Evolution of a Linux Geek

I am a Linux geek. There I said it. Actually, I am kind of proud of being a Linux geek. I slogged through the bad old days to get here. It seems like every day something new shows up that makes me glad that I chose Linux as my tool of choice.

Because of the break neck speed of change in the open source community, we all seem to be a lot more focused on the future than the past. For a change of pace, I wanted to look backwards and figure out how I got here. I mean no one starts out as a Linux geek (well except for Linus), so how did that happen. But first some disclosures:

  • I love Linux and Open Source.
  • I am not a purist! I dual boot XP (need me some games) and carry an iPhone (though it annoys me). I even have an Xbox360 (see note about games).
  • Although I use a lot of open source, and have contributed code back (not enough mind you) - I also pay for software and don't think it is morally wrong to have closed source software.
  • I don't think Linux is for everyone (yet). I got my mom a netbook and it runs XP (I didn't even make it dual boot). I'm not above exposing people to Linux - but I'd prefer they get to it when it solves their problems, and they're ready to move on.

Awkward Upbringing

I got my start in computers in a weird way. Mostly because although my mom had the foresight to know that they were the future - neither of my parents used them. By that I mean my dad never really used a computer and my mom has slowly gotten the hang of it in the last few years. So I started with a TI-99/4a.

That isn't that strange. A lot of people back then started with them. It is the next part that put me on the path to unusual. Namely, my second computer was an Atari 1040ST. This revolutionary device had a mouse and a graphical interface while Microsoft was still grappling with DOS. That is the computer I actually learned to program on. I can still remember trying to save up money to buy a C compiler for it. I just stuck with GFA Basic - which was pretty full featured considering it had a GUI builder included.

I actually got introduced to the BBS scene on that computer. I can remember buying the mammoth Computer Shoppers and looking in the back for BBSes that supported Atari. I spent a lot of time downloading demos and trading notes. My parents spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I knew in Hawaii and what I could possibly say in 2 minutes. The long distance bills eventually killed my burgeoning BBS experience.

That computer basically lasted me until I went to college 1993. As a result, I had very limited exposure to Microsoft, DOS, or Windows I did use it a little - mostly because I had a friend who worked in a computer shop and he introduced me to Sierra Games and Commander Keen. We would go to my father's office at night and play games on the secretary's computer.

When it came time to go to college - I headed off to Texas with a lot of stuff - but no computer. Hard to believe now.


Trinity University had a lot of computing resources available. The most important thing was getting a crash course in the Internet in the Mac lab. At the time - that mostly meant news groups, email, and Bolo Yes, while normal people were knee deep in Doom - I was in a computer lab playing a game about tanks and turrets.

One of my roommates had an America Online Account. He showed me all the stuff you could do over the modem - from a local dial in number. There was no Internet connectivity in our dorm room. We resorted to running AppleTalk via phone wire through the AC ducts to build a small LAN for gaming.

I got an account on the VAX mainframe as soon as I landed. I quickly set out to learn how to make it do stuff. I can still remember trying to get the library to track down books on the tools for the mainframe. I suppose that should have been my first sign that I was pursuing a dead technology.

In my second year, Trinity got a grant to do Virtual Reality research for the military. They put in a huge lab of HP-UX boxes. I ended up declaring as a Computer Science major just to get access to them.

I started taking Computer Science classes and learning the actually theory of programming. Unfortunately, learning the practice of programming wouldn't happen until much much later. This is when I started learning Unix. Don't ask me why but in the back of my head I almost always type:

ps -ef

instead of

ps auxw

Since the ef version is what HP UX expected to see what processes are running.

I was just a user on the HP-UX systems. I could do stuff - but there were a lot of things off limits. Plus - I had a disk quota. Which if memory serves - they setup quota but they didn't restrict chown - so I spent some time downloading large files and chmod 777/chown mail - so they wouldn't count against me.

It was during this period that I got to see the beginning of the web. The first time I saw it - I didn't understand why it was any better than gopher (ask your grandparents). But they added images and things go better. I would love to say that I used it for scientific research - but in truth - I used it the same way we do now. Meaning I surfed the web during class when the lecture was boring.

I still remember seeing this guy celebrating his operating system.

I didn't really get it at the time. I figured it was a class project or something. Certainly not worth anything. I just filed it away in my head and continued on.

