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Ask Max: Configuring iMac For Elderly Parent

Asked on 10/26/2007:

Since I bought this iMac from PowerMax I thought I'd write with this configuration question.

My mother is quite elderly, but is sort of computer literate. Her old PC died and I bought her this Mac. I am trying to set up a configuration that will keep her from stumbling into areas of the computer that would confuse her and prevent her from scrambling things.

She messed up many times on her old PC and my brother got tired of telling her there was nothing wrong with the machine. The iMac and OS X Tiger seemed to be the way to go with its "Parental Controls". I've got the configuration set so she cannot get into System Preferences and the "guts" of the OS.

What I want to set is the Dashboard so she can look at the various webcams - like Mount Saint Helens, Old Faithful and the Washington State Ferry Cams.

As I have things set now, the Dashboard applications do not appear. How do I set things so the Dashboard and all those webcam widgets show up and still keep the computer safe from accidental bumbling around?

Simple Finder is way too restricted, but I want to set up a configuration darned close to Simple Finder that will include the Dashboard Widgets.

I want to be able to have this machine "plug and play" ready when I ship it down to her in California. My brother only "does Windows" and all he is willing to do toward getting my mother up and running is crawling under the desk to plug it in and connect the printer.

Can you and your team help me out on this?


Well you are on the right track to securing your Mom's Mac. Although it is called Parental Controls, this is the best way to administer a novice user on a Mac. The main thing is to have two user accounts on the computer. One account is going to be your administrator account and should be named Admin. Give the Admin user account a good password that you will remember but is hard to guess. This account will practically never get used. This is mostly there so you can run software update and install application when needed. Give this account information to your brother or any person willing to be the dissuasion-maker in regards to this computer. If you give this account info to your mom, then it will defeat the purpose of locking down the second account.

The second account is going to be a standard account with all your mother's information. When you are logged into your admin account, create a new account by going to the System Preferences and selection "Accounts." Click on the Padlock icon and enter your password. Now click on the "+" button under the Account List window. In the dropdown window enter your mom's name, and give her a simple password. Do not mark the checkbox next to "Allow this user to administer this computer." Now that this account is created you can click on the Parental Controls tab. Mark the check box for " & System," then click on the configure button.

Restricting the Finder and System is where you should do all of your work on an adult's account. As you mentioned, Simple Finder is too simple and not the best option for anyone over the age of seven. The "Some Limits" option should be selected and under that only mark the check boxes for "Burn CDs and DVDs" and "Allow supporting programs." You could also mark the checkbox for "This user can only use these application:" but I do not think that is a good option for protecting your mom from herself. If you were there everyday to adjust the settings, then it would be OK, but this will often cause you more tech call than it will save you from. Once you click the OK button you only have to set her account as the one that the computer boots up into. This is done in the in the Login Options section near where you found the "+" button before. Click on Login Options and then mark the checkbox next to "Automatically login as:" From the pop up menu select your mom's user account and enter her password.

Now you should restart the computer and make sure that everything works as you expect. Your brother will have to login as the Admin user to setup the printer or you will have to do that prior to shipping everything.

Hope that all works out.

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