Ubuntu for elderly computer users


My nan is currently using Windows 10 but get’s confused with it and errors very easily. I want to make her computer easy to use for her. She only uses it for some basic computing tasks like web browsing, email, Skype and scanning documents.

Her computer doesn’t work that amazingly with Windows 10 partly because the graphics driver for her PC hasn’t been updated in several years and don’t work very well in Windows 10

I’m looking to move her to Ubuntu. The only thing is, is her PC only has 2 Gb of RAM and I’m thinking she’d probably be better of with Chrome but Chrome only has a 64 bit Linux version now so would she be okay running 64 bit Ubuntu or should I look into other browsers?

Also do you have any reccomendations on how to configure Ubuntu for an elderly user for security and usability.

Many thanks,

1 Like

I’m in my mid 60s so maybe I qualify to help another senior? :wink:

Personally I wouldn’t advise using Ubuntu with Gnome on a computer with only 2 Gb of ram. I’d go with Ubuntu or Debian minimal install and install something like OpenBox Window Manger on top of it, or something else that’s light. LXDE deserves honourable mention.
Other than that, large fonts for dialogues and menu’s. I woudn’t worry about locking it down too much. A default install usually is sufficient with the user/root paradigm.

It sounds like she’s a very novice user, so perhaps gift her one of the “Dummies” books on basic end-user how-to’s?

1 Like

Lubuntu would fit the bill or as mentioned use a minimal CD and build up, I would not recommend just a window manager (WM) for a brand new user unless you plan on providing lots of tech support.

ref: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Lubuntu

1 Like

have a look at XUBUNTU … I run it on an 2GB RAM netbook/small notebook with an old ATOM N450 CPU … smooth and faster than the old Windows 7 Starter. It is a little bit “heavier” than lubuntu … but imho much easier to use …

have a nice day

Ubuntu MATE will be the best choice. It works even on old Celerons and Atoms with 2Gb of RAM. It has accessibility features and nice-built. It has 32-bit version to save space and RAM.

If hardware allows RAM upgrade, you should do it. RAM is cheap.

I would like to separate the hardware issues and the never-used-computers novice issues from the Elder issues.

Home computers have existed since the mid-1980s. A person who is 75 now, and experiencing Elder issues (not all will at 75, but as an example age) was in their early 40s, in the middle of their wage-earning years when home computers became a thing. While it was not immediate, and never reached full penetration, the vast majority of workers of that era did have to learn to work with computers. I am not talking about Luddites who never learned.

What I want to focus on is stripped-down, direct entry, customizable desktop to solve the problem of Elder issues. There is a spectrum of Elder issues. There is eyesight for sure, maybe a little physical impairment running the mouse, but the big thing that closes down computers as an option for the elderly are cognitive issues. They experience anxiety because they cannot get into their email (they forgot an important step) and cannot communicate with distant friends. They errantly claim hardware is “broken” when an unfamiliar pop-up comes up. They no longer recognize the standard (complex) dialog windows to save files or skip or overwrite, etc. When asked what the window says, they start reading verbatim or describing geometric shapes in terms an alien would use – oh you mean the “OK” or “back” button, or you figure out they are looking at a logo that is not an icon or any functional part of the interface.

Large fonts is the tip of the iceberg. Old, limited hardware is a different issue. The trick is not to create Unity that is cryptically capable of anything – graphical icons are useless without words for the Elder to read. They will forget what the graphics mean. The key is adjustable simplicity right down to the point of having a completely blank screen with only one icon on the desktop. Think more like an interface for an embedded system, a bank machine or cash register.

Right now I use as blank of a desktop as can be created with only one HTML file that leads to a list of favorite activities for the elder. I author the HTML file with customizable links. This blank desktop could have a more complex interface behind it, brought to the front by a combination of keystrokes for configuring by a care giver. It has to reduce to the point where all usage starts with clicking one of a very small number of icons and choosing one of a small list of activities. There can be no decoration around the sides, icons or options they will find confusing.