Outside Academia

My life changed in my senior year of college. I came back from study abroad and got introduced to a life long friend. I ended up joining a small company that he had started. The goal was to build software. Right out of the gate he told me he was using something called - Linux - and asked if I wanted root access.

How do I explain what that meant at the time? Before I was just a user. A lowly peon who could only kill his own processes. I couldn't install things in /bin. I couldn't use ports below 1024. There is a much much longer list - but you get the idea. Most importantly - and this is an idea that insinuates itself into anyone who spends time with *nix - as root you are a god because you have the power to destroy anything in the system. When I say anything - I mean it. You can even destroy the system itself. A little rm -fR in the wrong place and you can wipe the drive and *nix will happily let you do it because you are root! Root is not meant for the unwashed masses. It is meant for people with experience and expertise who know what the right thing to do is and can be trusted to do it. I was none of those things and he offered it up anyway.

As you can tell I was pretty excited. It was an incredibly liberating idea to have such complete power. Of course now I've had root on Linux boxes (lots and lots and lots of them) for over 13 years - so some of the excitement has died down.

RedHat - The Salad Days

Although Richard had used Slackware, we quickly shifted to RedHat. At the time it just seemed like the clear leader. It had a geek spirit but it seemed to be very commercial friendly. Since we were trying to run a business that was important.

I think I started with RedHat 3.0. I had to look that up and guess. Mostly because before that Linux used something called a.out format instead of ELF binaries. I never really knew the difference - only that I started with ELF and found the explanations confusing. I used RedHat for a long time.

I can remember telling my brother back in Indiana to go to Barnes and Noble and buy an install disk and try it out. Yes there was a time when Linux was sold in book stores - wacky.

I put up with changes that happen often in the community. For example, I was writing a lot of C/C++ at the time and a new glibc came out and we had to spend a bunch of time updating everything and keeping the code working on the boxes we hadn't upgraded.

It was a good time. This was early in the revolution. So early in fact that people couldn't agree on how to pronounce it. Thankfully I was always on the right side of the argument. Though for many years I looked at anyone who said Line-ix with suspicion.

Although the idea of Open Source was there it wasn't a main stream one. There were a number of companies that appeared on the scene to help people use Linux and charge for support. All of them failed. I'm not sure what they were thinking. The people who used Linux at the time needed drivers not a help desk. We were in the beginning of the boom, and the last thing people worry about during a boom is cost savings. This seemed to sour a lot of business people on the whole idea of Linux. As if to say, since you can't sell it there is no money to be made and it is therefore worthless.

We ignored a lot of that big picture. We just liked Linux. We tried to promote it whenever we got the chance. Our little band of Linux users even made in roads with the local Unix grey beards. We were a sort of novelty at the Unix user group in town. Almost everyone else worked for a government agency or big company and used Sun or some other commercial Unix. They were the sort of seasoned Unix people that you still read about.

We went for the technical discussion (and free pizza). When Solaris x86 was launched they convinced us to try it out. After a week of trying to get it to install, we got it up and running. And then learned that it didn't ship with anything. So we ended up putting GNU tools on it.

YellowDog - Huh?

I had to inject this because I had almost forgotten about this little side jaunt. This whole time I was running a PowerPC mac. I would not switch to x86 on the desktop for some time. I was constantly trying to get Linux onto my Mac. I had a variety of failed attempts. Later when I switched to a PowerBook I was able to install YellowDog Linux. That was basically RedHat recompiled for the PowerPC. This was before OSX.

Actually when they originally decided to buy NextStep instead of BeOS - I was kind of upset. I ended up leaving the Apple fold when OSX came in. I think I said something along the lines of

I already have a Unix -it's called Linux.

I know this is hard to believe if you're a die hard mac person - but the Reality Distortion Field eventually wears off. I just got tired of having to fit in to Steve's world. From this you can see that my conversion to Linux which had started some time ago was taking hold.

RedHat - The Betrayal

RedHat had all potential in the world to be great. But in a number of ways it just didn't live up to that potential.

There were three different things that ended up pushing me away from them.

First, we used to sell a specially licensed version of RedHat that shipped with a legally licensed version of SSL. This was before RSA patent wore off. It started out as a small product. But we grew and so did sales of the product. Here's the rub. We had to buy physical boxes for the SSL OS. I tried to get RedHat to just sell me license keys. But they were to busy to sort that out. So I had a corner of my office dedicated to stacks and stacks of boxes of unopened SSL disks.

