Computers for the elderly

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Computers for the elderly

I'm part of a group that wishes to start a charity drive. Our idea is to provide computers for the elderly. However, with donated computers, you don't necessarily have software licenses and we don't wish to spend thousands of dollars on Microsoft. The machines will probably be older models and vary widely in capability.

I came up with the idea of loading Linux on the computers and using open source software. There seems to be plenty on the net these days, and it is becoming more user friendly.

However, the elderly tend not to be too computer literate. I've spent hours trying to show my 94 year old grandfather how to get his printer to work, and I cringe at the idea of introducing Linux to him. In talking with him, I realize that the elderly really want basic functionality. They want to be able to turn the thing on, write stuff, print stuff, and maybe (if they are really adventurous) send an e-mail. Therefore, the system has to be very simple and bulletproof.

Which version of Linux would be best for this task? Which desktop is most user friendly? What software would you suggest for doing basic tasks?