I am trying to setup a laptop for my grandparents for video calls, who certainly don't know how to use most technologies.

My plan is to setup a video chat app on boot and use a reliable command-line interface (CLI) to pre-select numbers for them. There will be only two numbers/addresses, mine and my brother's. I have been looking for video chat app that provides an official, long-term-supported CLI on Linux. Google Hangouts and Skype both have third-party CLI, which may not be up-to-date with the official releases in the future. If my grandparents accidentally update the app, the whole setup may break.

The choice of laptop is also crucial. The most important feature here is durability, because the laptop may be dropped to ground accidentally, or a cup of water may go directly onto the keyboard. CPU is not an issue as long as it is enough to power Linux kernel and the app, because video-call is IO-bound I believe. Hard-disk size doesn't matter, and 4GB of RAM is good enough.

I'd love to let my grandparents skip the steps of starting apps, logging in, selecting video calls, push numbers/addresses etc. For that I will need to setup a bash or other scripts to do these with CLI on boot. That is also why I want to install Linux on the laptop (mainly because I am not familiar with Windows' shells...)

I have been looking at rugged notebooks like Toughbook, as well as Lenovo Thinkpad. Do you guys know about anything more suitable for my grandparents?

1 Answer 1


I think you are making this overly complex.

I purchased a Kindle Fire for my 80 year old aunt and showed her how to use three apps on it. Netflix, Skype and email. The out of pocket cost was just over $50 including the case and a stand (so she could watch movies)

I positioned the icons for her so that they were the first things that were there when the device was turned on. That was Christmas 2015. I have yet to have a tech support call from her on how to use the device . However, she has called everyone including her grandson in Guam using Skype - she on the Kindle and he on an XBox.

Now, this was a woman who got a free laptop from another nephew but the laptop ended up collecting dust because the moment something had to be updated or it generated an error, they had no idea what to do. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best solution.

I regularly get emails and Skype calls from her, but none have been to resolve a tech issue. That $50 was well worth the price.

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