Monday, February 22, 2010

A Linux Story

I was about five years old when my father showed me my first computer. It was an old 8086, and it had 5.25 floppy drive, a shiny new 3.5 floppy drive, and a 10MB hard drive. When he gave it to me, it ran nothing but MSDOS. As a starter machine, I didn't really care. I was just stoked to have a computer, and when my father showed me how to get to video games, and how to type a text document, I was thrilled. In 1993, my father got himself a Pentium machine, and I received his 486. The 486 also had DOS on it, but when I tried to play my old games everything went by too quickly. I asked my dad what was wrong, and he said that the games I had been playing relied on the CPUs clockspeed. At this point, he gave me a thin orange book, Understanding Microprocessors, which was published by Motorola. He also showed me a book on his shelf that taught me a bit about electricity. A month after this encounter, I went back and asked him if there were any operating systems that would run in protected mode. He told me, yes.

My dad brought a copy of BSD home with him, and we sat down together. The installation process wasn't easy, and he didn't want me to try it alone. It ran! I had a window! There were little games on it! I had this new modem thing, and I could talk to people! It was amazing.

I was on a BBS in 1995 and I saw this post about Linux. I had heard about Linux before. I had seen it on other BBSs. I even heard about it from a distant cousin. It was really popular. My 8 year old brain didn't really realize the importance until I was informed that in Linux, only the kernel is maintained and controlled by Linux developers, and that I could play with everything else to my heart's content. I was intrigued as I enjoyed (and still do) tinkering with things. That was that. I downloaded Slackware and installed it (and unfortunately forgot to back up my journal that I had kept for 3 years [though going from 5 to 8 it wasn't too intriguing, but it was the first thing I ever did on a computer]).

In 1999, my aunt gave me her old Macintosh. It was a Performa running System 7, and while I didn't use it for my personal needs, it did come with ClarisWorks and saw heavy use for school work. I used my trusty 486 and Slackware for everything else. At Wal-Mart, I had seen Red Hat and Mandrake for sale. I asked my dad if he'd get me copies, and he obliged me. He figured it couldn't hurt, but he thought I was being silly. This Linux stuff was never going to make anyone money. I enjoyed some of the ease of use of both, and I thought RPMs were interesting, but I still preferred Slackware. I continued this way until 2003, when I received an Emachine for my birthday. It was a Celeron machine with all the bells and whistles normal for the time, and it blew everything I had used previously out of the water. I was so happy. I was used to being behind the times, but using Linux it had never seemed to matter. I took the Macintosh and the 486 to Goodwill, and within a week they'd been bought.

The Emachine had XP and Slackware on it, naturally. I needed XP for school work, but I really didn't like it all. I had a friend of mine set it up so that XP would load Office right away, and I only allocated about 2GB to it anyway (FAT32 so I could read the partition from Slackware).

The following year this thing called Ubuntu came out. I was a Junior in High School at that point, and I was really getting into the OpenSource movement. Ubuntu seemed like just the thing to grab "converts". No one had heard of Ubuntu then, and no one seemed to care. They thought that Ubuntu would be just another Linux distribution. After all, how many had their been? Red Hat, Debian, Slackware. Those are the "real" distributions. What's all this junk? Just spin offs. Were they ever wrong. Love it or hate it, Ubuntu is synonymous with Linux to many people. I tried it, hated it, but gave to everyone. I preferred Slackware.

In 2005, I graduated High School, got myself a 64bit machine, installed Slackware on it, and joined the Marine Corps. I was injured and discharged '07. I came home went to college, graduated, and built a new machine. Guess what. I still use Slackware. Everyone tells me that I'm stuck in the past, but at least I installed the 64bit version ;)

