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My mom wants to learn how to use a computer, and I thought she'd better start off learning how to use Windows (XP) and the Internet.

What books/tutorial (preferably free) do you recommend, which would be geared toward old people / newbies ?

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The most important thing for her confidence is going to be having a realistic but foolproof environment. (I speak from experience of having parents and grandparents who are afraid of breaking a computer by exploring it.) – Miss Cellanie Dec 1 '09 at 22:48
Also, some great (non-book) tips here:… – outsideblasts Dec 2 '09 at 7:35
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Windows XP for dummies has been great for my uncle... it's not free (but not very expensive either), but apparently beginners like it:

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Computers for Retirees is an excellent website, don't let the title deceive you, it's a great introduction to computers for all ages. It covers everything from software to hardware and the internet. It's a free online book and also prints well on 8.5x11 if she isn't savvy with a web browser just yet.

A live teaching environment is great to go along with this. You may even want to show her some things now and then. I'd recommend grabbing VirtualBox and installing Windows inside of it. Give her a network connection such as bridged so she can explore the internet too! After the base installation, install drivers and whatever programs she will need, then take a snapshot. If she ever messes anything up, simply revert to that snapshot and all is well again. Just make sure you explain to her the difference between the virtual machine and the host OS, so she doesn't accidentally click the start menu in the host and start using that. You could also just make sure she maximizes the window before starting. This way she can safely explore Windows in all it's glory. She can then install software, see what happens during reboots, and how they are required for some software. When shes ready to move on, just delete the virtual machine (and the software altogether if you wish)!

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I would personally not try to do anything special over normal books as when I was looking at various books a while ago for someone, I thought that most were very patronising... (I would love to write a good one myself if I had the time!).

The first thing I would do is what I did for a friend, enable boot from USB (or disk) and use imaging to create a 100% image of the hard drive and a script that will automatically expand and use (I personally use Windows PE with an unattend script for imagex). If you want to create your own custom environment, use the WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit).

By doing the above, you can tell them that no matter what, they cannot break the system. Worst case scenario, they just put in the disk/usb stick and the machine will be back to where it was when you handed to them.

Next, just find a good "for beginners" book. Some of the good ones I have seen include the For Dummies series. However, the best thing you can do is just do everything for them once, slowly and make sure they have a notepad where they can write it all down.

The only thing I really did that was special for my nan was to increase desktop icon size, and put an icon to all the games on the desktop so she does not have to use the start menu. She can turn the machine on and off fine and launch Freecell!... Sometimes about 3+ copies... haven't found a good way to say you can run more than one program at a time and look at taskbar!... But she is getting better.

The number one key thing is patience, then just be available on the phone for any and all questions.

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Besides the books suggested, you should also look for video tutorials. I'd suggest the mac videos, but since you are using Windows maybe you should have a look at the official Microsoft videos for Windows 7. Unfortunately I do not have any suggestions for XP.

And if possible show her all the new software for computers, like Windows 7, Skype and so on (my parents were really impressed when they found out about video telephony via Skype). User experience, especially for non-professional and beginners, gained so much in the last few years.

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computer books are BORING! :)

introduce your mother to the basics and then let her explore the world of computing herself according to her own interests (and never underestimate the value of Solitaire :).

the greatest scare for novices is usually the fear of doing something wrong or breaking the computer.

you should consider locking the machine's state with Deep Freeze. if you partition the drive and move My Documents, Favorites, etc. to the second partition and then 'freeze' the system partition, documents still can be saved, favorites added, etc.

in case something gets messed up (or worse), all she has to do is restarting the computer and all is well again.

this, i found, is a mighty relief for beginners and a great confidence booster.

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I'm sorry if my answer is a bit off-topic, but I believe there is no answer to your question. Instead, I highly recommend at first sit down with her. Get started together.

Do not intervene, do not exhale air in despair while rolling your eyes, do not get upset, and let her do it. She needs to feel secure about it, even just to have somebody to directs complains to. This will save you money and time - no need to get a book she will not need, no time wasted asking around a generic question.

This approach has the added bonus that you, on the other hand, will know which level she's at. Will she need a long book she can read cover to cover? Or maybe an "instruction manual" where she can look up things as she needs them? Does she really need windows XP? How does she react to dialog boxes? Maybe you should get her a netbook pc? What about a web-only Linux host? Or a mac?

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That is what I plan to do, but I am afraid that I might forget to teach her something, for example:… , that is why I need a book or tutorial that includes a list of things I should teach her... – Lawand Dec 3 '09 at 11:17

Why not going with Ubuntu instead? It looks like a much better investment. It is free, there is plenty of info about it. It is reasonably usable and has apps that suit all needs of an average user. Windows XP is also pretty dead, it will disappear in a couple of years. Microsoft already doesn't pay attention to it, this means there will be no security updates for new threats. Not to mention the superior security level of a Linux system and its lower exposure to viruses and malware.

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I totally agree with all of what you said, but the thing is that she isn't going to be working on the same PC all the time, and since Windows is far more popular, it would be bad for her not to know how to use it... – Lawand Dec 2 '09 at 12:20

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