How to: Create a Linux Box for Your Mom (50+ Resources)

For most computer literate children, a request from mom to get her set up on "this web thing" is met with panic and a feeling of drudgery. Are you about to expose your sweet mother to spam, phishing, viruses, or worse? Or perhaps more frightening, sign your life away as a 24/7 tech support center? Perhaps, but there’s a better way. By setting your mom up on a Linux machine, you can give her a safe, lean computing experience that will let her do all of the things she wants to do without giving you a nervous breakdown. Here, we’ve compiled over 50 of the best resources to help you get your mom on Linux without a whole lot of trouble. Systems & Environments With these systems and environments, you can get your mom set up with low maintenance and friendly interfaces.

  1. SimplyMEPIS: SimplyMEPIS is low-maintenance and great for Linux beginners.
  2. Linspire: Linspire is the "World’s Easiest Desktop Linux," with a familiar look and feel for Windows users.
  3. Mandriva: Mandriva Linux was specifically designed to offer ease of use for new users.
  4. Ubuntu: One of the most popular Linux distributions, Ubuntu is stable and easy to use.
  5. KDE: The K Desktop Environment is easy to use, and offers basic desktop functions.
  6. Ximian Desktop: Ximian offers a simple layout, with large icons that are great for elderly users.
  7. Lycoris: This distribution looks a lot like windows, and offers great ease of use.
  8. SuSE: With SuSE, you’ll got lots of popular open source software like OpenOffice, Kaffeine, and more.
  9. GNOME: In this desktop environment, you’ll find an extremely usable GUI.

Tools & Applications Put these tools to work to give your mom the functionality she wants while still keeping things safe and simple.

  1. Fluxbox: This X window manager makes it easy to customize the view of your mom’s machine.
  2. Rfbdrake: Set up rfbdrake to create a pathway for remote support.
  3. IEs4Linux: With this handy tool, you can make MSN groups and other Internet Explorer applications play properly for your game-addicted mom.
  4. IceWM: This window manager’s goal is to stay out of the user’s way while offering speed and simplicity.
  5. OpenAntiVirus: Although a Linux machine isn’t likely to run into virus problems, this antivirus program is better safe than sorry.
  6. Wine: Wine makes it easy to run Windows software and applications on your Linux box.
  7. Firestarter: For an easy, simple firewall, consider Firestarter.
  8. phpGACL: Keep your mom safe by implementing this access control list for applications.
  9. CrossOver Office: With CrossOver, you can run lots of Windows-based applications.
  10. CNR: This tool makes it easy for your mom to install applications, even if she’s clueless about putting things on her computer.
  11. KDE Crystal: KDE Crystal offers an icon set with recognizable images, which is great for remote support so you can tell your mom exactly what to press.
  12. Guarddog: Guarddog is an ideal firewall for novices because it offers a goal-oriented, non-technical GUI.
  13. Blackbox: Blackbox offers a clean, light environment for a Linux system.
  14. IPCop: Create a more secure home network with this simple firewall designed for novice users.
  15. vncserver: Utilize vncserver to run remote support on your mom’s Linux machine.
  16. OpenOffice: With OpenOffice, your mom will be able to do all of the word processing she wants.
  17. Evolution: This personal information manager offers email, addresses, tasks, and more in an interface much like Microsoft Outlook.
  18. KMail: Set your mom up on KMail for email with excellent spam filtering, cryptographic support, and more.
  19. Kate: With this lightweight editor, your mom can do simple word processing with automatic backup.
  20. Ekiga With Ekiga, formerly Gnomemeeting, your mom can video chat with you.
  21. MailWasher Pro: With this program, you can make sure that spam email will never hit your mom’s inbox.
  22. Abiword: Give your mom simple word processing with AbiWord.
  23. Kopete: Use Kopete to get your mom set up on chat programs like AIM, ICQ, and IRC.
  24. Adobe Reader: Put Adobe Reader for Linux on your mom’s computer so she can enjoy PDFs.
  25. Pidgin: Pidgin, formerly known as Gaim, makes it easy for your mom to log into a number of different messaging systems at once.
  26. Konqueror: With Konqueror, your mom can browse the web safely.
  27. Thunderbird: Use Thunderbird to offer your mom a clean email interface.
  28. Firefox: Get your mom set up on the wildly popular Firefox for safe and easy web browsing.
  29. GIMP: Give your mom GIMP for Photoshop functionality.
  30. No-Script: Use No-Script to make your mom’s Firefox browsing safe from harmful Javascript and Flash.

Guides & Articles For even more help, check out these guides and articles that will walk you through creating a Linux box for your mom.

