Why you should switch your parents PC to Ubuntu

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 20, 2006
Updated • May 21, 2013

About a month ago my mother called and asked if I could help her with a problem on her computer that I set up and installed for her. The computer reacted slowly to her input and was opening unknown websites for no reason. It was immediately clear that some sort of spyware or even worse virus or trojan was responsible for this behavior. She was really desperate and I began to scan the system immediately.

Some spyware and virii were found and it took some time until everything was clean and running as usual. I then decided that it was time to analyze what my parents were doing with their computer and how a future attack could be prevented. I knew that they would not be able to cope with the latest security news, patches, fixes and all the stuff that is important to keep your system clean.

They were using the computer for, lets say normal things, like writing texts, basic web surfing (ebay for instance) and email. That got me thinking that it would probably be a good idea to switch them to linux and forget about windows. Ubuntu Linux for instance is capable of doing all of the above after installation and I was pretty sure that they would be able to work with Ubuntu pretty fast.

It is very similar to Windows, at least when you compare the desktop to it. Even all programs that they were using would be the same. Firefox can be used on Linux and Thunderbird, the email program as well. They were using open office for text processing which meant that the only change would be to cope with the navigation of the new system.

The main advantage of a Linux solution is of course security. Windows is plagued by spyware, trojans and worms whereas Linux is not. Giving them a normal user account under linux would be enough to let them do whatever they did before with their computer without the fear that sensitive data would fall into the wrong hands.

I'm not a Linux pro but I was able to setup the system and install everything (import mails and the like) in a matter of hours and teach my parents how to use their new system. It basically does the same but looks different, not much teaching had to be done to be honest.

Another advantage is that the system seems to run faster than before. They have a Celeron Cpu with 256 megabytes of Ram and Windows seemed to be really slow compared to my own computer. I got rid of many power hungry services like indexing but that was obviously not enough. It simply feels faster with Linux as the operating system.

To sum it up:

  • Windows is: less secure, slower, requires more administration
  • Linux is: secure, faster, requires less administration

The core benefit is that your parents, or whomever you set the system up for, can work in a safer environment without sacrificing any of the features or programs that they are already used to work with.


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  1. Eskimorris said on March 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    I am about to do this for my parents later today, i have weighted the pros and cons for awhile and after the third time (this being the fourth) reformatting my parents system, here is what i’ve come to.

    no viri
    software is free, my parents are retired.
    less of a resource hog, faster computer
    if they DO break it, as long as you make a seperate partition for /home then you’ll never loose your files

    remember there are bugs, i love linux but they exist
    kernel update will mess up wifi sometimes
    if they like to shut their computer down, they must do it properly, a hard shut down in linux can cause problems loading
    if they are past the point of trying new things it may be unfamiliar to them.
    work arounds require research, Itunes w/ WINE no Turbotax etc.

    I believe the Pros outweight the cons.

    Dear John, I work in a technical support office. I am excited that you are able to comprehend and understand and learn. Many people I speak to simply are unwilling to retain information they learn. I always love speaking to folks such as yourself, who have the drive to adapt an learn always changing technology. Many people your age do not have the drive or ability to do what you do, we in no way mean to take away from your experience. from my experience people past the age of 40 who are able to understand and use the full potential of linux or even other operating systems are rare. you are a minority, we applaud you, but the fact remains many users don’t have the mental capacity.

  2. Bob said on April 4, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Guys, I did the same thing for my parents. I gave them an old 512mb RAM laptop about a year or so ago. With XP installed they were calling me all the time as they kept breaking stuff or getting trojans from acidentally swithing off Anti Virus etc, then they got paranoid about it and started using my little sisters college laptop which caused all kinds of arguments. All they use the thing for is storing the odd photo, ebay, email and other internet stuff. I wiped the thing and put Ubuntu on. It loaded up a treat, runs faster than XP did on the machine and my parents actually got it straight off the bat. Like someone else said, it just works. Ubuntu and parents is a good mix.

  3. Ranto said on March 14, 2008 at 2:46 am

    Billy Bob, do you have any experience of Ubuntu linux? Windows boxes with less technical people are going to experience ongoing security issues – freeware and even commercial solutions quickly become outdated.

    Installation is the critical period for linux and ubuntu linux on desktops tends to work out of the box. If ubuntu linux installs, and works, then security issues are resolved permanently.

