If my mother-in-law can use Ubuntu Linux, anyone can

If my mother-in-law can use Ubuntu Linux, anyone can

Summary: Enough is enough; you don't need to be a tech. geek to use Linux. If my 79-year old mother-in-law can use the Ubuntu Linux desktop, anyone can.


Two Ubuntu users: Steven and, Hulvia, his 79-year old mother-in-law.

Two Ubuntu users: Steven and, Hulvia, his 79-year old mother-in-law.

One of the great Linux desktop myths is that it's hard to use. People still think that you need to be some kind of mad computer wizard to use Linux. What nonsense. Desktop Linux has been as easy to use as any of the mainstream desktop operating systems for over a decade. How easy is it? My 79-year old mother-in-law, Hulvia, can use it.

She arrived a few weeks ago with her Windows laptop, but without her power cord. So, she needed a computer of her own. As I went down to garage/server room/spare computer storage locker, "What the heck, if Jason Perlow's father-in-law could pick up Ubuntu Linux in 2007 at the age of 71, why not my mother-in-law at 79 in 2012!"

So, I grabbed a Dell Inspiron laptop, and I installed the latest Ubuntu 12.04 beta on it. Canonical always claimed its Unity interface was easy to use and I thought it was too, but let's see how someone who's only used Windows could do with it.

A first look at Ubuntu Linux 12.04's Unity desktop (Gallery)

Once installed and hooked into my Wi-Fi network, I sat down with her, and I explained how to open applications. Actually, she didn't need my explanation. She could see that she needed to click the applications on the left sidebar to start them at a glance.

I then showed her how to login to her computer--no auto logins allowed in my house, not even on Linux systems!--and sat back to see how she'd do with it.

The answer: Just fine. For over three weeks she used Ubuntu, without any instruction or hand-holding. That's a good thing because you see, she speaks almost no English, and I speak almost no Spanish, her native language. My wife's our translator.

What did she do with it? She wrote a little bit on LibreOffice, but she spent most of her time on the Web with Firefox. She watched her telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas), and e-mailed her friends.

She did have one "technical" problem though. She lost the sound once on a YouTube video. It turns out she'd clicked on the Web page's mute button. She could have worked that out on her own, but the icon was too small for her to see. Indeed, one of the things she liked about Unity was having large, easily visible icons on the left.

That was it. Three weeks went by. She spent three to four hours a day on her computer and-this is the important part-she never had any trouble what-so-ever with it. Desktop Linux? Hard? I don't think so and neither does she.

Related Stories:

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Say hello to Canonical's new Linux desktop: Ubuntu 12.04 beta review

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Topics: Software, CXO, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

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  • Easy if you stay on the reservation.

    My favorite tax software package is Windows only. And come on Wine fans. You can barely get Spider Solitaire to limp along with it.

    I still prefer Mint because of the things it "just does."
    • maybe Spider lags

      but Hearts runs well.

      For large, complex Windows apps, wine is less than perfect. OTOH, my own experience is that dosemu does a better job with full screen character mode programs than Windows XP Pro SP3 and Windows 7.
    • What, no Web version?

      Come on, time to change your tax software.
      • Nice to have a choice...

        Some people prefer to have software (especially tax software which often contains sensitive information) run locally on their computers. True there are a number of tax programs available online. Luckily for most of us, there is a choice.

        I've been using the same tax package for over 15 years, and as long as its available on the shelf every year, it will be the one I continue to use (and yes, it does have a web version as well - I just choose not to use it).

        Freedom of choice - pretty ironic that many Linux advocates shout "choice" as the big reason for running an operating system that essentially pigeonholes them into one or two "choices" for any given piece of software, while those of us sitting in Microsoft's "prison" have much, much more available to us.
        • Pidgeon holes written by Moles!

          Go back to Redmond for goodness sake.
          Linux has over 35,000 free open source software
          packages to choose from in every Linux distro.
      • Yeah, right. I'm going to put my name

        address, social security number, taxpayer identification number and all my financial information up on some third-party web site. Yeah. That's brilliant.
      • Why Use Tax Software at all?

        Why not just take your year's receipts and other tax documents to a trusted tax accountant? The cost of the tax software + your time and headaches is always less than going to your accountant. The bonus is that they will help you if you get audited.
      • Less than paying an accountant?

