My nonagenarian father loves his Windows 7, 64-bit computer. As he slows down and finds it harder to get out and about, his PC and its connectivity are his portal to the larger world. The problem is that he’s tempted by every pop-up and/or free application he encounters especially for those that promise to speed up his machine, repair his registry, electrify your internet connection and dramatically improve your system’s performance, so not only is his hard drive full of crapware, but I worry about the security threats that his curiosity invites on to his machine.
I visit him frequently and we spend a lot of time cleaning out these programs. But sure enough, he’s reinstalled the same programs between visits. I’ve lectured him but these explanations have about as much impact on him as his lectures did on me 50-odd years ago. Now, I suppose I could lock down user account control so that he couldn’t install anything, but I think that would be an unacceptable affront to his explorations and his dignity. So, do you have any potential solutions? Ideally, I’d like to remotely manage his system so that he can explore the net and software and I can learn of and correct his frequent misadventures.
I love hearing about people in your father’s situation who have discovered the ways that the internet and technology can open their world. That he’s in his nineties is just awesome.
That being said, I can certainly understand that a little restraint on his part might be appreciated. Let’s talk about some ideas.
Use a limited-user account
The most effective approach would indeed be to set him up with a limited-user account. This is pretty much the lockdown that you’re reluctant to impose on him. And I understand that, too.
I can’t say what kind of impact it would have on your relationship or how it might frustrate him. But from a technological perspective, user account control and limited user accounts exist for exactly this reason.
I don’t know how tied to Windows he is or how much of a stretch it would be for him to switch, but 99% of all that crapware is for Windows. If all he’s doing is surfing the web and playing with email, Linux might be enough.
If it is, I’d suggest the Mint installation; you could grab a live CD and see how he reacts to it. My guess is that if he really does love Windows 7 that might be a little too much.
Backup early and often
Backups are another idea. Reinstalling from a backup gives you a very simple way to reset the clock. It beats cleaning up or uninstalling all of this stuff that has appeared on his machine between visits.
Take a backup image the next time that you have it all cleaned up and just periodically restore to that image. After the restore, if there’s something that is legitimate that you actually do want to have added to the machine, add it, and then take a new image so that you have a new starting point.
You haven’t mentioned what security software he’s running, but something with a good real-time component might be very appropriate for this kind of thing.
For example, this might be a case for Malwarebytes’ paid product which does do some real-time scanning. It’s actually pretty good at preventing some of the more annoying and malicious software from being installed.
Ultimately, I just have to say that it’s exceptionally difficult to protect users from themselves. It’s unfortunate, but there’s really only so much that you can do.
The one shred of hope that I do have for you revolves around your desire to remote manage. What you might want to do is set up TeamViewer on his machine and yours.
With that, you can remote access the machine. He can see what you’re doing while you’re doing it (if you like), but you can also do things more frequently than your periodic visits. You’d be able to connect to his machine from just about anywhere you have an internet connection and run it as if you were sitting in front of it.
The good news about TeamViewer is that it’s free for personal use. I use it myself. It’s actually very cool; I’ve used it many times to remote access my wife’s computer while I’m out of town to help her with an issue.
Like I said, good on your dad. I’m really thrilled to hear this kind of stuff and I wish you the best of luck.