“Linux is a failed experiment,” she spit. “It has no business even existing in the tech world and I am fully capable of recovering any important files myself. I do not need your help.”
The Heart of Linux
I live in a pretty cool place. We were lucky enough to find a quiet retirement community for those over the age of 55 and/or those who have disabilities that prevent them from working. Our rent is controlled by the government, so we are living in a two bedroom, two bath apartment but are paying the average rent for a studio. How cool is that? The waiting list for these apartments is usually nine months, so we were happy to have the management call us and tell us that we could move-in less than ten days after filing our application.
This is an extremely nice complex. It’s what I call a Stepford complex, a neighborhood tucked away on a side street that, if you didn’t know it was here, you would never see. Everything is neatly built, with buildings perfectly in line with those on each side and with the unit across the street. The understated entrance is often blindly passed by, even when people are looking for it. The residents tend to be close to their neighbors and there isn’t a stranger in the whole place. New residents will find that within a week of their arrival, people will be standing at their door presenting them with cakes, pies, casseroles, cupcakes and cookies, all in the name of getting in the door and seeing who they are and what they are all about. Retirement communities are like that. Diane refers to folks like this as having “nose troubles.”
Last Friday our neighbor from across the street, Jane, knocked on our door. When I answered she didn’t stop to express greetings of any sort, but pushed her way into our kitchen and breathlessly told me that her computer was being used as a robot. Her daughter did some checking on it via a remote access session and told her there were some foreign language emails in her “sent” box. She told her to turn the computer off immediately.
Jane’s computer had been running slowly for a week and was getting continuously worse, which is why she’d accepted her daughter’s invitation for help, which had uncovered the Eastern European language emails, which most certainly tied in with the slow performance.
Before I could stop her near-panic stream, she said bluntly,”I want you to come over and install Linux on my computer.”
Okay folks, sidebar. That last statement needs some background ‘splained.
Her husband Claude is a super guy. He’s in his late 70s but he works like he’s still 30 years-old. Over the last couple of years we’ve become close friends.
A year ago Claude was having serious computer problems that finally culminated with a blue screen of You’re Screwed. I sat him down and showed him a live session of Linux and after twenty minutes he asked if I could install it on his computer. I could and I did. After that, every time Jane complained about pop-up ads or constant browser crashes, Claude replied, “Now that’s funny. This Linux computer of mine isn’t having any problems at all.”
As I’ve said before, people willing to change operating systems as a solution have usually reached their pain threshold. That day, Jane had reached hers. I came over, booted into Linux Mint Cinnamon and had her fully operational in 25 minutes. She now enjoys her computer tremendously.
It’s through Jane and Claude that I came to work on the computer of my next door neighbor Diane, a name she shares with my wife, after she’d crossed the street to visit them. when she complained that her computer had locked up during a Windows 10 upgrade, Jane told her to see me, that for a cold glass of iced tea I would fix her right up. Soon, she was knocking on my door. I told her I had some errands to run, but that when I returned I would come see what I could do.
When I knocked on her door, Diane was ecstatic to see me. The frozen Windows 10 upgrade had officially failed and the computer eventually decided it would reinstall her Windows 7 system. Everything seemed to be back to normal, but I could tell she was still unsure. She asked what I thought she should do and we decided a dual boot would be a good idea. That’s when her visiting thirtysomething daughter chimed in and tersely told her mom that if she allowed me install Linux on her computer she would never, ever, help her with her computer again.
This is when most polite people would sheepishly raise their hands, palms forward, and back away, possibly mumbling something about having arrived at a bad time and thus allowing the mother/daughter battle to rage privately. I can’t do that. I fully realize that I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to do so.
I cleared my throat and addressed the daughter.
“I don’t think you understand.” I said. “I’m not destroying your mom’s Windows installation. I am simply installing Linux as a boot option. That way, when she turns on her computer it will give her a choice as to which one she wants to use. It will allow her to save the important files on her Windows install and she can do whatever she likes from there.”
This did nothing to placate her daughter.
“There’s no need to put Linux on anything.” All semblance of civility was now a distant part of the equation. “Linux is a failed experiment,” she spit. “It has no business even existing in the tech world and I am fully capable of recovering any important files myself. I do not need your help.”
That’s when I left, livid, fully uncomfortable and unbalanced. Thirty minutes later, Diane was at my door again.
“She’s gone,” she winked. “You can come over now if you want.”
I most certainly did want, if for nothing else to spite Little Miss Sunshine.
It took me the better part of two hours to round-up all the files and things she wanted saved. Once that was done, the Linux Mint Cinnamon installation took less than 30 minutes. I test booted it several times, making sure the boot loader was operating properly. It was booting Linux and Windows just fine.
I had Diane sit down at her machine and go through the boot sequence. I instructed her how to choose which system she wanted, and once into the Linux side of things, I showed her how to navigate the menu. I introduced her to the Firefox browser, which she used on Windows anyway. I told her that if she wanted Chrome installed, we could do that at a later date. She offered me money. I refused and left for the comfy and stressless confines of my home. Good and fuzzy feelings ensued.
Normally this would be the place where I’d wrap up the story and we would all be on our way. But this isn’t one of those times. The next Monday, Little Miss I-Am-Legend was at my door herself. She did not mince words.
