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Old 12-22-2012, 02:16 PM   #1
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Question: Remote Linux support for low knowledge user

I am sure many are in my same predicatment - computer support for your aging parents. Current I have them running Ubuntu and use ssh for remote support, occassionally NoMachine NX when I actually need to see their desktop. Works great, most of the time.

But I am now faced with them running an old release - Ubuntu Intrepid - with the complaint "videos stopped working on". it appears that the installed Flash player is too old. Should be simple. But the newer Flash requires a newer Firefox. Should be simple. But no more Intrepid repos, and no backports of current Firefox that I can find. Should be simple. Install a development environment and compile. But I suspect I will run into the need for source packages for some library or other to complie Firefox. Anyway - you get my drift. At some point it becomes quite burdonsome to REMOTELY support an old release.

I don't quite have the stones to try a remote "dist upgrade"!

Has anyone come up with a good way to remotely support the computer-illiterate? Breaking ssh, or ending up with some non-bootable condition that may be trivial to fix locally becomes a big issue remotely. In the past, I have just bought a new computer, installed and configured everything here at my house, then ship it down to the parents, and hope and pray that they can at least handle plugging cables into the correct places.

Are there any true "remote console" hardware solutions that don't cost a fortune that do not require you have have a working OS for access? One that would work via a network connection to their router? I could get them to feed CD's/DVD's into the target computers drive for bare-metal installs, if need be.

I was even thinking of running the OS here at my home, and their computer would be nothing more than a remote terminal to a computer I control locally. They would be using NX or something similar. But even as fast as NX is, that's not a good long term solution. Sound, printing, etc., would be an issue I'd think. And I'd have to somehow script a startup of an NX sessoin on their end - I assume that might be possible, but I've never tried that.

Has anybody come up with a good solution to this, other than routine flights across the country for these major upgrades, or my current buy, configure, ship method? At this point, my parents hardware is still good so I hate to purchase entirely new hardware just so I can do an OS upgrade locally.

Thanks in advance for any ideas!
Old 12-22-2012, 02:22 PM   #2
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p.s. - Even a suggestion on how to fix the "video won't play on" current issue would be helpful. If I could get at least THAT working, I could probably stave off the OS upgrade for a while longer. It appears to be old Flash, limited by old Firefox, is the root cause. Can't be 100% sure though. The symptoms are either no playing of the videos (with no screen with the "play" arrow displayed at all - just a blank area displayed in the middle of the webpage), or sometimes a prompt to install Flash (which already is installed, albeit an old version). Firefox is version 3.0.something. I haven't checked the specific version of Flash installed.
Old 12-22-2012, 02:34 PM   #3
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Since they are using an obsolete end-of-life Ubuntu release, the best suggestion I can make is to grab the latest Firefox from and the latest Flash from
Old 12-24-2012, 12:27 AM   #4
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Went ahead and updated Firefox and Flash using the downloads from the respective websites. This solved the immediate problem. As far as future remote support, I guess I will just start installing the OS twice, in seperate partitions, and give my parents access to a grub menu for chosing which to boot. In theory this will allow me to break one install while still allowing them to boot off the other. Not a perfect solution and still could have upgrade problems, but at least I could make a stab at remote OS upgrade and if that fails I could have them boot into the backup copy of the OS. Then the possibilty would exist for me to fix the broken OS from within the working one. Better than nothing (what I have now).
Old 12-24-2012, 02:20 AM   #5
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I am not sure how much you need an immediate solution for this problem, or if you are thinking long term. Long term I would recommend a basic virtual machine on top of a stable OS which doesn't need to be upgraded between hardware upgrades. Like ESXi or Virtualbox on Debian Stable.

I have never tried it, but I assume you can throw in a number of scripts which will start the VM in full screen.

Otherwise your problem is fundamentally not solvable. You can't have a riskless remote upgrading scheme.

I haven't come this far. A few months ago I replaced the Windows Vista machine of my aging father after a hardware failure with a completely installed Debian system, including OpenOffice, Google Chrome, Thunderbird and all that. Fully configured, with page sized Office and Internet Explorer icons on his desktop. The next day I had to leave town. When I came back after two weeks, I found an ancient Windows laptop connected to his screen installed by my computer-illiterate brother. According to my dad he was not able to "understand the characters" on the computer I installed.

I wish you luck...



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