A Linux computer for grandpa and grandma

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
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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