There have been more than a hand full of articles titled Yes My Grandma Can Run Ubuntu Linux or Ubuntu for Grandma or even The Great Grandmother err I mean Girlfreind Experiment. These are all added proof to why GNU/Linux (mostly Ubuntu specifically but don't forget Fedora and openSUSE and all respective derivatives) is slowly becoming more of a social "norm" among average computer users, curious consumers, small and enterprise businesses, and grandmothers alike (well at least those who have educated grandchildren!).

Breaking It down

This is the First part in a multi part series of how I am going to teach my Grandmother a new trick or two. I decided It needed to be in multiple parts because of how many times I have convinced people to switch. If the switch is broken in to multiple sessions the users will feel more confident about their ability to preform the same tasks in their new operating environment. In the sessions you want to accomplish a few goals but don't make them to strict and ridged since we all learn at our own pace and (no offense Gummaw) with age comes lack of will to change old habits. Most importantly make sure you are available if the user needs help or has a question. I suggested to my grandmother that if she had any problems or questions to write them down then they happen so that way I can help when I visit. Also be patient, they usually are trying to learn just based on your word. Finally don't do the switch all at once!

Easy as 1, 2, 3

Here is the upgrade path I have my grandmother on. Ditch Dial-up in favor of high-speed, switch to programs that run in Linux so she is already familiar with the application interface, upgrade hardware, WAIT for Windows to die (this way you can use Vista to your advantage by saying something like "Every one is saying how much trouble they are having with Vista, it's a lemon." or "Vista wont run on your old computer you'll have to buy a whole new one and then you'll have to buy all new software to make it work." (certainly true for some of her apps that have not released a new version since about 2003) and I'm sure you can think of others) so that you may suggest setting up an alternative that is virus/spy-ware/mal-ware/porn-pop-up free and wont crash just because you left it on for about a week strait.

Highspeed Information Highway

Getting my grandparents to ditch dial-up took forever (at least it seems like it) but the only problem was she went with BellSouth's (Currently AT&T) "Fast Access Light" which is a measly 768 Kbit/s (not Kbyte). This has been resolved because she now has a Comcast with a 6Mb/s connection (although excessive shes at least able to view more photos in email and such much quicker). This will lay the foundation for the switch away from AOL, away from Windows and away from people having the ability to mess up her computer.

Building on the Groundwork

Now that she has high speed, It became time to start the software trade. I had installed Firefox, Pidgin, Thunderbird, and with no success of getting her to actually use any of the software. I tried and tried and tried until I decided I would use a different tactic. Being subtle and blunt didn't work. No, I needed to be tactful. I needed to be intelligent, I needed to be... flexible.

I approached the situation in a new manor with a refreshed vigor. I was determined to find a way to convince my grandmother and grandfather that they don't need AOL software to make use of their email.

I tried already to just set up Thunderbird and Pidgin but My grandmother didn't understand the concept of Pidgin (in hind sight I should have sat down and explained it to her more completely). Thunderbird on the other hand a complete disaster. Since I installed it during the 768Kb/s days, her impression was that it was very slow (witch by technicality she was correct however 512 MB of RAM and a 768Kb/s connection will not really win any races with modern software). I tried tweaking it to cure things but then she just complained about the interface. So I removed the links to it on her desktop and let her go back to using AOL.

Luck was upon me. My grandparents recently traveled to Italy for 2 weeks. While there my grandmother wanted to check her email (I told her not to use any random Internet cafés and the computers in her hotel will probably be the safest) and she tried to go on the computer and lone behold it was running Firefox. In fact, all the computers she tried to use at the different hotels were using Firefox. She was unable to check her email for the entire trip however and cursed at her self for not listening to me when I tried to teach her how to use it.

This was a win for me! I knew that Firefox's adoption rate in Europe was around 45% in some counties but hearing about it in real life applications just makes it that much sweeter!

Now that I had a "reason" to haver her listen I just needed her to be receptive to it. The other night I took advantage of this. I simply asked her, "May I have about 30 minutes of you time to show you some of the software on your computer and how to use it?" Amazingly enough she was happy to sit down since it wouldn't be for a long time.

I start to show my grandma Write and Calc explaining one was for word documents and the other for spreadsheets. She was receptive to this since she needed to make a sign in landscape the other day but didn't know what to use so she just used Notepad.

I then showed her that I put a link directly on the desktop to her AOL games (her most used feature of AOL). Now the link had been there for several months but for some reason this was the first time she saw it, oh well. I insisted she launch it and take it for a test run. She was satisfied enough that she tested out Google searching for a cousin that works at VCU. After finding his page she then began to try and read it. I notice how small the text was and this reminding me of one of the best features of modern browsers (and much improved in Firefox3). I showed her that by holding the [CTRL] and pressing [+] or [-] she can either zoom in or out on a page. This made both my grandparents static because they finally were able to see the text displayed correctly on the monitor (brand new 22" Samsung Wide screen).

Proceeded to show her one other feature of Firefox and explaining that these features just are not available in AOL.

I topped it off by helping her check her email using AOL's web mail interface knowing that it more closely resembles the native email interface. She took to it very easily. After working for a while though and viewing some on line photos her 7 year old XP home machine just couldn't take it and started with the memory errors.

To be Continued...