[linux-elitists] Putting my parents on Linux

Heather Stern star@starshine.org
Tue Jun 15 02:40:59 PDT 1999

gregory j pryzby wrote:
> dmarti@zgp.org wrote:
> > This is the first real Linux question on linux-elitists, and
> > I hope it's hard and open-ended enough to qualify.
> > 
> > I'm facing the ultimate hardware selection and system
> > administration problem: building and configuring a Linux
> > box for my parents, several thousand miles away.
> > 
> > They want mail, web browsing, and word processing (with
> > printer)  The good news is they're not proprietary
> > software weenies, so they won't miss specific applications.
> > 
> > So I'm thinking Netscape and WordPerfect (which they already
> > know from MS-DOS).

Sounds good so far - when we set up Jim's mom with a system, we
spent a month or two setting it up and really putting it through
its paces before sending it off to her.  Good thing we did, too.
We discovered it needed a better hard disk driver, replaced the
backup software with stuff that work, put in all sorts of updates.

But you better believe it, as soon as we had that thing polished
to a shiny new box type setup, I called Sonic and shipped it to
her super duper faster-than-FedEx express, before we got so attached
we wouldn't let go of it.  

> > On the hardware side, something like the Low Road K6 box with
> > a quiet power supply (PC Power and Cooling) since it's for
> > a non-geek home environment and I don't want the box to
> > sound like a Shop-Vac(tm).

Get it overpowered, that way it doesn't need to be tossed out if they
add a gadget or two later.  Too much power can't harm nearly as much as
running dry.

> > The original Low Road box is at:
> > http://zgp.org/~dmarti/electriclichen/low_road.shtml
> > and I anticipate having to update it a bit for the
> > currently available hardware.
> 1 year ago
> K2-6 (or K6-2) 300  3D!Now
> Matrox Mill II w/ 4M AGP

Matrox cards are considered to have good solid support in X and I don't 
recommend breaking it by getting something fancier and therefore whose 
X server support hasn't been kicked around enough yet.  Though you 
might surf the lists and newsgroups a bit to see if there's a best 
preference for stability, given that you won't be there to be helpful.

> 128M RAM (100MHz)

Probably waaaay more than Mom and Pop need, but what the heck.  Um, don't
forget to have enough swap.  It's harder to add swap volumes later...
and *not* easy to walk someone through on the phone.  What is easy to
do is to screw it up and end up reformatting the wrong thing - serious

> IBM 8.5G > IDE CDROM > Floppy 
> NE2000

Get a tulip chipset card already.  The HOWTO's say which cards still
bear the chip, just cuz those netgear guys are weenies is no reason
to give up on finding them.

> about 1000$US
> (prices have dropped)
> > Now the hard part: I will not have access to the machine
> > at all, and if something gets badly enough hosed to prevent
> > ssh access, I was thinking it would be good for them to
> > be able to pop out the hard drive and ship it to me.
> > There are a couple of ways to do this, and I could use a
> > recommendation.

Another great idea, send them a Tom's Root Boot which you have 
customized to contain a "try to grok all the useful info" script.  If
they think it's "being strange" but are afraid to just pop the disk
and send it to you (for example, it hasn't crashed quite yet) then
you can have them boot off the floppy and email you its report.

Also the T'sR/B can be used as a nice rescue disk if you feel like 
trying to have your folks be your hands and eyes for a few minutes.

> Kingston Removable (or similar vendor).
> There is a case that allows you to put the drive on a tray
> and the tray slides right out. You do need to unplug the drive
> and power but it is very simple to do... and the cable is 
> keyed...

There was an old case called the Drive Away 500.  I think that an the 
IDE one, I'm sure there are plenty of other brands by now.  

One beauty of it was how easy it was to remove without getting involved 
with weird itty bitty cords and jumpers and other 'scary bits'.  Just 
power down properly, turn the key, POP / sproing! and they stuff it in a 
padded envelope and mail it to you.  You take your key for your bay, 
spop / KLIK! in it goes, ready to mount right up.

> > situation would be welcome too.

Missed the beginning of this sentence.  But as a parting note, write up
a checklist of stuf you want buttoned down tighter than a war zone, and
beat the holy crap out of those features before sending it off.  And 
consider writing some sort of "don't be scared about.... do worry if it..."
document and stuffing it in the box.  Otherwise day 5 that they have it,
the mount will "lose the lottery" and fsck, and they might think their
data is suffering.  Not to mention how creepy most people find the kernel
messages.  Of course you can tone those down by compiling a more perfectly
tuned kernel - perhaps one that says less techie things :)

Um, BTW, while I was living the dual boot world, I put together decent
fvwm95 menu files that resembled m$not *much* more than the usual install.  
If you want me to weave the same magic over whatever disty you're banging
on, let me know, and y'know, my rates are real cheap (tm) if I get a ride.

See y'all tomorrow, assuming you're going to the Linus talk.  Otherwise,
go fix a man page or something.  Or fill in one of those annoying "this 
app doesn't have a man page" symlinked blank man pages scattered all over

-* Heather Stern -*- star@starshine.org -*-
	Unix doesn't prevent you from doing stupid things 
	because that would also prevent you from doing clever things.

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