Ross provides his simple recommendations for the annual family tech support ritual otherwise known as the end of year holidays. In summary:

  1. Get 'em a Mac with OS X on it
  2. Get 'em broadband: it's fast and nearly always on
  3. Get 'em Firefox, 'cause IE is bad for your security
  4. Get 'em a good start page like My Yahoo or Google
  5. Get 'em on Web Mail like Yahoo Mail or GMail
  6. Get 'em on Flickr if they want to share photos
  7. Get 'em on Instant Messenger (I'd recommend AIM or Yahoo Messenger) and/or Skype
  8. Don't get 'em a blog

I mostly agree. I know that #1 is tricky and just won't fly in a lot of situations, but everything else applies nicely to a Windows box as well.

With that said, I'm off to setup my Dad's Linux machines. (Knoppix makes this pretty easy.)

See Also: How to fix Mom's computer.

Posted by jzawodn at December 28, 2004 10:44 AM

Reader Comments
# Indrek Siitan said:

If the first and the most important step is to get 'em a Mac (which I completely agree with), then #3 makes no sense - Safari does the job just as well. :)

on December 28, 2004 11:06 AM
# Timboy said:

My mother (in her late 70's) is 5/8: OS X, broadband (DSL), start page (My Yahoo), Yahoo Mail, no blog :). Maybe add half a point for Safari (which is not IE). (No Flickr or AIM, though she'd love them, come to think of it.)

on December 28, 2004 11:11 AM
# david said:

I tried #3. Futile, very futile. The self-proclaimed family geeks still use IE, and still get infected with spyware over and over again..

on December 28, 2004 12:39 PM
# Rasmus said:

I found the IE/Outlook to Firefox/Thunderbird migration I did about 6 months ago very easy. And no complaints. The biggest complaint has been the strict spam filtering on my mail server is catching a lot of mail. With a bit of hacking they now get a spam summary every morning where they can click on a link to see the email instead of teaching them to go rummaging around the spam folder.

on December 28, 2004 12:43 PM
# Jeremy said:

I switched my parents to a Mac in Feb. They also have broadband and I have VNC and iChat setup, but raely need to help them with much anymore. I STILL have to mess with their old Win2K box that is setup for guests. I changed their wireless router to use WPA encryption, but Win2k does not support this apparently, so that PC is now offline.

on December 28, 2004 08:02 PM
# Patrick Quinn-Graham said:

I made a custom version of that Firemonger CD (adding Avast!, Picasa and a few other gooodies that I tend to install a lot), and moved two more people to Firefox today. Neither will notice the difference (other than no more popups, thank god for no more popups).

Also got the parents a form of broadband (we have a provider that delivers 256k over a (basically) WCDMA network), which has helped ease the phone pains. Two of the three have the Firefox start page the other likes to have their internet banking login page as the start page.

They are all quite happy with their current email - I'm not going to touch that one.

Showed the two with digital cameras flickr, hope they get into it. Showed them where they could find my photostream.

I'd get them all Macs (I use on myself, very happy with it), but since I couldn't really afford to buy myself a computer, they'll have to wait until I'm unbelievably (or at least believably) rich.

on December 29, 2004 04:31 AM
# AJ said:

>>I tried #3. Futile, very futile. The self-proclaimed family geeks still use IE, and still get infected with spyware over and over again..<<

I guess it depends on how you go about it and who you're talking to. I was stunned the other day when I found out that my Grandmother uses Firefox. I downloaded and showed it to her, as well as some of the benefits. Months later she tells me, "I prefer Mozilla [Firefox] to Internet Explorer."

And apparently one of the guys I work with switched, too. He doesn't know what a firewall is, and as we were talking he said that he uses Firefox, "like you said." I don't have any clue what he's talking about, I don't remember _ever_ saying that to him, so all I can figure is that I was doped up on anti-allergy medication when I said it, but he switched which is cool.

The best way I've found to get people on Firefox is to show them some of the benefits, especially tabbed browsing. That's how I converted my grandmother, my mom, and my brother. (my dad was already using a Mozilla based browser, but he's an IT guy so that is somewhat expected) Don't talk about security unless they actually view and trust you as an expert on security. And if they do trust you, just say something like, "Well, I've always found Firefox to be safer than Internet Explorer." Don't go any deeper than that, if you can't them with security only based on their trust of you, you're _not_ going to get them on security by explaining how bad it is that IE is so deeply tied to the OS.

That's been the way I've "converted" people to Firefox, and so far I'm up to 100% conversion rates. :)


on December 30, 2004 09:38 AM
# jasun said:

I tend to just tell people not to download and install stuff, else I will kill them.

Uusually does the trick :)

on December 30, 2004 01:41 PM
# Nancy McGough said:

One of the best things I did in 2004 was getting out of administering my family's email. That was a huge motivation for the research that I've done creating & maintaining my 'IMAP Service Providers' page, which is now one of my most popular pages, getting 500+ visitors on some days. I think deep down everyone wants to get out of the email admin business!

Here's a tip: If you outsource your family's email, give each user his/her own domain name, e.g.,,, etc. That way they can each choose whichever ESP (Email Service Provider) they want and they won't be locked into any provider.

Thanks for your blog Jeremy,
Happy 2005!

on January 2, 2005 12:15 PM
# Fern Kupfer said:

Down with IE! Up with Mozilla.

on January 2, 2005 08:54 PM
# qrius said:

I totally am the family tech support guy, as well as the informal work tech support guy and the friends tech support guy.

I realized that ultimately, knowledge is power in this area. You have to educate them from the ground up.

So I came up w/ my blog:

It's just getting started w/ the basics now, but it's aimed for folks like my very own parents!

on February 23, 2008 01:06 AM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.