  1. Ubuntu for your grandmother: One helpful grandchild walks his grandmother through creating a Ubuntu laptop in this article.
  2. Post Installation Configuration Basic Help: Get help with basic hardware and network configuration here.
  3. Is Linux ready for mom?: This article discusses some of the trials and advantages of Linux for novice users.
  4. Windows to Linux: A Beginner’s Guide: Let your mom check out this article to get familiarized with Linux when coming from a Windows environment.
  5. Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Linux Home System: Follow this guide to keep your mom’s computer safe.
  6. Setting up Linux for Mom and Dad: See how one person set up a parent version of Mandrake Linux in this article.
  7. Desktop Adapted for Dad (DAD): This writer gave his father a computer with carefully installed and configured software.
  8. Moving a Beginner to Linux: Learn how to make the switch with this article.
  9. The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy-and Their Open Source Alternatives: In this resource, you’re sure to find lots of programs that will help your mom convert.
  10. Linux distro for mom?: In this thread, you’ll find lots of excellent advice for creating a Linux setup for a computer illiterate mom.
  11. Beginner’s Introduction to the KDE Desktop: This guide offers a look at KDE for non-techies.
  12. A Senior Citizen’s Introduction to Linux: See how one person set up a simple Linux system for an elderly woman in this article.
  13. 7 Reasons you should switch Grandma to Linux: This article touts security, stability, and more for Linux.


  1. says

    I wrote a similar article on my blog ( ) a few years ago. While I didn’t go into the depth that you have about what is available the concept is the same. Since then Linux has continued to improve and the idea has even more merit today than in 2005.

    I think with the advent of Vista it could be the tipping point at which Linux on the desktop at home starts to make more sense than Windows. Only time will tell.

  2. says

    Very confusing. The first 9 things on the list include 6 different Linux distros and 3 different desktop/windows managers. Of course, you only need 1 of the 6 and 1 of the 3, but you don’t mention that.

    Same problem with items 10-39. Many of those things compete with each other and others duplicate each other’s functions — for example, you shouldn’t install both GuardDog and Firestarter (which are two different GUI front ends to the Linux iptables firewall. No one should install both of them. The article doesn’t mention any of that.

    I was going to link to this article, but it’s too confusing, too self-contradicting, and generally “not ready for prime time.”

  3. Jeff says

    Agreed, this is the kind of article that scares people away from Linux – not drive them to it. Choice is great, but it can also be overwhelming. Perhaps you could consider whittling this list down to the “essentials” to make mom’s computer rock solid.

    Also – there is the whole issue of connectivity (broadband, dial-up, routers, wireless, etc…) that you did not even address. It has been my experience that this is the biggest hurdle. The rest of the OS and applications fall into the “it’s just different” category.

    My mom is running Ubuntu Gutsy with just the stock application set. She connects to a D-Link 802.11b WAP with WEP enabled. The WEP is not necessarily the most secure setup for wireless but it was easy for me to talk her through configuring and it keeps out 99% of the casual wireless snoops. I also had her configure remote management on the router so I could then login to it and setup all the port forwarding I would need if I ever needed to provide remote assistance.

    She has been using this for 3+ months now and the only issue I had to address was to configure evolution to grab her mail. She didn’t like her ISPs webmail interface.

    I’m a big believer in the KISS principle. Keep it stock, keep it easy, keep it simple – stupid.

  4. says

    I’m assuming the article is aimed at someone who already uses Linux in some form. I think it’s a useful list since I’ve kicked around the idea as I get 2-3 calls a year from my mom to ‘fix her computer.’ But this list could be organized better, like ‘Step 1: pick a distro,’ ‘Step 2: pick a window manager,’ etc.

  5. says

    Hi All,

    I’d have to agree that the article – although well intentioned – is a little bit out of date in terms of distros that I would use. Check distro watch for what is the most popular.

    Also, I’m confused as to some of the listings.

    Sorry, but that is my opinion.

  6. Steven Brady says

    I must say this is a rather sad article/blog post. Things are so incredibly out of date. It’s a bunch of random links, rather than a wealth of information like I’d prefer to read.

    nightflier was right. My jaw dropped when I read Lycoris.

    I’d suggest a rewrite or a removal.

  7. Dinos says

    OK first of all I like the idea behind the article and I thanlk you for it. But then it does get confusing. I do hope you can revise the article and bring it up-to-date. You have too many Linux distributions and you do not mention that one can use anyone of them (Jaust pick one), then you have distros which are no longer maintained or have been assimilated by some other distribution. Then you have utilities with the same functionality but you do not mention it or suggest to pick one of the two. It would be much better if you do so.

    I do suggest thet you either revise the article to be more clear and friendly to the reader as it provides a disservice to the uninitiated and will push them away. Please do revise ASAP.

    Again thanks for the efford and hope to see the revised article soon.

  8. BillinDetroit says

    Great idea for an article … now write one.

    I set my wife up with a Linux thin-client / Mandrake. She loved it.