Second, RPM hell. I started out as a staunch opponent of packages. I thought that things should be compiled to your specification. As a matter of fact, I believed this so completely - that if you were an early customer of my hosting company you got a stock RedHat server with a custom compiled version of Apache. Yup - we compiled it every time. I am stuck trying to think of an analogy that could express how stupid this was. Especially because we just straight up compiled it. Which means it sort of broke the package system.

This is the sort of dumb idea that seems like sound technical thinking at the time. Let me just say this. I'm sure there is some case where compiling from source all the time is a great idea (Gentoo is built on that idea). It is certainly a maintainable practice when you have a couple of boxes to admin. But when you start talking about 1,000s of boxes it's crazy. Actually, I've become such a believer in packages that I go out of my way to use software and versions that are already packaged.

I converted over to using RPM - and once I saw how great it could be at scale - I loved it. There were a couple of things that bugged me. Often times, no rpm existed for the software I wanted. Not a big deal - I ended up learning RPM and built a lot of them. Including an tweaked version of Apache so we didn't have to compile it. Fine - so there are packages you have to build yourself. I learned to live with that.

Then the dreaded RPM Hell. There are two different flavors of this. One is the case where it just can't figure out all the dependencies or get things you need. T his could turn a simple install into a research project. Please note I haven't used RedHat in a long time - maybe they fixed this. The other is that the process of installing, uninstalling, upgrading, and such especially with your own packages can result in a completely broken RPM database. You haven't experience true torture until your package system itself starts working against you.

Finally, RedHat did something that changed how I looked at them. The started an Enterprise edition. I understand why they did it - they needed to generate revenue. They were also doing a good thing by raising the awareness of Linux as a viable Linux alternative. All that is true - but they way they did it made it very clear that they wanted certain kinds of customers - and I wasn't one of them. To be fair, I think they eventually tried to address their geekier fans with RawHide and then Fedora, but by that time I'd been introduced to something else.

Enter the Debian

About this time I was working at a hosting company called ServerBeach. The main target was a $99/month server. Needless to say, we weren't going to be using RedHat Enterprise for our internal servers - it was just too expensive.

That's when they introduced me to Debian. Truth be told I don't know if it was Henry Pugsley or Chris Blumentritt that converted me - but once I got exposed to it I was hooked.

I'll admit I'd heard of Debian before this time. It was a distro for the faithful. It was designed by geeks for geeks and was notorious for its purity and difficulty. Since I had to give up RedHat anyway I figured I'd give it a whirl. After some time spent with apt (which never had any of the problems that I'd had with RPM) and I learned that if software exists there is a deb for it. (Corollary - if no deb exists then the software isn't any good) I was in heaven.

I even got used to the idea that our servers ran stable and my workstation ran testing. We'd occasionally move packages from testing over to stable because I needed something - but all in all halcyon days.

At the time, Debian felt like coming home. The more I looked around the more it seemed like people who were into the weird stuff with Linux that I was - used Debian. I also didn't realize it but I wasn't the only one making this switch. The community was growing - thanks RedHat!

The Dark Side of Debian

I had a great time with Debian - until I hit its dark side. This comes in two parts. The first is their deep and abiding love for democracy. I mean that in the most serious way. Debian wants it to be a completely community effort. As a distro it has continually stood up for true open source - going so far as to fight Mozilla over icons and even throw out documentation or firmware that wasn't open. This cuts both ways. On the good side, they are a force for openness on every front. They are able to mobilize a huge army to that end. The bad side is that something I don't care about the principle - I just want to use my video card (I'm looking at you Nvidia). So basically I'm happy they fight the fight but my standards are lower - which in some ways keeps me an outside in the community.

Which leads to the second thing. When I started I was playing with potato (all debian releases are named after ToyStory characers). Then out came Woody. Debian has a very strong belief that stable should be stable. They didn't care how old it was as long as it was stable. In the beginning that wasn't a big deal. But then they didn't release for three years. For a commercial software shop - sending out a new version of the OS once every couple of years is actually pretty brisk. But that's now how Linux works. Distros are collections of a lot of different software projects all updating and releasing all the time. Three years in the open source world is decades.

In response to this, I switched from testing to unstable. I ended up having more than a few fights as I tried to get unstable installed on production web servers so I could have modern libraries. Stable just got crustier and crustier - and I became more and more disenchanted.

