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Ubuntu for Seniors

posted Sep 8, 2010, 12:33 PM by Wei Wang   [ updated Sep 23, 2010, 6:09 AM ]
I have recently started volunteering with the InternetHelpers, a not-for-profit organization here in Ann Arbor, to provide a bit of basic computer and Internet introduction type of training to the senior residents of Parkway Meadows. These seniors are from China or Taiwan, which is why I got involved -- They needed someone who can speak mandarin Chinese. So I thought who could do better than I?

Anyway, the InternetHelpers have also installed four PCs donated to them in the Parkway Meadows main complex. Since those are old PCs (really old!) they are installed with Ubuntu Linux -- 10.04 Lucid Lynx, to be exact, which is the other reason that I got involved.

Of course, I touted the virtues of Linux as much as I could: Free of cost, free of restrictions, and free of virus, to name a few. That last point seemed to caught the attention of one of the seniors in particular. Truth be told, these seniors knew next to nothing about computers or the Internet beyond the terms. They didn't know how to move the mouse cursor, they didn't know where the @ sign was on the keyboard, etc. So, to them, there was no difference between Microsoft Windows and Linux.

So, I helped this old lady purchase a Hannspree netbook -- She liked my little Asus EeePC 901 in the class. The Hannbook came with 1GB of RAM and 250GB of HDD space. I left Windows 7 Starter on there, installed Ubuntu 10.04 desktop version -- I tried the netbook remix but that didn't work, probably because I only had a 1GB USB key drive to put in the downloaded image, which Ubuntu's website stated that 2GB free space was required.

Everything worked after the Ubuntu installation, except for the microphone when we tested Skype. I fumbled around in the Pulse Audio configuration for a while and figured that one out. Pulse Audio picked two separate devices for audio input: the webcam (a bit strange, isn't it?) and the internal mic. I set Pulse Audio to take audio input from the webcam -- that was it. Skype worked like a charm.

Before I helped her register an account on Skype, we had to first get an email account. Since the class touched on Google search and Google services in general, we went directly from the Google search page to Gmail. After that, it was really just getting her head straight with her user ids on the machine, Gmail and Skype, as well as all those passwords. Hopefully, this setup would enable her to talk to her kids, one somewhere around here and the other back in China.

In summary, here is a list of the things I put on the netbook:
  1. Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx
  2. Google Talk plug-in for Firefox -- I have not told her about that one yet, in fear of getting her confused about Google Talk and Skype. The fact that Google Talk Call phone function only appears when Gmail's display language is set to English is another factor.
  3. Skype
That's it. I am interested in how she gets along with Ubuntu -- I believe she will do just fine. The only concern I have is somebody who uses Windows and knows nothing about Linux comes along and interfere.