[Semibug] OS choice for computer illiterate family members?

Nick Holland nick at holland-consulting.net
Sat May 20 13:09:37 EDT 2023

On 5/18/23 01:59, Kyle Willett wrote:
> So, I'm sure many of you can relate, being the computer nerd in the
> family means you are tech support for the extended family and their
> friends. Honestly I don't mind it that much and if I can help my
> family out it feels good.
> In 2014 when Windows XP went EOL I with some twisting of the arms got
> my parents each from XP to Xubuntu (Ubuntu Linux LTS with Xfce), I
> switched my computer to Win 7 and FreeBSD dual boot, but I had an
> uncle who refused to upgrade.
> It's now been a decade and websites just don't work with win XP
> anymore. Even though I've put an anti Ransomware and anti virus on it
> he struggles with the fundamental fact that HTML 5 videos don't work,
> and for web browsers you are stuck with an old LTS Firefox (I had to
> force him to stop using the ie that came with service pack 3 in XP).
> I've just about got him convinced to upgrade the OS.

For the record, no Anti-malware program can be trusted to save you if
the core OS is vulnerable.  YOU HAVE to run a patched OS.

> Now for my questions, I have two. 1) What OS would you recommend for
> the computer novice that is safe and secure? I'm leaning towards
> ChromeOS Flex because it auto updates, runs everything in a chroot
> jail, and is virtually idiot proof!

I would be inclined to suggest this as well.  I have not actually used
it, though.

> I've asked around on Reddit and
> his AMD Kabini is well supported by flex but I don't know for how
> long, tied for second choice is Xubuntu like I do for mom and dad but
> I'm hesitant to pull that trigger because I know he will never update
> it and I don't want to have to run over to apply updated every visit
> to town! (I would of course run the updates from LTS to LTS). Tied
> for second is OpenBSD -stable. It has had two remotely executable
> bugs since it's founding in the 90s. Slap xfce4 on there, instsll
> Firefox and Libra office or Google docs and good to go even if he
> doesn't patch the software because OpenBSD is that secure. How secure
> though is say Firefox or chromium if you don't patch the versions for
> 1 year?

not very, since that's the primary entry point for outside problems
for "normal" users.  Sure, OpenBSD's protections offer a lot of
resistance to exploits of bugs, but your life is generally better if
you don't rely on your car's airbags and crumple zones to help you
live another day.

> 2) It has recently come to my attention that when Xubuntu prompts my
> mom for updates she closes the dialog box not wanting to change
> anything on her computer. :Facepalm:. Should I look at moving her to
> OpenBSD too? Is the fact that the Ubuntu spins use snaps now keeping
> her safe (because for those who don't know snaps auto update
> themselves). My mom's case is a bit different because she does online
> banking and I've got her hooked on some open source games. My uncle
> literary just browses the Internet and does word docs and Excell
> sheets.

Honestly, while your mother's "Close it" response is incorrect,
unfortunately a lot of malware sells itself as "important updates",
hoping someone will see "important update" and click "INSTALL".
Trying to educate people between the difference between a real OS
or application upgrade and a bogus malware installation is difficult,
and any rules you provide, some #$@#$% SW vendor will break for their
legit updates.  So while automatic updates are annoying, they are
also important for the masses, otherwise they don't get done.
(sadly, also important for the non-masses, I've seen waaaay too many
self-professed computer experts not only admit, but BRAG they disable
automatic updates).

Unfortunately, if you wish to use a computer connected to other
computers, you HAVE to deal with updates.  They have to be done.
And yes, the applications will change, and things will move around
and it sucks and get over it.  Just as you can't really refuse to
drive because they replaced a perfectly good intersection with a
round-about, you can't refuse to update your computer because you
don't want to learn something new.

(side story, because what's a Nick response without one?  I used
to do a lot of work with lots of different kinds of companies when
I was self-employed.  Worst as a group for accepting new things:
Teachers!  I pointed out on more than one occasion that this was NOT
an appropriate attitude for people in their profession, and
usually got them on my thought process with that reminder).

As for your question...everyone's first answer is their favorite
product or some reskinning of that favorite product, but for this
question, that's almost certainly NOT the right answer.  The very
things that make OS <whatever> your favorite are probably NOT
appropriate for people that don't want to learn about computers.
Computers are complicated, OSs are there to make them less
complicated, but really, only a handful of companies are doing
decent job at this for ordinary people that don't want to become
computer experts today: Microsoft, Apple and Google.  Sure, you
(the computer expert) can put a wrapper on many OSs and make them
click-and-go easy, but that only works until the wrapper or
something else breaks, and assumes you are around to deal with
the breakage.  IF you are available to deal with the breakage, ok,
but I prefer designs not dependent upon any one person.

So...IF you are available to keep things running, whatever you
feel comfortable with supporting.  If you do not expect to be the
first (and last) line of support, the answer is MS, Apple or
Google.  Set to auto-update.  The problem is one of people.  The
people who are good at writing OSs SUCK at understanding how real
people interact with them. (side note: this is also why most
business applications suck: the people who know how to write good
software don't understand how real people work.  The people that
understand how people will use the application are generally not
good programmers, and most big business applications start out
life as a novice programmer solves a problem for their business,
and then it turns into a product).

In case you are wondering, my mother runs Windows.


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