It's Breezy and So Am I

I wish I knew how I found it or why I switched. Now all I remember is that it was called Breezy Badger - and I figure I'm pretty Breezy myself - so maybe I'd try it. Actually, I was corrected by my wife. My first version of Ubuntu was Warty Warthog. I just couldn't remove the fart joke.

As far as I can remember - I had gotten really frustrated with Debian. Then I find this distro that had Debian packages (woot!), they were designing it for the desktop (which is great since I've been using a linux desktop for years), they had a benevolent dictator in the form of Mark Shuttleworth (which meant there was someone who could make sure things moved along), they didn't mind dealing with proprietary hardware, and they promised a release cycle of every six months. So basically they gave me everything I loved about Debian - but fixed all the things I didn't like about Debian.

Slowly but surely, Ubuntu has taken over everything I run. I use it on the desktop and a heck of a lot of servers. It doesn't have the commercial driver support that RedHat enjoys in the datacenter - but I've found my ways around that.

The Return of the Zombies

During my time in the Ubuntu camp, I've seen the rise of the Apple Zombies again. One by one, I've seen my Linux friends switch over to OSX. They always say the same thing

It just works! I got tired of tinkering with Linux.

They have that look in their eye. They quickly launch into the sales pitch on how awesome it is. Little do they know that I've been on their side before - long before. remember how comfortable the fuzzy hand cuffs were. I'm not anxious to go back. I don't miss the ridiculous secrecy or arbitrary decisions. Now it appears that much like the classic zombie films - I'm hold up in a house fighting them off with a variety of make shift weaponry. I can't be the only person on the planet who uses Linux as my main desktop, but some days it certainly feels like it.

Bumpy but Back On Track

Truth be told, things have been bumpy lately. I found a great article that sums it up - Ubuntu Release Quality. Post Hardy has been a rough time - with a lot of experimentation and a lot of explosions. Part of me was beginning to think that I was just being pig headed. Maybe I should join the zombie army and switch over. They have lots of shiny things. All the cool kids are doing it - etc.

In the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time designing the infrastructure for my next project. I was trying to design something that would be flexible and easy to maintain. Something that would use cheap commodity hardware but be able to easily scale into the cloud.

I've been knee deep in Jaunty, JeOS, LVM, KVM, and puppet. I'm loving it. Jaunty has cleaned up the experience a lot. Although I was wavering before, my faith has largely been restored. Mainly because I'm having fun with Linux again. There are few things more exciting than to see it dance - and dance it does.

A long long time ago, I saw Tim O'Reilly speak at OSCon. He talked about how when you choose a technology you also choose the community that goes with it. I guess that is the thing that keeps me embedded in the Linux world. Linux people are the ones who say

That just came out - can I put Linux on it - No? Let's get to work!

They're the ones who fight for our rights to be able to watch a DVD on our computers. They're the ones who have come to join Linus and Stallman and others at their invitation to make Stone Soup. Nothing that eventually turned into something. They are the ones that are pushing the world to be a better place for everyone. Even if you don't use Open Source stuff - know that the stuff you buy is better because it is competing with it.

It's a Linux/Open Source/GNU World

I've been using Linux for a long long time. Looking back now, I realize just how primitive it was. That's ok - it has grown up a lot since then.

Even The Economist (one of my favorite magazines) has declared Open Source the winner. Every year someone says

This is the year of the Linux desktop.

I'm not even sure what that means any more. Or if it even matters. Looking around my house I see that it is a Linux world. Sure my file servers in the datacenter run Linux (one has sarge which I'm ashamed to admit - but I swear I'm moving off of it), that's not weird but the list doesn't end there:

  • Mythbox - Linux.
  • My laptop - Linux.
  • My desktop - Linux.
  • My router - DD-WRT (that's Linux).
  • My iphone - jailbroken running GNU software in debs.
  • My kindle - Linux.
  • My home automation - Z Wave via Linux.
  • My Roku - Linux.
  • My Popcorn Hour - Linux.
  • My search engine - Linux.

RedHat has recently been added to the S&P 500. This is a first for a Linux based company. It also clearly demonstrates that Linux is a viable option in the enterprise. It also shows that although I didn't like their strategy - it seems to have worked for them.

Maybe we should all broaden our minds and realize that Lucas was actually talking about Linux/Open Source/GNU -

It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.

Yes - I just said it - Linux is the force :P I suppose this is part of that shift that has been happening for some time. Sure you can be a specialist in computer science, but the real shift is that you can't avoid technology. Whatever you do - technology is involved. And that's the part I love. People may choose Apple for their desktop or god forbid Microsoft for their server - but when they just consume the output - they're going to be getting it from a Linux system because "it just works".