“You’ve completely screwed up my mom’s computer and you need to fix it right now.” Without a word, I stepped by her and turned the corner to go to Diane’s front door. Doing everything in my power to keep from unleashing the verbal tsunami building up within me, I waited for daughter to catch up and I entered the home behind her.
Diane was sitting at her computer with the newly installed Mint menu open. She looked over her shoulder and smiled as she stood.
“This is remarkable,” she beamed at me.
Her daughter took this opportunity to insert her opinion.
“No mom, it isn’t remarkable. It’s a broken piece of garbage and it needs to come off there now. If you ever need my help again, as long as that crap is installed on your computer, you can fix it yourself. I swear, if you don’t get rid of that crap, I’ll walk out and that will be the end.”
Diane had a number of spreadsheets that she kept for various people and organizations. She volunteered at the community food pantry and at numerous second hand stores in the county. This is a disabled person who refuses to stay down. She spends 8-10 hours a week over three days doing what she can to assist people less fortunate than herself.
Her daughter did the data entry for her mom and took care of getting the spreadsheets updated and sent to the organizations that needed them. Of course this was all done on Microsoft Office. She had no experience with Libre/OpenOffice, and she made it clear she wasn’t going to relearn another software application. That was the real source of the nastiness and bullying toward her mother. And make no mistake, this was a textbook case of adult child bullying by a toxic adult child.
Again I felt that uncomfortable feeling begin to creep up my chest and into my face. I knew I was in full blush; I could feel the heat in my face and it radiated from the back of my neck. But this wasn’t the time to leave. This was a full-on, textbook case of adult child bullying. So, breaking the golden rule of not feeding the troll, as calmly as I could I asked, “I don’t understand what you believe to be broken. She can boot into Windows anytime she wants and it won’t hurt a thing. What’s the big deal about letting her have a choice in how she operates her computer?”
“Really?” she sarcastically replied. “You are going to challenge me on this? You old (removed) think you know everything and when you screw something up, you come running to your kids or grandkids, begging us to fix it. I make my living fixing other people’s computers and I write software for two major tech firms in Austin. Linux isn’t a remedy, it’s a nightmare. I have a life. I don’t have time to drive all the way to Taylor and fix my mom’s computer when she or one of you other geriatric geniuses screw it up again and again and again.”
With common courtesy in play here, I’ve replaced the expletives with somewhat less offensive word choices.
I couldn’t believe those words were being spoken. I drew a sharp breath to verbally destroy this death squad supporter when her mom spoke up with a quiet response that was almost a whisper but completely audible.
“Maya, Leave. I want you to leave now. Just get out.” Tears were flowing down Diane’s face, but she kept her head turned away.
“Mom, I’m just trying to protect you.”
Diane shook her head. “Now, Maya. Leave. You are not welcome here at this moment.”
Maya gathered her purse and her laptop and left without a word, slamming the door to put a solid point on her departure. I just stood there, not sure what to do and feeling like I had made this whole thing happen. I told Diane as much.
“No, Ken. She’s an arrogant, selfish person. She’s always wanted to be center stage and when she is center stage, she complains about being pushed into the spotlight when she wasn’t ready.”
I had been standing the whole time, so I pulled one of the dining room chairs out and took a seat. I was surprised to feel my knees shaking slightly. It was uncomfortably quiet. The air conditioner came on, gently making the sheer curtains dance. When I decided it was best to leave, she stood up and asked me to take a seat at the computer.
“Show me how to use the spreadsheet in Linux.”
So with us sitting side by side at the computer, I showed her how to start LibreOffice and open Calc. Not really knowing beans about Calc or Excel, I found and bookmarked an excellent resource for the Calc beginner. It was a complete instructional video, demonstrating how to move Microsoft Office Excel files into Calc in LibreOffice.
It was getting late in the afternoon and the dinner hour was approaching quickly. After twenty minutes I explained that I had to go and made sure she imported her Firefox sync into the current Firefox in front of her. She had no idea what I was talking about, so I had her sign in to her Gmail account and I showed her the sync button inside the settings. She smiled as the bookmark bar, her extensions and her familiar theme for Firefox all arrived on her currently opened Firefox. She was truly amazed by this and told me that she looked forward to other cool stuff she could do in Linux. I didn’t bother to explain that she could do that in any operating system.
I looked back at her as I opened the front door to leave. She had her email open and was navigating therein, fully unaware that I was leaving.
That was a good thing. The longer she explored by herself, the better she would become at solving her own problems. That being so, I decided I was going to take a drive. Driving often calms me, especially after nasty exchanges such as the one I had with Maya. But if I have ever learned anything, two bouts with cancer in four years has taught me that life is way too short for the bull stuff.
Oh, and Maya’s tech profession? She’s a project manager with McAfee. If Windows didn’t exist she would be hard pressed to make the six figures she enjoys now while her mom lives in a one bedroom apartment in a retirement community and is dependent on the city food pantry from time to time. Just sayin’.
For those playing along at home, that’s seventeen Linux computers now in use in my little comfortable out-of-the-way neighborhood. Let’s see just how big this thing can get. This whole Linux thing.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue