The Seven Bits of Free Software to Soup Up Your Luddite Family's Laptop Over Christmas

By Gizmodo UK on at

So you've nearly finished up at the office for the year – some clever so-and-sos no doubt already have, laying down the secret get-out-of-office-early holiday card in secretive style – and Christmas now beckons: time for stuffing your face, watching Scrooged a dozen times and, alas, more time away from your sofa than you'd perhaps prefer as you head off on the annual relative tour.

But while you're proud you've got your home computer licked within an inch of its well-specced life, that's more than can be said of the rag-tag variety of desktops and laptops you may have to lend a go on – or, worse, be asked to provide assistance with – while away from home. Time to send this link to all potential hosts and get them to install the basics now so you don't have to waste your time when you get there…

Google Chrome

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Step away from Safari, Uncle Dave! Cover your eyes from Internet Explorer, Auntie Ingrid! If you're browsing on someone else's computer this Christmas, they better have Chrome. Sell it to them on the Angry Birds plug-in, but make them stick around with its syncing Google Now alerts across the Android phone they didn't realise they had. Then, when you grab your Chromecast from your bag and pop it in their telly, you can bring the house down and stream US Netflix via Hola for a far better selection of filmic fare after pud.


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The very basics of computing – editing and creating documents – can turn into a major ball-ache when the software just isn't there to do it. Microsoft Office is expensive and now with its "so many options!" strategy, starting at £5.99 for one month for one user, vaguely confusing for older relatives, too. So as they'll no doubt be trying to make a "What We Did This Year" newsletter in Notepad and want you to add some pictures, it's time they got Apache's open-source OpenOffice, which does pretty much everything Office does on PC, Mac and Linux for nowt. Yes, Mum, it exports as Word documents, too.



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"No, Nan, it's not a literal cloud…" While explaining cloud storage can be tiring, using Dropbox isn't, the independent file storage system being generally the easiest to work out and sync across devices. Of course, the free option's 2GB limit is pretty slim, though probably OK for some of your fam; treat them to one month of £7.99 1TB space for Chrimbo and you can deposit a load of films, tunes and special stuffing recipes in there before you head off to ensure their entertaining is up to your ever-high standards.


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Don't. We know it's basic, but you'll be amazed how many people still don't have this music staple anywhere near their hard drives. At Christmas it's the perfect place to cue up a load of chirpy seasonal standards you'd never dream of owning but which make for socially acceptable background noise while nattering and egg-nogging. Taylor Swift might not approve, but we think Nanna will when she sees the 700 Daniel O'Donnell albums on there. And if you don't plump for the £9.99 premium upgrade, it will keep the adverts and feel a bit like the wireless, which she'll like, too.


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The Swiss Army knife of digital notebooks, this is one of those bits of software that parents love from the second they get a whiff of it as it's so bloody organised. From spoken mulled wine tips to gift suggestion snaps and Google Maps screen grabs for traffic-avoiding routes to family boltholes, this "everything in one place" solution will help them as much as you.


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One that is likely to be deleted the minute you leave with present stash under your arm, but a short-term essential all the same. Oracle's versatile and stable virtualisation software lets you emulate operating systems on various devices, so you can run Windows on your mum's Mac, OS X on a pal's PC, or introduce the little ones to Linux at just the right age. It's a Christmas education.


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The Giz readers have spoken. Scandalously left off our original list – mainly because we use it for work, and work stuff at Christmas is banned in our house – but due to overwhelming praise from Them Below we feel obliged to add TeamViewer's code-enabled remote-control software into the mix. In no time at all you can be running tings on computers far and wide, installing all the above software for them and drunkenly shitting up elderly relatives by moving things on their desktop without them realising. Cheers!

Top Image Credit: Senior Couple at Shutterstock