Setting Up A New Laptop For Your Mom?
December 26, 2010 1:38 PM   Subscribe

The essentials of setting up a new computer for your mom?

My mom (finally!) bought a new laptop at a Boxing Day sale today. She knows the basics of using a computer but not much more - she'll likely use her new machine for e-mail, surfing, typing the odd letter or recipe to print out, looking at her digital photos and not much more.

I'm on a Mac and haven't set up a new Windows machine in quite awhile so wanted to check to make sure I'm not missing anything important.
posted by Jaybo to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Roughly in order that I think things need to be done...
- install an anti-virus program (is AVG still considered a decent free one?)
- turn on the firewall
- register with the manufacturer
- uninstall any trialware that came pre-installed that she won't use
- set-up her e-mail (she used to use Outlook Express - is this still available? I'd prefer not to try to convince her of the advantages of Thunderbird or Gmail or other options. Familiarity = good when it comes to e-mail.)
- install other "core" programs - Skype for video chats with the grandchildren, Picasa for photos, VLC for video, Firefox (and some popular add-ons), iTunes (or ???), OpenOffice
- bookmark her favourite sites in her browser for her
- put on some MP3's for her to listen to, maybe a couple movies (I'll also be copying over photos from her old machine eventually as well)
- set up a backup solution (Carbonite or ???)

Anything else I'm missing? Thanks in advance!
posted by Jaybo at 1:39 PM on December 26, 2010

You can't uninstall IE, but you can make it damned hard to use. Remove it from the desktop (should be this option in the desktop settings, or you can drag it to the recycle bin) and install Chrome or Firefox and download the AdBlock Plus addon. Make sure either of those browsers are set as the default.

This should help with viruses and malware.
posted by royalsong at 1:43 PM on December 26, 2010

Maybe install a remote desktop application so you can handle any problems she encounters without having to physically be there.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:45 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is she going to care, or even know, if it's Windows? You'll save yourself a lot of tech support trouble down the road by blowing away Windows and putting Ubuntu on the laptop. My family tech support hours are way down since I put Ubuntu on my wife's and son's computers. Everything you list as important is just as easy, and pretty much the same, on Linux as it is on Windows. Use Ubuntu Mint and you'll get all the DVD / movie / Flash and other non-free codecs that she'll need to interact with the rest of the world.
posted by COD at 1:48 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

For free anti-virus:
Free spyware scanner:

Check out for a webpage that lets you check all the downloads and just get them all in one fell swoop.

It's not Outlook Express in Windows 7, it's Windows Live Mail, and you may have to download it.
posted by deezil at 1:48 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Visit sites that use Adobe and Flash stuff and install those for her.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:49 PM on December 26, 2010

If she's going to use the laptop elsewhere, label the cords and cables (printer, speakers, mouse, keyboard, other monitor, router, etc.) and the corresponding slots so she can set it up again easily.
posted by carmicha at 1:59 PM on December 26, 2010

I'd agree with deezil. Microsoft Security Essentials just updated to version 2.0.. with some big improvements (it was pretty good to begin with). Personally I think AVG is worthless, but that's just me (I run NOD32 on my Windows boxes).

MalwareBytes is also a very good spyware cleaner... but doesn't run actively in the background, so it won't do anything to keep her from getting infected. (unless there's a feature in the Pro version I'm overlooking).

ISC SANS "Top Cyber Security Risks" report indicates that malware authors have moved past exploiting Operating System vulnerabilities. .and are finding it easier to exploit applications.

Of the 30 most exploited vulnerabilities,.. the 5 most exploited are:

* Adobe Acrobat (PDF files)
* Adobe Flash (things like interactive games, browser-based Flash plugins)
* Java
* Microsoft Office docs
* Apple Quicktime

Your best bet to protect the system is to make sure all of these applications/plugins are updated.
posted by jmnugent at 2:01 PM on December 26, 2010

Chrome > Firefox.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:12 PM on December 26, 2010

Head over to LifeHacker for their post on how to set up your new PC.
posted by MsKim at 2:13 PM on December 26, 2010

Oops...and here's the link.
posted by MsKim at 2:14 PM on December 26, 2010

Oh and FWIW, I recently had to use a computer without the FF extension Adblock Plus installed. It was horrible, with things flashing and looking important on various websites. I could totally see where some sites could be distracting to a novice user - especially the "We have detected spyware on your computer" ads.