  4. Billy Bob said on February 4, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Sorry guys but having your parents running a Linux box to solve a security issue under Windows doesn’t make much sense. You could probably fix the security problem once and not worry about it but I can only imagine the many problems that would come up under Linux.

    It’s a pretty bad idea and one reason why Linux is so weak on the desktop.

  5. Todd said on December 22, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks adrift!

  6. adrift said on December 22, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Yeah, you can run WOW on Ubuntu, you just need to use “Wine” (not the drinking kind, but i’m sure that’ll make setting it up more interesting). There’s a couple of write ups on how to do this on the Ubuntu Forums. Here’s one http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=120615

  7. Todd said on December 21, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    On an unrelated note, has anyone attempted to run World of Warcraft on Ubuntu? That’s pretty much the only thing I think that would hold me back from completely switching over. I know I could just dual boot, but to me that seems like it would be defeating the whole point of using Ubuntu in the first place.

  8. adrift said on December 21, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    i didn’t sense any negative tone in your post Martin. I think John is being a little bit over-sensitive. Anyhow, great read Martin. I read a post along the same lines at diggs.com recently as well. There’s a few problems i can forsee with setting my folks up with Ubuntu, namely things like watching streaming windows media files and the like, but hopefully you’ll be able to cross those roads when you come to them.

  9. Todd said on December 21, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    People shouldn’t take the internet so seriously. The point of Martin posting this was to help people, not to imply that old people can’t use a computer. I believe the majority of the people who read this site daily are the people that everyone else comes to for help when there’s a problem with their computer, or to put it simply “computer savvy people”. You’re one of those people John. The reason the post is titled “Why you should switch your parents’ pc” is because that was how it applied to Martin. It could have easily been titled “Why you should probably put Ubuntu on your wife’s pc” instead, and have gotten the same point across, but the whole reason this story was posted is because of the junk he found when was cleaning his mom’s pc! Don’t take things so seriously, it’s only the internet. :)

  10. Martin said on December 21, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    John I was not implying that there are no elder who have the knowledge to build and maintain a pc on their own. I respect the elder and did not mean to “talk down on them”.

  11. John said on December 21, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    I read your post every morning and generally enjoy them and find them informative. However, this post bothers me somewhat. I have two computers that I have built from all new parts, one 2 years ago and 1 this summer. I have 1 running XP with a few programs that I must have (not ready to let go yet or haven’t found a suitable replacement)and also used to help troubleshoot problems of others. My main computer I first put Vista Beta on and then dumped it and put Linux (Kanotix) on. I have now switched to Sidux. I have no formal training in computers, all self taught. My neighbors ask me questions and I help repair their problems.

    The point of the rant is that I am 63 years old. Quit talking down to parents and grandparents. You did not invent computers. Many of us have been at this far longer than you have. Quit being condescending.


  12. Rodrigo Schmidt said on December 21, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    I switched to Ubuntu, but can’t convice my father and mother to do so because my father loves to play Age of Empires and my Mother uses to PC to capture video with a unknowkn video-capture-card.

    I believe that Ubuntu is great, but some problems like that and bad recognization of dial-up modens still keeps it from hiting main ground.

  13. Martin said on December 21, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Thinker most parents to not use multimedia / games which makes them an ideal candidate to switch. And it is not only about the drivers. They have to keep up with windows patches, firewall, anti-virus, phishing, spyware, dialers, trojans, backdoors which is probably to much for inexperienced users.

  14. Thinker said on December 21, 2006 at 9:02 am

    under windows it will just work too.
    simply dont install drivers, it is the best way.

    anyway it seems that linux gain more and more advantages over windows, but still there is much more good programs/games/multimedia for windows

  15. Todd said on December 20, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks for another great story.

  16. Bogart said on December 20, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I’ve also found Ubuntu to be easier from the point of view that things “just work”.

    In Windows, in order to get my digital camera working I need to find (on a website somewhere because I lost the CD) and then install drivers. These drivers elicit a warning that they are not approved and may damage my computer – but I need to install them. This is a USB mass storage device people!

    In Ubuntu I just plug it in. It Works.

  17. Robert said on December 20, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    It’s funny when you think about it.

    Windows is supposed to be the OS that is very easy to learn and follow. But because of security concerns you really need to know what you are doing now.

    In Linux, it feels different, but with the right shortcuts and people like your parents, that don’t do anything fancy, linux is the right answer.

    I’m planning to do the same thing for my g/f computer and rid her of Windows

    Keep up the good work. Love the site.

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