insist on installing junk themselves, set up a separate admin account so they aren't routinely surfing the web as an administrator. Tell your parents to not give out the admin password to younger siblings.

  4. Enable Microsoft Update
    'nuff said.

  5. Setup remote access
    As I said in point 1, like it or not, you will be helping out in the future. Setup remote access so that you can troubleshoot problems from the comfort of your own home. First, sign up to a dynamic DNS service. Next enable remote desktop and remote assistance in Windows. Finally, make the requisite holes in the Windows firewall and your mum's router firewall (if she has one). You might also consider VNC, though there have been some recent security issues with this. Of course, if you visit in person, you might get fed or even have your laundry done for you.

  6. Useful Software
    If you install all of the software they are likely to need when you set up their computer, they won't need to abuse the administrator account and are less likely to install junk.

    My recommendations:

    • AVG Anti-Virus Free - Free anti-virus software.
    • Windows Defender - Microsoft's anti-spyware software.
    • Firefox - Set this as the default browser.
    • Firefox extensions - Don't forget your favourite extensions.
    • GMail - If they don't have established email accounts, set them up with Gmail accounts and avoid the need for an email program.
    • OpenOffice - 90% of the functionality of MS Office, 0% of the cost.
    • VLC Media Player - The best thing to come out of France ever. Plays just about any media file without hassle. Also plays DVDs.
    • QuickTime Alternative - QuickTime is annoying, this bundles the codecs with a slimeline player.
    • Real Alternative - Ditto.
    • 7-Zip or Filzip - Windows XP has zip functionality built-in, but they'll need something for other archive formats. These programs are completely free.
    • Adobe Reader
    • PrimoPDF - I reviewed free PDF creation tools for Windows and this came out on top.
    • Picasa - For organising and basic editing of digital photos.
    • The GIMP - Stupid name, great software. For advanced image editing.

  7. Education
    My final tip is to gently attempt to educate your parents about using their computer safely. If you've followed the tips so far, there's not too much that can go wrong, but some extra advice can't hurt. Tell them about the dangers of phishing and about installing rubbish that will slow down their PC. Tell them that they can email you if they need a tool for a particluar task and you'll let them know a good piece of software for the job. Your parents have lectured you enough times, I'm sure they can can listen to your advice for once!

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