A Linux computer for grandpa and grandma

A Linux computer for grandpa and grandma

Summary: Tired of playing tech support for your older, less computer savvy relatives? Then you may want to consider getting them a Linux-powered WOW! Computer.

TOPICS: Linux, Hardware, PCs

When I think of getting a Linux desktop, I first think about installing it myself. Next, I think about buying one with Linux pre-installed from a vendor such as Dell, System76, or ZaReason. What I haven't thought about it is buying one from an advertisement in a Sunday newspaper magazine called Parade. Maybe I should have. I recently discovered the WOW! Computer for Seniors..

The ad loudly proclaims that it's “A Computer Designed for YOU, Not Your Grandchildren!” And, that's it “Easy to read! Easy to set up! Easy to use!” And, if you look closely you'll find that it runs Linux.

I've also known that the FUD about Linux being hard to use was myth, My 80-year old mother-in-law, who's also an Ubuntu 12.04 user is living proof that Linux is easy to use. What I hadn't expected to see was a vendor targeting the older boomer generation and beyond with Linux computers.

The WOW! Computer is a product from firstSTREET, a company that specialized in products “for Boomers and Beyond.” So, what are they doing selling Linux PCs to seniors? The company explained, “The WOW! Computer runs on a Linux operating system we’ve customized to support our touch screen capabilities. We chose Linux to avoid frequent problems with viruses and to provide a more secure, problem-free computer environment.”

They add, “One of the many benefits of using the Linux based operating platform is that it is highly secure. Most computer viruses out there are targeted at computers running Windows and as such cannot infect computers running a Linux operating system (like your WOW!Computer). We provide 'server side' virus protection on our end for an extra measure of safety and security.”

I couldn't have said it better myself. Linux is safer than Windows. And, it doesn't require users to be on their guard against viruses all the time. Yes, modern Windows can be made safer, but it's still not as safe. That's especially true when it's in the hands of a naïve user. The sad fact that  several hundred-thousand Windows users were knocked off the Internet by the long-fixed DNSChanger Trojan speaks volumes about what happens when you combine Windows users without a clue and the Internet.

The WOW! Computer is designed for just those kind of users. Besides using Linux, the WOW!, which was designed “for seniors and baby boomers with little or no experience using computers,” won't let you add software. It's a closed box, that means it certainly isn't for me, but considering some of the trouble some of my older relatives have gotten into with their computers, I can see the attraction of restricting them to a limited number of programs.

The computer comes with most of the basics pre-installed: e-mail, Web browser, photos, Skype Video and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) , games, and music and video players, The display looks like Ubuntu Unity, but under the hood it's running Tiny Core Linux.

A first look at Ubuntu 12.04 (Gallery)

Tiny Core is a lightweight Linux. By default it's built, somewhat like Google's Chrome OS , to use the cloud for a lot of its heavy-lifting. In the WOW!,it seems to be using the generous 500GB hard drive.

The computer is a combination computer and 20” 1600x900 multi-touch display. This is powered by an AMD Dual-Core E-350 (1.6GHz) processor . For memory it comes with 2GBs of RAM. For Linux, expecially one  as lightweight as Tiny Core, that's more than enough memory and processor to run quickly.

The system also comes with a DVD player, a built-in Webcam with microphone, 6 USB ports, 1 microphone in, 1 earphone out, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, a 6-in1 card reader and 802.11 b/g/n WI-Fi. It also comes with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and speakers.

There's only one thing I don't like about the system. At $999 it's pricey. If it were half that price, I'd seriously think about buying a slew of them for my elderly relatives. Still, when I think about a system where the only way they can get into trouble is by giving crooks their credit-card numbers and I won't have to troubleshoot their problems.... well maybe a grand isn't so much after all.

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Topics: Linux, Hardware, PCs

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  • A Linux computer for grandpa and grandma

    Kudos to The WOW! Computer
    • Kudos for a $400 computer on sale for $1000?

      Just what Seniors need, a computer that's over priced and doesn't run the basics like Quicken and TurboTax.

      Nice job. As long as they want to live in a completely closed world without options, this is the over priced machine for them.
      • Quicken and Turbotax have online versions which would work on this machine.

        ..and it still costs less than an iMac, which doesn't include a touch screen and has been my default recommendation to most old folx (aka, my parents and my in-laws).

        To tell you the truth, I actually like the concept of this machine - I know a number of seniors who would prefer this over an iPad (which seems to be the closest competitor as far as the restrictive ecosystem goes).
        • You keep telling people how to live, do you know how?

          Perhaps there are reasons that people don't use the online versions, like knowing that your hard drive is a bit safer than the cloud, or perhaps because that new fangled internet scares them to death.

          In my fathers case, he's been using the local version of quicken since 1998, so has no desire to change now.

          Why don't you listen to people instead of telling them how to live? Linux might benefit if the whole community would pull thier heads out and LISTEN instead of telling.
          • Would those be the 100s of millions of dead Windows hard drives

            in landfills all over the world that took billions of music files, tax files, and emails to the grave?
            Maybe someday Windows will come with a backup system that actually works.

            In other words, if you believe your $60 hard drive is 'Safe', you're headed for trouble.

