Computer for the elderly
February 18, 2014 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I maintain a PC for a user who has dementia and who breaks the computer in short order. So I installed DeepFreeze (thanks AskMe) and it has worked great, but now they turn off the computer without shutdown so it eventually blue screens and won't boot at all. What can I do to make the system impervious to turning off without shutdown? I'd like to stay with Windows if possible for a number of unrelated reasons, though open to Linux if there is no other option assuming it can be "frozen" cfg and remote management.
posted by stbalbach to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe it helps to mention this is a laptop.
posted by stbalbach at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2014

Actually this may be a dumb question as I now see it's possible to tell windows what to do when the power button is pressed.
posted by stbalbach at 10:15 AM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I assume the problem is either

1. power source running out, getting unplugged (this happens with my local elderly friend who has a computer)
2. power button shutoff, whether accidental or not
3. software shutoff but not waiting for shutdown to be complete and/or losing power before next boot

Depending on the problem I'd address the root cause. The systems are really meant to not be shut down accidentally

[on preview: I was going to suggest just covering the power button with tape, but that works too!]
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 AM on February 18, 2014

This won't help if the power button is being held down until a hard power-off. The windows settings trigger a graceful shutdown on a press of the power button (or a suspend, if you prefer) but a hard shutoff is always possible.

You might be better off with something running a tablet OS, maybe with a convertible keyboard etc setup.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:43 AM on February 18, 2014

You could set the laptop to sleep when the power button is pressed. Maybe the button won't get held down if the machine appears to "turn off" by entering sleep mode.

One way to get around the hard power off when the button is held down would be to open up the machine and cut the leads to the button. If you need to do a hard power-off for maintenance you could unplug the machine and remove the battery.
posted by yohko at 12:20 PM on February 18, 2014

Came to say what yohko said. It's fairly trivial to disconnect the power button.

You could also help them by putting an icon on the desktop labelled "Turn off Computer". Just make it a shortcut that runs the command-line: "shutdown -s -t 0", and tell them to use that from now on. ["s" means shutdown, "t 0" means 'do it in zero seconds' aka: now]
posted by blue_beetle at 2:14 PM on February 18, 2014

You could try disabling write caching if you are ok with the computer being slower. On Linux I would also make the file system where the OS is installed read only, but I have no idea how to do that with windows.
posted by Poldo at 8:32 PM on February 18, 2014

Alright I understand a little better where the possible problems are and will try to see what can be done. If I can't resolve it may return with a new question on Linux as it seems possible to harden using a USB boot image that remains static and boots into RAM and as Poldo says read only filesystem. That would seem indestructible.
posted by stbalbach at 11:26 PM on February 18, 2014

Another way to go would be to use a Linux hypervisor (i.e. on a USB stick) and give the person a Windows VM to use, which can be restored to a known good condition from a backup copy if Windows gets hosed by a hard shutdown.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:29 PM on February 19, 2014

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