Simplistic front end for Windows?
November 28, 2009 4:16 PM   Subscribe

Is there an ultra-simple and bullet proof front end for MS Windows thats suitable for elderly folks?

My dad is 87 and uses his computer for very basic things like Skype, email, and limited web browsing. He's always messing up his desktop or losing icons because of uncoordinated and impatient mousing. Sometimes he opens applications by accident or gets confused by notifications and solicitations that pop up. He hasn't been scammed but probably is at risk no matter how much I warn him.

He lives alone so the computer is an important lifeline for him. I've been able to help somewhat by remoting with VNC but sometimes he kills his connection and cant get the computer online

I'd like to install some kind of Windows shell for him that enables only those features that he needs and isolates him from everything else. It will turn off drag and drop and the need to double-click anything. A one-button mouse would be good too.

It doesn't even need to be Windows based if it supports Skype and web browsing

Any ideas?

posted by jorlando to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ubuntu Netbook Remix provides a front end interface (never mind the sluggishness in this particular video, it's fairly fast on most platforms) that is menu based rather than desktop based. I think with a little elbow grease from you and a tiny bit of training for your dad you can make something that's pretty seamless to use.
posted by tracert at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2009

My mother was having similar problems--I installed Ubuntu on her computer, set up everything she needed on it, and put clearly labeled icons on the desktop (screenshot here). Whether or not this would be an option for you really depends on your own comfort-level with linux, but she hasn't had any major computer problems since switching, and I haven't had to worry about her installing (more) viruses or malware.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:44 PM on November 28, 2009

Have you considered doing a clean install of Windows and the applications he needs, then using Steadystate or a similar product? That way a simple reboot would fix most problems.

You could maybe also try creating a custom Puppy Linux image (I'm pretty sure you could get the Linux version of Skype working on it), which is quite easy to use and hard to mess up. One of the distros intended for younger children, like Qimo might work, although I suspect you'd have to alter the wallpaper etc to tone down the "for kids" angle.
posted by fearthehat at 4:46 PM on November 28, 2009

yeah, if he's really only using it for skype and internet, any linux should work. Ubuntu is obviously the most user friendly. The only problem I run into with skype on my machine is having to manually turn the mic on.
posted by mannequito at 4:47 PM on November 28, 2009

Could you just put shortcuts for all the apps he uses in one folder and select a distichtive icon for that folder? Or have that folder open on boot?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:16 PM on November 28, 2009

If you want to stick with Windows then fearthehat directed you to the right place with Steadystate. It offers a lot of control over what apps will be seen and what parts of the drive you can access. You can set it up to reset everything back to the way it was every time, which is good and bad in the even that your dad saves stuff to the computer at all.
posted by smallerdemon at 8:17 PM on November 28, 2009

Cat I thoroughly recommend Ubuntu's easy peasy. If you want to browse skype and write the occasional letter it's perfect. And security is not a problem. Not MS based though, but neither is the internet.
posted by mattoxic at 1:19 AM on November 29, 2009

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