WebTV (AKA MSN TV) replacement? (with complications)
December 5, 2013 12:24 PM   Subscribe

So, my parents (in their 80s), like many older folks, lost internet connection when Microsoft shut down the former WebTV service in September. It was a perfect solution for them and it seems nothing has emerged to satisfactorily replace it, but we have special problems since they can only get dial-up in their rural US location, and cellular coverage is spotty and complicated. Plus I'm on a different continent (and not so good at that end of computer literacy anyway – especially since things work a bit differently where I am). Still, I'd like to know what replacement solutions people have come up with among those of you who have dealt with a similar problem, especially if you can't be on hand to address ongoing problems that might pop up.

WebTV was great because there were no security issues, it was affordable, accessible, and provided all that my folks really wanted: email and search functions. I don't think my parents even ever messed with Facebook at all. They just want to be able to read their email and look things up. I think they also used the printing function to print photos that were emailed to them.

But like a lot of people, their email is kind of a virus sweet spot, with lots of mail from friends and family who append everyone in their contact list in the cc field, linking to all sorts of iffy junk, etc. All the usual stuff, and they definitely aren't savvy about stuff like WE HAVE DETECTED A VIRUS ON YOUR COMPUTER, CLICK HERE TO REMOVE IT, or fake urls, and all the rest.

Chromebook is a frequently offered suggestion, but as I understand it, won't work with dial-up. I also know that iPad (and this is just assuming it will even connect with cellular where they are, and it well may not) is vaunted as being easy for older people, but I have one, and I'm not really seeing it if there isn't someone there to be able to provide some ongoing guidance, especially at first. I was a bit taken aback myself when various things I was used to changed with the latest update, for example. (I have other family who can pop in occasionally, but don't live close enough that it's feasible to be on hand frequently for help and guidance.)

Anyway, I'd like to hear about any solutions that have worked well for people who have wrestled with helping to provide a replacement for WebTV for totally non-computer savvy older folks. Even if it doesn't address the specifics of my sort of weird situation, it might help my overall picture.
posted by taz to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They already have dial-up access, right? If you're just looking for something that's as simple as WebTV I can't see how giving them completely new tech like a chromebook (huh?) or an iPad, which has no Ethernet port and so no way to connect to a modem, is going to help them. They just need a cheap desktop or a laptop with an Ethernet connector and patience.

They're not completely non-computer-savvy- if they can open their email on WebTV why can they not with the (eg) outstanding built-in mail app for Windows 8.1?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:40 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if they want to use a modern laptop/chromebook/ipad, they could use something like this:
http://www.amazon.com/SMC-SMC7004ABR-Barricade-100Mbps-Integrated/dp/B00005NBR6 with a dial-up modem. They would then have wireless (wifi) connectivity to their dial-up service. It'll be slow going on the internet, which they are probably used to, but fine for email and light browsing.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 12:51 PM on December 5, 2013

A common answer for people in their position is a laptop or desktop running one of the flavors of Linux. The Windows OS is simply too dangerous for them.
posted by yclipse at 2:33 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

they can only get dial-up in their rural US location, and cellular coverage is spotty and complicated.

Can you be more specific as to their general location?
posted by lampshade at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2013

A common answer for people in their position is a laptop or desktop running one of the flavors of Linux.

Live distributions have reached a point where you just put it in and get a full-featured desktop hassle-free. If you look around a bit you will probably find one that is tailored to your specific environment - a locked down, secure web/e-mail/photo printing desktop is a common requirement for things like web cafes and school labs.

Dial-up will probably be the tricky part - you'll need to find a modem that will play well with both your live CD and the local phone network: it's going to be hard to make this work without some competent help on-site.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:00 AM on December 6, 2013

I don't think OP is intending to hire computer consultants.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:49 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Uh, on-site help would be good because OP is in a very different place from where the dial-up will be, and can't really test it. Am I missing something here?
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:57 PM on December 6, 2013

Response by poster: I would love to hire someone to go out and help them with it, but it's almost certainly out of the budget, since they'd probably have to travel a couple of hours or so, there and back -- but yeah it would be ideal otherwise. I think we will try to look at non-windows operating systems solutions with the family members who can hook it up, and see what we can do, maybe with some on-phone back and forth. Thanks for the ideas, guys; I'll update if we get something safe and adequate going.
posted by taz at 5:41 AM on December 7, 2013

You can resolve most of the hardware complications if you create a home network for them, connecting a dial-up modem to a router and then connecting whatever modern hardware you want to the router. As a bonus, you'll get the security benefits of being behind the router.

You'll need an external modem that has a serial connector, and a router that can handle that--those are generally only wired routers, so you may want to connect an additional wireless router to that, depending on what other hardware you want. Once that part is set up, connecting any modern computing device is easy.
posted by anaelith at 7:56 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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