One of the machines, the Win98 one, was not only really dead, but really most sincerely dead. And we had no original CDs to reinstall the OS, and no real budget to buy a new OS. So it seemed like the ideal time to make use of a free one!
Fortunately, we now had broadband, so I downloaded Knoppix, which is a version of Linux that can run from a CD. I burned one on my Mac, used it to boot up the dead machine, and managed to copy off the documents, photos emails and address book onto a flash drive. I then downloaded and made an install CD of Ubuntu, probably the first Linux distribution that comes close to being usable by normal people, and with great relief I reformatted the disk and obliterated all traces of Windows 98 from the machine, never to darken its hard disk again. Ubuntu installed beautifully, and we had a working machine again.
We then needed to connect it to the network, and, sadly, the new NetGear wifi card that was in it was not supported. I had checked this in advance, and knew that I needed to get and build some new drivers, which, with the aid of these instructions and a few flash-drive transfers from my Mac, I was able to do. This goes to prove that ordinary users may be able to use Linux now, but they probably wouldn’t be able to install it. The same is true of Windows too, though; the scale of difficulty may be different, but either would be equally unthinkable for many people.
So now my father-in-law runs Linux. His demands don’t extend much beyond email, solitaire and some occasional web-browsing and simple word processing, and it’s just fine for that. I can connect in from the other side of the world and install updates etc, and thanks to the VNC support built in to GNOME, I can view his desktop and help him with problems, and I sometimes leave post-it notes there for him after I’ve adjusted something in the middle of the night. It hasn’t been rebooted since I left a month ago.
I also gave the other machine – a Windows XP one – a good spring clean. I ran lots of checks, installed Windows security patches, paid for and installed a new Norton Antivirus with the very latest updates, and so forth. And it’s now behind a firewall.
A week after I left it had a new virus on it. We’re still trying to get rid of it.