First arrival pages for social contact (email, facebook) often present “Create Account or Sign in” type screens that can be confusing to Elders. At that moment they think the most confused things like they have to create another account, that they have lost everything. They will need assistive technologies like feeding credentials into sign in pages so that they go straight to content to minimize the number of screens and interactions between turning the device on and seeing content, be it email or facebook or what have you.

Further, the Elder desktop has to have desktop remoting built into it, so that trusted others can click for them to get them to a screen. “My email is broken” is solved remotely in a few seconds. Obviously there are issues of security and levels of trust – being able to click for them to get them from Facebook to Email, assistively is entirely different from accessing and configuring the underlying interface.

This may sound to the young computer aficionado like just a trivial matter of configuration of about a dozen different things to make them all sing and dance together. It is not as simple as that, and it cannot be that fiddly or fallible or it will fail in the hands of the Elder, and be useless. One needs the system to be foolproof, built from the bottom up. Power it on, and there is no login, not start menu to navigate (unless you hit a settup key) it goes silently into the one main screen that supplies the minimal interface customized to the Elder.

If one were designing a computer interface screen for 2 year olds, it would sound more like a design challenge because we all understand the process of learning and gaining new skills. People at the peak of their technical acumen can’t remember the last time they were confused, and are not so accustomed to forgetting and loosing skills. To those who do not yet understand Elder issues, first it will be their parents, then it will be their mentors, then their peers, then it will be them.

The challenge here is, Elders who used to be able to navigate general interface computers, and simply cannot anymore and need a simple interface to maintain social contacts and digital activities. This is only going to be more of a problem in the coming years as more people who learned to operate computers at a younger age, and used them more extensively over their lifetime, start encountering Elder problems.

I think Ubuntu is an excellent platform on which to build such a direct-entry, simplified pre-configured interface that could be tailored to individual Elders. Such an interface could as easily be adapted to young children too, with more options added as children grow.


Have you looked at the Sugar Platform? It’s for children, but hey probably good for people my age too! Also you’re aware I assume that Ubuntu has excellent Accessibility Suite? 1st thing I do after installation is enable large fonts under that suite! Various other settings there too.

It has to be enabled in settings as Accessibility Suite isn’t enabled in the UI by default, naturally.

In terms of more computer users aging - One of my pet peeves is the way web pages are designed. One can tell that most Web Designers are young, generally with good eyesight. So, going forward the accessibility on web services should improve for Seniors.
Not just web interfaces though — I’m a long time user of AutoCAD and other 3D applications. I’m very thankful that I have some muscle memory, otherwise I’d be lost as I’m often unable to read the UI fonts!

Remember that we have the Screen Reader

Thank you for responding.

Remember that we have the Screen Reader

Orca Screen Reader is not ready sit on a complex user interface and make a simple one:


Orca has support for two rendering engines, Gecko and ?WebKit. The former is used within firefox and has the best support. The latter, Webkit, is used within avrious browsers. They work to a certain degree, but cannot be considered production-ready with Orca yet. You need to press F7 in those browsers to activate caret browsing.

I am guessing Orca would have to be connected to TCL/Expect to make something happen, or maybe that part is built in. Sounds like a great expert interface. It sounds like it would last 3 minutes with an Elder who is easily confused.

Have you looked at the Sugar Platform? It’s for children,

Yes, it looks like Unity. All graphics, no words, and enough side screen icons to be a full user interface. I am sure it is great for kids who are building their skills. Tell them the circle-net (globe lat&long) icon is web browsing, and they will not forget. I am not disputing Sugar is good for kids. This type of interface would not good for Elders.

Something simpler, like a cash machine interface. A few buttons with words “Email”, “Facebook” etc… No crytpic icons, no side, bottom, or top bar.

Well, maybe an AI like Mycroft could work