        @benched42, your finances must be pretty complicated or your tax software very expensive. I use TaxAct, which costs $20 for a downloadable version (though of course it doesn't run right in Wine, so I have to run it in a virtual machine). I download & install it one day, then when I'm ready to do my taxes I fire it up, answer the questions it asks, and I'm done the same evening--3 hours tops. It's no big deal. (Now, I don't have rentals, royalties, or really sophisticated investments out there, but I do have kids, a mortgage, and a few stock dividends--so I'm not doing really complicated tax stuff, but I'm not doing the 1040EZ either.)
    • Everyone Has Their Priorities

      Well, everyone has their own priorities. If a certain piece of software is important enough to you that you would rather run Windows just to support that piece of software, then that's a reason to run Windows. If a reason is good enough for you, then it's good enough, since it's an entirely personal decision what operating system you run. Of course, the balance of reasons can change as time goes on.

      On the other hand, though Wine is not the answer to running all Windows software, it's not entirely useless either. I played World of Warcraft for quite a while with Wine without any problems. A few of the little graphical effects for WoW are Direct3D only, so I didn't get those, but it still looked pretty good. On the other hand, the network seemed to work a little better when running with Wine on Linux for some reason. It's also possible to run some versions of Microsoft Office (if you feel the need) and other popular software pretty well through Wine.

      Again, though, I'm not saying that Wine is the answer to how to run your favorite software. For the most part, the way to run Linux is to find Linux software that does the things you need or want. At home I can do pretty much everything I want with Linux software. I do keep a virtual machine with Windows XP for putting maps on my GPS. That's pretty much all I need from Windows at the moment. I may also put a Windows partiton on the new computer I'm about to build so that my brother can play some new Windows games.
    • Wine Runs more than you suggest

      Actually, I run World of Warcraft under Wine, and I've also been running our shop ERP system E2 from Shoptech to run under it just fine as well, and that has an embedded Crystal Reports module that also runs just fine. Current version of Wine is simply amazing at what you can get to run under it. It's actually easier to get most of the Business Apps I've used than many games.

      Now this was CentOS 6.2, and Wine 1.4, not Ubuntu, so maybe there's some differences, but I prefer the KDE shell over Unity or Gnome, and I just always felt CentOS or Fedora ran KDE better than the Debian family does, at least it works for me anyhow.
    • So you think Wine can't keep up?

      My Lubuntu machine and its status as a working gaming rig certainly says otherwise, thanks to Wine. If you haven't tried Wine recently, it's worth giving a shot now.
    • Reservation?! Gracious God! You got to be kidding.

      You see I've been using Windows since I had my first computer, in 2007.
      Now, I don't like it anymore.
      And I'll tell you this: All versions of Windows that I used were just PIRATED COPIES.
      I mean, I didn't pay for any license.
      But now, I finally know I can escape from Windows!! It IS actually possible!!
      Use Linux and make the World a better place.


      Oh, and about Spider Solitaire running on Wine:
      It DOES run.
      Try again.
      Abu Yússuf Ibnu Muhammad
  • Really?

    [i]One of the great Linux desktop myths is that it???s hard to use[/i]

    Is that anything like the myths you post about Windows 8? ;)
    William Farrel
    • windows 8?

      What Windows 8? It doesn't exist as a product.
      Tony Burzio
      • Windows 8 is the product in Beta

        That will sell more copies in the first week than all Linux Desktop installations in the world combined.
        Your Non Advocate
    • I hate to say this but...

      Unfortunately this is very true, I came here tracking a link on a rant article about Windows 8 RTM.

      Pretty much exactly in the same way he criticize as making myths.

      BTW, I'm using Mint recently, and loving it in general.

      Another note regarding the topic of the post, I think Linux did get pretty close enough, especially with Ubuntu, however, this wouldn't be complete without browsers. Think about it, many of the tasks we do (even more of that non-techies do) are done "or can be done" in browser. The mother in-law already knew how to use Firefox on Windows. All she needed really was a way to access the same Firefox, luckily for her Firefox is almost identical on every OS. I think this is the most important part of the experience.

      Same for me, sometimes I have to use temp laptops or my main machine has hardware issues. Getting on a new machine, with my Google profile syncing on Google Chrome, the most important parts of my toolbox are easily restore-able in few minutes. Same with Linux Mint when I tried it.
  • Only Windows has KPP

    My mother-in-law can use Linux too. But only Windows has Kernel Patch Protection. WKPP is the technology that actually enforces restrictions on what can be done to and against the kernel. It works by periodically checking to make sure that protected system structures in the kernel have not been modified and take the appropriate remedy when a detection is made.

    Windows 7. Safe for Mother in laws everywhere.

    I stake my reputation on it.
    Your Non Advocate
    • LOL!

      Dont let DTS here about this :)
    • This is about using Linux not Windows or Mac OS..

      This is about using Linux not Windows or Mac OS..
      • I think he's parodying DTS

        As much as I like DTS, and respect him, he essentially does this to Windows articles.
        Michael Alan Goff