            For non-techinal people like grampa, the cloud is probably a safer place for their data.
          • Just don't get it - do you?

            Sigh, still can't accept that people just don't like your answers.

            Now as for dead hard drives, I take care of those. A 30-06 or chop saw tends to render the data harmless. Even a hammer does a pretty good job.

            As for the cloud, I believe we've already seen how well secured the cloud is, and thatn's not very well. If RSA can be broken into, what chance does the Cloud have of keeping the bad guys out.

            Security on hard drive pretty simple. Security on cloud, well, if you'd just open your eyes -
          • God

            What a dik Pt. II :-(
          • Backup system

            I've been running a Windows Home Server for a couple years now. It automatically backs up all my machines every night. I've never lost a file since.
          • God

            What a dik. :-(
  • $999 U.S.? WOW!

    Just think, one could buy grandma and grandpa each an entry-level iPad 3 for a total of $998 U.S. Plus, they can install apps that their iPads don't default with (such as Angry Birds). Apple's app store doesn't seem quite so closed anymore.

    P.S. They would be safer with a Linux-based WOW! Computer or iOS-based iPads than they would be with a Windows PC for online banking and portfolio management.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • What part of "the elderly"

      Spoken like a true young person who knows nothing about the elderly.

      This has a 20" display compared to the iPad's 10" (much easier to see). It has USB ports (used by a lot of assistive technology). It has wired Ethernet (so you needn't set up a wireless router, deal with passwords, etc.). It has a real keyboard and a real mouse (MUCH easier to send emails that typing on a small, flat, non-tactile keyboard). It has external speakers (volume is king). It even includes a DVD player (a lot of old movies are available on cheap DVDs at Walmart).
      • RE: What part of "the elderly"

        Written by someone lacking basic research capability. A quick web search found these two articles (there are many, many more):



        What if an elderly person lacks mobility and spends a great deal of time in bed? A desktop system? Really?

        Or if an elderly person lacks the ability to type with a keyboard, virtual or real? Multi-touch gestures to the rescue.

        And failing eyesight? Use the zoom multi-touch gesture to make reading easier

        I'd never go so far to say that the iPad is the answer for every elderly person. But, neither is a conventional desktop or laptop system (whatever the OS).
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • All of your statements apply equally...

        ...to the $300 plus monitor entry level desktop's from HP, Dell etc. Just saying...
    • Or for a pawltry $400, they could buy a Windows box with better specs

      It's sort of sad that this box is $999, 2 gig ram, no real graphics, and a low end AMD processor. On the open market you could get it for $400 with Windows installed.

      I guess Linux costs more than Windows? Really confusion if you know what I mean
      • Or save $1 U.S.

        And buy an iPad 2 for $399 U.S.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • No debate there

          My wife, basically a non-computer user loves the iPad 2 she got for Christmas. Grandpa likes tablets too, but since he already has a PC, not in the market.

          No debate that an iPad is much cheaper than the WOW computer. It's just a plain ripoff.
    • Wow! refers to

      the profit margin they are making on this thing. Wowser holy verschmookenah!
  • Good luck.

    "I've also known that the FUD about Linux being hard to use was myth, My 80-year old mother-in-law, who's also an Ubuntu 12.04 user is living proof"

    Meh, I've refuted this old canard many times. One data point does not an accurate statistic make. And it's not as if Windows is a bad OS anyways. The whole virus thing is a bit of FUD as well. I've found that it's pretty easy (and getting easier with each new release) to make a Windows system secure.

    This product is frankly trying to appeal to a very limited set of people who have frankly already made up their minds about whether they want to learn technology or not. Good luck with that.
    • FUD?

      that whole virus thing is a bit of a fud? millions of botnet computers is a bit of a fud? dude.

      the article or the computer isn't about what you are capable of, it's not about how easy it is for you to make a windows computer secure. did you miss that part?

      the very limited set of people? and you know this how exactly? you have some statistics? maybe you polled those hundreds of millions of people who use computers for email and facebook and nothing more and found them all just chomping at the bit to learn more technology. is that what you're basing this on? enlighten us.
      • thoughts

        This article is way off the front page, so I guess this is my last reply here.

        "that whole virus thing is a bit of a fud?"

        Yes and no.

        Yes, it is a concern.

        But also yes it is a bit overblown.

        The thing it, we're talking about two OSes with very different installed bases. Windows is mostly on home systems, where a lot of people barely know how to use it. Yes, they do stupid things, like install random software and allow permissions to things that perhaps shouldn't have permission.

        And that's the problem. It's not the security of the OS, it's the mindset of the user. You can't fix stupid, so to speak.

        Linux, on the other hand, is usually on servers, tended by people who know how to secure them. It's not a big surprise that security experts are gonna have less problems with malware than most other people.

        So yes, Linux is more secure - because it's usually run by security experts, not because of some magical, mystical property of the OS.

        I do believe that, in the hands of a security expert, Windows can be made as secure as Linux. I've had no issues with malware for 10 years.

        "the very limited set of people? and you know this how exactly? you have some statistics? "

        Hey, you and your pals start giving statistics for the UI stuff instead of spouting off the "grandma philosophy" of UI design, and I'll bother to find some statistics. Until then, it's not worth the effort.