My family has embraced the home computer. They use Hotmail to keep in touch with relatives. They use a scanner, despite absolutely terrible software that came with it (Canon). They use MSN Messenger to chat with friends (a lot). They use Microsoft Word to write papers, letters, and memos and print them off on an Epson printer ink-jet.
The trouble is, every few weeks, they’re Windows XP computer becomes overrun with spy-ware, viruses, and general crap. A knowledgeable friend told me that if you put a plain-old Windows XP, unprotected, directly on the Internet, it will be compromised in hours. I thought he was exaggerating. After another visit to my parent’s computer, I know that he is not.
They have pop-up windows coming up when you don’t even have a web browser running (some spy-ware app). I ran a slew of anti-virus and anti-spyware apps and discovered hundreds of unwanted apps and files.
The trouble is, I would rather dig ditches in the hot sun than do tech support. I am terrible at it. My girlfriend tells me that it uncovers an ugly and angry side of me. I have no patience. I find doing tech support more stressful than almost anything else in life. It is a massive personality/character flaw of mine.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that my parents do need someone to help them with their computer, and that I’m not sure I can do it. So what do I do? I thought about buying them an iBook (or eMac). That would solve a lot of the spyware/virus issues. However, I’m afraid it would uncover a whole slew of new issues. They would have to learn a new OS – not matter how good it is. I would be less able to help them, as I’m less familiar with OS X than I am with Windows.
I wish I could give them a simple locked-down system with a word-processor and web-browser, and not let them (or anyone) install anything else. I could probably do this with Linux, but that would be a whole new can of worms – and I’m not really qualified.
They are willing to pay someone else to help, but I have no-where to point them. Most tech support at local computer firms is too expensive and the people can be clueless.
Surely I’m not the only reluctant-relative-system-administrator (while talking with Stephen DesRoches about this, he enthusiastically agreed). What can we do to make this easier (for me and my parents)? Help!
My plan for now is to block of Saturday afternoon and re-format their machine, put it behind a hardware router (as a firewall), and hope it doesn’t happen again.