I need to go donate to them.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:17 PM on December 26, 2010

Rethink Outlook vs. Gmail. She'll like the idea that her Gmail is available from anywhere, especially if she gets a smartphone at some point.

Set up a family account on Flickr for sharing photos.

Introduce her to Facebook.
posted by beagle at 2:29 PM on December 26, 2010 gets rid of all the unwanted programs you don't want on a newly bought computer.
posted by lungtaworld at 2:57 PM on December 26, 2010

When I set up a computer for someone who had never used one before, I thought Thunderbird would be easier for them to use than Gmail. But it actually made everything tremendously confusing as to the difference between email and Internet if email could also be accessed over the Internet. I wish I had just set the person up with Yahoo's easier interface and never bothered with a separate application.
posted by amethysts at 3:37 PM on December 26, 2010

Desktop shortcuts that go straight to her email or other websites.
posted by thorny at 4:06 PM on December 26, 2010

This is tangential to your question about setup, and you may already know about it, but I think it's a great project and that your mom might benefit from it: free *very* basic videos about how to do computery-type stuff at TeachParentsTech.

Otherwise I really want to second some kind of remote desktop for future troubleshooting.

This is nice of you to do for your mom! Hope it goes smoothly. :)
posted by hansbrough at 4:11 PM on December 26, 2010

Nice timing. I just went through this process. If it's a Windows 7 machine I think it may be worth it to do a clean install so that she doesn't have to deal with the bloat that came with the computer. You can download an ISO of the Windows 7 installation discs on the My Digital Life website (Google should bring it up).

After the clean install, Windows Update should pick up just about all of the drivers. Go to the respective manufacturer's websites to download any the most recent drivers for printers, scanners, etc.

Install Firefox/Chrome and any essential addons, like Adblock Plus.

For antivirus, Microsoft Security Essentials works very well.

Consider installing other useful freeware programs, like PDF Xchange Viewer (in lieu of Acrobat Reader), CutePDF print driver, iTunes (only if she has an iPod/iPad/iPhone), etc.

Outlook Express has been replaced by the mail application that comes with Windows Live Essentials, which you can download through Windows Update.

Good luck!
posted by roomwithaview at 4:49 PM on December 26, 2010

Windows Live Mail (formally Outlook Express) works great with Gmail as long as you use IMAP. Best of both worlds.

Use LogMeIn Free for remote desktop control when everything goes wrong.

Use ninite to bulk install applications. If you keep the exe then you can run it periodically to bulk update things.

Make sure Windows Update, defragment and backup are turned fully on with minimal user input needed.
posted by mr_silver at 5:28 PM on December 26, 2010

1. Remote desktop connection, for when she needs help and you can't be there.

2. Patience.
posted by santaliqueur at 6:07 PM on December 26, 2010

Install Dropbox and share a folder with her and yourself. That way if she needs any files, or wants to show you something she can just drop it in there for you.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:07 AM on December 27, 2010

I like the idea of Deep Freeze . Allows you to set her computer up but she can make no changes (with few exceptions).

IE = The absolutely best browser for downloading another browser.
AVG is good but there are some better, I think. I sprang for Norton 360. Much better than it used to be regarding system overhead.

I'll parrot others' remarks regarding the basics to view .pdfs (whether Adobe or something else), flash, and so on.

Oh, and OpenOffice if you or she doesn't want to lay funds out for Office.

Lastly, something that you can use to access her computer remotely for when you need to install something, or update, and get through the Deep Freeze.
posted by Man with Lantern at 7:55 AM on December 27, 2010

Just set up Carbonite on my dad's computer. It was recommended by the guy he hires to set up his tech stuff. Very easy to set up, and easy to access files from their website.

I recently switched to Chrome and will never look back! Make sure to explain to her to use this instead of IE, and try to hide IE as much as possible (get rid of all the shortcuts, etc).

There are some remote login programs that are platform-independent. I think LogMeIn is still a good one. That would be helpful if she calls you and is really stuck and you want to just log in to look at a problem.

Make sure to set the "good" programs as defaults - Chrome for web links, VLC for media files, etc.

Oh man santaliqueur is right - patience is key! You're a good son!
posted by radioamy at 10:14 AM on December 27, 2010

Here is the best Ask MeFi answer to a question like this.

I used it step-by-step to set up our new desktop, and it saved TONS of time.
posted by AngerBoy at 7:22 PM on December 27, 2010

« Older Talks too much, but is never heard...   |   How to get from scrawny to...normal? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.