My 70 year old mother has been using Linux on the desktop for the past 21 years

Published on 2022-01-07. Modified on 2023-10-25.

My mother turned 70, February 2021, and she has been using Linux on the desktop for the past 21 years. My mother-in-law is 65, she has been using Linux on the desktop since 2015.

I originally advised my mother to migrate from Microsoft Windows on the desktop to Linux because I used to have to go to her apartment at least once every year to make a clean install of Windows because it had suddenly stopped working, or because it just started to become extremely slow.

This was a classical problem with Microsoft Windows back then. In the companies where I did IT support, we always had a couple of Norton Ghost images from the latest Windows install lying around because everyone knew that in about 6-12 month, Windows would need a fresh install again.

My mother is not tech savvy in any way, she's not even an average computer user and she definitely doesn't know what a terminal is. Rather, she's actually quite difficult to help sometimes because she makes many mistakes when she uses the computer. E.g. she regularly hits Caps Lock while trying to type her password for her login (or on websites when she's trying to login). Often she presses the wrong buttons without noticing or she presses multiple buttons simultaneously by mistake. She also has her own "jargon", words that she uses wrongly, like calling the desktop on her computer for "the Internet". So she can say something like:

Where are the photos I used to have on the Internet?

Me: "Photos on the Internet? Do you by any chance mean your desktop?"

Desktop? No, the Internet! Don't you get it?

This sounds pretty funny, and sometimes is is, but it makes her very difficult to help.

Still, when I ask her if she remembers back when she had Windows on the computer, she curses the thing and calls it "utter trash". Whenever she talks to some of the neighbors in her building or on the street and they mention computer problems, she tells them to use Linux instead of Windows. And I am not exaggerating.

Despite all the problems, she manages to use her Debian Linux computer on a daily basis for email, online shopping, banking, browsing, printing, etc.

My mother-in-law is even less tech savvy than my mother. She is 65 years old and she is the type that types letters extreme slow because she is afraid of making a mistake. She also started out with Windows when she bought her first laptop. Eventually I had to do support for her as well, the classical re-install of Windows and the typical removal of viruses. I decided to push Linux on her as well and have never had a single complaint in all the years that have followed. She also uses her computer both for banking, the casual browsing, emailing, and even for Facebook gaming too.

My mother have tried several Linux distributions over the years, where she started out with Ubuntu (I think it was Ubuntu), then turned to Linux Mint, and then eventually landing on Debian, which she has been a very happy user of for many years now.

My mother-in-law started out on Linux Mint but eventually also landed on Debian.

I have other family members and friends that also only run Linux on the desktop as well. I converted my wife to Linux about a year after she got her very first laptop, she also never looked back. She tried Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Debian and eventually settled on Manjaro, which has been her favorite Linux distribution since then.

Now, you might think that all of that is because they have me to help them, but that's not the case. I stopped doing computer support for my family when they stopped using Windows! They do all their daily work themselves, including keeping their distribution of choice updated.

In all my many years of doing tech support, I have not seen a single case where it was not beneficial to migrate from Windows to Linux - regardless of whether it was on servers or on the desktop.

The only real problems I have seen have been a few cases where a particular company or a user managed to get themselves vendor locked-in to Microsoft - mostly due to some stupid hardware that only was supported on Windows, or some software they had purchased or had developed by some company which only supported Windows.

More and more people are migrating from Windows to Linux for very good reasons such as open source, better privacy, better security, and to avoid all the crap that Microsoft is pulling with Windows 10 and 11. I personally cannot fathom why anyone would run Microsoft Windows on their computer unless it's just for fun, e.i. gaming, and even then, most Windows games run very well on Linux with Wine and Steam Proton.

In any case, if all you do is to use your desktop or laptop computer for normal work, you have absolutely nothing to loose from running Linux on your PC, rather you will gain a lot. Not only is it much less likely you will ever get a virus on your computer, but you will also enjoy better performance, much more control and multiple choices for many applications. All the free and open source software you will ever need is only a single command or mouse-click away from installing on your computer via the build-in package manager, and you wont ever have to worry about licenses or having to manually download anything from anywhere online.

Still, it is to your advantage if you spend a little time doing some homework before you jump ship. Test things out some old hardware, if you have something lying around. Read up about package managers, file extensions and file formats. Locate some of the different places where you can ask people for advice, many Linux users love to help newcomers to Linux. All of this will help ease the transition.

Back in the day, when I migrated from Microsoft Windows to Linux and BSD, I bought a couple of books and did some research and testing. I experimented, gathered information and took notes before I eventually completely migrated. I felt that it was necessary because so many things where (and still are) different. I remember I only knew Windows related file extensions such as e.g. .bat, .exe, .msi and .zip. The word "package" was very confusing and unpacking a tar.gz file and compiling source code, which you did a lot back then (you don't need to do that anymore), made very little sense to me. Had I not done some homework prior to my migration, I don't think I would have had too much success.

You need to expect a learning curve, it's not steep, but it's there. You after all changing to a completely different operating system.

Oh, and by they way, if you have a smartphone with Android, you're already running Linux :)