McGee Partners
Management Consultants


Debian Stable -
Perfect for Inexperienced Computer Users


William M. McGee

August, 2010

Recently, I had the need to help my in-laws find a solution to their computer problems. They are in their early 80's, and have almost no knowledge about computers, how to use them, or how to maintain them. Their computer is a few years old, but severely under-powered for the Windows operating system it was trying to run. They only use their computer for the basics - email, internet, letters, games, and a contact list. Yet, they were having daily computer issues due to the slowness of the system, and the constant system and anti-virus updates that they didn't know how to handle. The issues were severe enough that the computer had become practically unusable.

They considered buying a new computer, but the expenditure just didn't seem justified based on their needs. They had become emotionally tied to two legacy Windows applications, so a solution would need to allow them to continue using those applications. My first thought was that a Linux distribution that was supposed to be easier to use than others would be a good solution for them. So, I began researching Linux distributions online for the ones rated by various experts as the easiest to use. I selected four or five distributions, downloaded them, installed them on an old computer, and tried them out. I liked a lot of them, but my choice was Debian Stable (Lenny). The only downside of Debian Stable is that installation is a little slow and requires a little knowledge, although knowledge requirements are truly minimal.

It has only been a few weeks since I installed Lenny on their computer, but their computer issues seem to be totally resolved. Based on their experience, I believe that Debian Stable could be the perfect operating system for inexperienced computer users. Here's why:

  • There are minimal updates. Inexperienced users seem to have trouble with automated updates and what they should do with them. System and application updates for Lenny come in releases that are months apart. Security updates can be set to download and install in the background. There is no need for anti-virus updates.
  • Its useful life is long. Based on Debian's current estimated release schedule, Lenny will be usable for at least 2 or 3 more years.
  • The basics work well. Lenny handles basic computing needs with simply no glitches. Plus, there are many more applications at their fingertips, if users want to add more capabilities to their computers.
  • It doesn't need the latest hardware. My in-laws' computer is a reasonable computer, more than adequate for their needs. It is totally inadequate for the Windows operating system that the manufacturer put on it. Lenny runs smoothly on it.
  • WINE works well for older Windows applications. My in-laws have two old Windows applications that they really like, and want to keep using. They both run well under WINE.
  • It is durable. Inexperienced users can unknowingly do things to computers that can damage the operating system - clicking too many times, clicking on the wrong thing, changing an important setting, unplugging it when they can't figure out how to shut it down (yes, that happened many times with my in-laws), etc. Lenny is durable, it can protect itself from undue harm, and the code is rock-solid.
Many people think Linux distributions are only for experienced, knowledgeable computer users, and it is true, some distributions can only practically be used by experienced users. Even some of the distributions that are rated by experts as easy to use, require periodic user actions that inexperienced users can find daunting. This is not true with Lenny. Once installed, Lenny performs its tasks elegantly and simply. It also will continue to perform its tasks for years more. In my opinion, Debian Stable seems to be the perfect Linux distribution, perhaps even the perfect operating system, for inexperienced computer users.

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