    I set my Dad up with Mandrake / Win 98 in dual-boot. He liked Linux but his friends only ‘understood’ Windows. (IOW … they knew how to screw it up but couldn’t get past the passwords to hurt Linux. I had set Linux up for remote admin but ended up making the 45 minute drive several times to un-screw their Windows ‘fixes’.)

    My wife, a definite non-geek, liked Linux. My Dad, roughly 76 years old at the time, liked Linux.

    Both are on Windows now.

    Why? Because my Dad was relying on his friends and they were incompetent in both Linux and Windows. However, Linux could defend itself.

    But he could find a local tech company to help him with Windows. (I’ve had to un-screw their work twice, too.)

    And my wife’s employers web site insisted that it could only talk to an old version of MSIE running on an old version of Windows.

    Like I said … that’s a good topic line … now write the article that goes with it.


  9. steerpike says

    Simple answer. Buy her an Asus eee with Xandros pre-installed and never mention Linux to her. Trust me, she will never find out. Firefox, OpenOffice, Skype, gmail – what else does she need?

    The Xandros set up made clear to me what the problem is – Linux is designed and written about by geeks. Normal people do not read man pages, use vi or compile kernels. I think your intention is to give us geeks some suggestions for creating a simple solution – but anyone who understands how to create a mom setup from this list does not need the list.

    What is does highlight is that even with hundreds of distros, creating a simple desktop is a major task even for a technical guru.

    Here is the challenge for Linux. Create a distro simpler to use than Windows – and go look at the little Asus laptop to see how it can be done. Start at what the user wants – and it won’t be a choice of three desktop environments. Blow that ‘linux is too hard’ argument out of the water and make an interface anyone can use.

    Another challenge – put together a spec for a low end desktop to install the new distro in where everything works from an install. Make it so you can go down a computer shop, give them a list of parts ( or make them use the net) and have a new linux machine you can give to your mother within 20 minutes from a boot.

    Amongst hundreds of distros, is there one like this?

  10. Cal says

    The article’s title mislead me. I was expecting to find a collection of articles to help me get my mom to use Linux. Instead this is just a list of various articles some having hardly anything to do with the title! It’s like “How to make bread easily”, then the instructions are simply a list of:
    1. Buy a book on baking
    2. Ask a friend
    3. Join a baking club
    4. etc.

    Well-intentioned article but pretty useless.

  11. Linville79 says

    @ BillinDetroit: If your wife can use an “old version of MSIE running on an old version of Windows”, then Firefox 2.0 running the User Agent Switcher extension should be able to fool and run that site quite easily.

    @ steerpike: For a desktop machine using a wired network connection, just about any modern Linux distro should be able to install and run fine right out of the box. Especially a low-end desktop, where hardware will be more generic and not require as specific of driver software. Distros like Fedora, Ubuntu, and Xandros would all be an adequate choice and their GUI installers are quite simple. There is also a very nice fork of Ubuntu called Ubuntu Studio that has a number of nice multimedia enhancements if desired. All three offer a Live CD version that can be booted from disc to test the hardware compatibility of your system before installation. What could possibly be more user-friendly than that?

    @ OP – I agree with all of the posts regarding this article being targeted to the wrong audience, and a touch out of date. Anyone that would benefit from this article won’t need it, and anyone that needs it, won’t benefit from it like they should. It’s a start, but it needs work.

  12. ozguy says

    I’m 60 and running 5 pcs with various distros, mainly Kubuntu or LinuxMint, on a Home wired Lan – I started using PCS in the days of CPM, then Dos, then Windows.


    A better Distro suggestion for this article would be a minimal distro such as Puppy or TinyMe

  13. steerpike says

    Many things in lInux do not run out of the box. In my machine, the microphone has yet to work and many things I try to connect are simply not recognised – such as my generic MP3 player. Look through any Linux forum and you can see I am not alone with these sort of problems.

    There are some good links given here – so maybe we should look at a few before letting fly at the author – and one tells how a machine was set up for a newbie. From a modern distro, the blogger stripped out menu items for anything not required by an inexperienced user, removed ‘duplicates’ such as a text editor where a word processor was provided and renamed items such as anorak to music player. The point is – it takes hours of work from scratch to install, troubleshoot and configure a system. It takes planning, knowledge of a users needs and a decision in what to keep and what to discard. Would you really give a complete newbie a standard Ubuntu install?

    I have just bought an Asus eee and I love it. it is a real Linux machine – no dual boot cop-out option – and everything works. So simple to use it even has a wikipedia menu option. Skype – with video – with absolutely no configuration. All up it has about six tabbed pages, big icons on every page and nothing to confuse. I would happily give it to someone who has never used a computer before. So why can’t we buy a cheap desktop set up like that at every computer store?

  14. says

    I set up a computer for my girlfriend using Linux. Her PC has Xandros OS, Thunderbird, Firefox, Pidgeon Instant Messaging, and Open Office. Every bit of software was entirely free making a very functional, affordable system.

    You’ve got to love some Linux. :)

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