28 December 2011

Parent-proofing the PC

So, that time of the year has swung around again, and it is time to tweak the parental PCs to ensure they are running smoothly and malware free, at least for another year. Last year I gave my parents the old Dell Mini 9. Unfortunately, they found it a little too fiddly for daily use and were squinting at the screen all the time. As the demands they place on their PC is minimal (web browsing, flash video and video chatting) I didn't need to get them anything too complicated and settled on a Dell Mini 12 with a 6 cell battery. This gives them the slim profile of the Dell Mini 9, but with a spacious keyboard and screen. Naturally, before giving it too them, I tweaked it a bit so they would be able to use it, hopefully free of further intervention on my part, for the forseeable future.

Step 1: Reinstall the OS
You never really know where these second hand PCs have come from, or what nefarious software has been preinstalled, so my first step is always to reinstall the OS. In this case it was also an upgrade, from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Being well attuned to Windows XP, my parents will find Windows 7 a bit of a jump, but should be able to acclimatize themselves to the change. Linux distros are a definite no-no.

I also split the HDD into an OS and a storage partition should a reinstall or OS change ever be necessary, and point all programs (Live Messenger, mail client, web browser) which may potentially save anything they download to that partition. This is where they will save all the photos I send them as well as those hundreds of crappy powerpoint slideshows their friends send them.

Step 2: Install Microsoft Security Essentials
Lightweight, runs in the background, updates automatically and free, this is, as its name suggests, an absolute essential.

Step 3: Install Google Chrome
Also lightweight and simple to use, but especially important for its sandboxing of flash and the fact that it too autoupdates. Plus it now seems to support virtually all websites and definitely the fancy new HTML5 ones. I also install AdBlock to minimize the chance they actually click on one of those random pop-ups.

Step 4: Install LogMeIn
If, heaven forbid, the parents do manage to screw up the PC, some form of remote desktop is needed. This isn't used too frequently, but it does help be troubleshoot software issues in person from two continents away. Sure beats long drawn out phone conversations where neither of us is entirely sure what the other is saying.

Step 5: Create a standard user account and a guest account
A rule of thumb is to only give administrator access to admins, which is why a standard user account is needed as it locks down the system so my parents can't randomly install things. A guest account is needed as well for whenever an aunt, uncle, cousin or nephew pops round and wants to play. That way they can do what they like without wrecking my hard work or screwing up my parents' settings.

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