As far as I know, I am the only person who has used OpenSource operating systems nearly exclusively his whole life. The only time that the "OpenSource" nature of it really mattered to me was in High School. Otherwise, I just used what I was used to, and what I felt was technically superior. Today, while I know that Linux is gaining ground, I still feel like an outsider. People always talk about the year of the Linux desktop, and I just have to laugh. I'm still young (22), and never have money. Naturally, I will continue to use Linux (as it's kostenlos). For the majority of people, they may use it on their cell phones. They may use it on tablet computers in the near future. Until those devices replace laptops and desktops, they will still use Windows on their primary computing devices (or OSX as Apple seems to be regaining popularity). Why? You cannot go to a store, buy some software, take it home, and install it on a Linux/BSD/Solaris machine. As soon as people figure that out, they get turned off to Linux/BSD/Solaris. It's also hard to sell someone a product that renders their thousands of dollars in software investment useless, even if that product is kostenlos. But, hey, have you heard? Slackware was ported to ARM. I may have to get one of those EEEs now. I just wish I could still use KDE1.x ...


zwuser said...

You rock man, LONG LIVE SLACKWARE! :)

Shane kerns said...

I am 28 and up until last year I used Slackware all my life as well. This year I switched to Gentoo due to the fine grained control it provides me, it is also a rolling distro so I never have to worry about formatting my linux to the latest version.
BTW, just an FYI Slackware is available in 64bit too now. I have never used Wind-hoze on a personal bases ever.
Nice post BTW. Hang in there, Slackware is a really good distro. If I didn't have to reformat and reinstall everything, everytime they released a newer version I would still be using it today.

Ford said...

@Shane kerns,
I had tried Gentoo once, but I really disliked the package masking in the portage repos. You might also like GoboLinux which just released a newer beta. It is somewhat Slackware-like and somewhat Gentoo-like and somewhat OSX-like. I really love it, but it needs to mature a little more.

Eric Murphy said...

Awesome post! I must admit I am somewhat jealous of your years of experience with Linux. I grew up in an almost identical way except I was the otherside of the coin. I used every flavor Microsoft had to offer from early DOS to XP. So I just have to keep reminding myself of the way I taught myself the windows file structure and how it operates and does things and learn my new OS of Linux.
I has been almost 2 months since my last meltdown with XP and I have been using Linux Mint ever since. I can truthfully say I will never go back to a MS OS again. I just have a long way to go before I am just as proficient with Linux as I was with Win.

Raoul said...

A very nice post, sir. Spot on with the silliness of the "Year of the Linux Desktop". Linux is wonderful, and I use it far, far more than Windows (damned gaming addiction), but there's no way it's going to succeed in the home desktop market without some serious backing from commercial software vendors, or a quantum shift toward free software alternatives (OOo, GIMP, und so weiter) by the population at large.

On the upside, Shuttleworth and Canonical might be scheming something, depending on how far one is willing to read into their "What do you want to see on Linux" survey a little while back. They may not have the user base to do it, but they might have the cash necessary to influence some players to throw a little love toward Linux users, or at the very least contribute to WINE development and compatibility.

Time will have to tell on that.

Tony said...

My daughter has only had gnu/linux at home since birth. She has, of course, been exposed to both mac and win in school, but not at home.

eckart said...

nice man.congrats. but... how green is slackware or kde 1.x? :)


oteast said...

Ditto with the 5 year old here. The two teenagers are familiar at home with only LINUX as I got tired of the periodic mal-ware crawling machine clean every 3-4 month routine, round about 2006, they seem just fine with it now. Me it took a lot longer to kick the habit of using Windows first and burning my fingers before resorting to LINUX. Such was trying to debug and develop fortran code on my old 486 (starving grad student that couldn't afford a 10,000$ UNIX workstation) and having to use the 15-floppy Slackware in 1994 finally to get code to compile. In 2000 wasted about 1-1/2 work weeks with Win2000 and IIS trying to set up an intranet/file/print server on some then-expensive new hardware kit, After that flaky POS didn't, wouldn't work reliably got the an old machine collecting dust to do all the same functions rock solid reliable, in a DAY with RH8 and Apache using one of those "Learn Linux in a Day" type books. And it goes on from there. I finally stopped sticking my finger on the stove and have kicked MS Windows to the curb about 2004 with Ubuntu, Slackware, and Puppy; its now the last choice solution...Linux is so good now I have yet had to use MS

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