One last thing - this quote is often spoken of in the Linux community

First they ignore us,
then they laugh at us,
then they fight us,
then we win.

I think you know which part of the process I think we're in.

P.S. According to recent news Microsoft has just release drivers for the Linux kernel. They're being released under the GPL. The times they are a changing...



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as i can remember, my first

Anonymous's picture

as i can remember, my first encounter with computers (seriously) is win 3.0. i have no fancy or anything about the stuff because i still a kid back then. when i started using the pc for my job, it's win 98 and i guess that's when i first encounter this thing called linux. my earliest windows experience are my earliest internet experience too. i've learned about linux because the isp i was subscribed to runs it. they're running redhat on the server and mandrake on the desktop i guess. oh my i wanna get my hands on those! then that was the time i tried running beOS also but not that intimate.

then, i became a die hard XP user until such time I broke my system and i needed something to make it run. (i lost my windows xp installer :() so i downloaded mandriva and my system just worked. that day on, linux simply became integral to satisfy my computing thirst... i used almost every linux distro from debian to tinycore. i just the tweaking and the mess. i learned a lot from them.


jonny rocket's picture

ya, i started with redhat 7.3. it was cool but alot of work to get it running. now almost all distro's are sooo user friendly. i don't know how gates and balmer can sleep at night anymore.

Similar experiences

AusMounty's picture

First things first, may I commend you on the article primarily because I can associate with a number of the experiences as well.

The first computer in our household was a TI 99/4A as well! I can still remember sitting down and modifying the basic code for one of the fantasy games they included (audio tape based storage). The monsters were not scary enough for me so I did something about it! This is what prompted my interest in technology, that & the fact my high school had just purchased a VAX VMS3000 mini-mainframe for teachers and students alike. In fact when the teachers were trying to connect certain equipment they called me (bear in mind I was only 14) to connect the modem because they had no idea where the serial bus connector was. I won't go into finite detail as to what I actually did with the system let us just say I found it very useful for gathering information not easily obtained. ;)

Without realizing it, technology had found me not the other way around!

So for the last 30 years I have been in many facets of the industry and have had the opportunity to learn a great deal from each of those environments. For the PC platform I have used:

  • Microsoft DOS, Windows 3.x/9x/NT/2K/XP/2003/Vista/7
  • Posix - Linux Mandriva/RedHat/Slackware/Debian/Ubuntu, Unix - SCO
  • IBM - OS/2 Warp 3 (red spine/Blue Spine)/ Warp 4 Connect

and for the Mac obviously Mac OS 5/6/7/8/9/OSX (the latter being NetBSD based).

So yes I can agree over the years we have had an evolution of finding which methods helps us achieve our tasks, whether or not they are work related. Not to say I spend all my time working (although some may disagree) but I too run dual boot of Mandriva 2010 Official 64 bit & MS Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit.

Mandriva is my workhorse and Windows is for the games which have not been ported to Linux yet.

Same memories - different path

mjt's picture

I've had very similar circumstances. Anyone remember Coherent [Unix] from Mark Williams Company? That's where I started from (Unix, that is) on the 8088 ... I've now forgotten how many floppies it consisted of ...

Next, I moved to the very first version of Slackware. Then jumped to SuSE 4.3 (2nd native release) and have been a dedicated SuSE user (although I've used pretty much ALL distros).

Anyway, thanks for the "memory lane" article ...

Warm regards, mjt ... author, "Inside Linux".

I feel like this

Mario Medina's picture

I also feel like this. I began with other OS's, and finished now with Ubuntu. I didn't take debian, but slackware :), also got in touch with redhat until 9, after that i migrate to centos, but i feel like they are very outdated, so today I'm an Ubuntu and Ubuntu Server fan.

My Drizzle Article in Linux Magazine (XtraDB and Sphinx too!)

Martin Garner's picture

Back home after a few days of work abroad, Cynthia has a taste of a well-deserved rest. As soon as she comes out of the shower, she lets her fingers explore her intimacy and her mind wander to relax herself completely. She joins then a very well-hung man with a proudly erected manhood, ready to

A rather refreshing trip

infedel's picture

A rather refreshing trip down memory lane, I to also started with Linux in a book Slackware then moved on to RH 3 as well. Though instead of ending up choosing Ubuntu or Debian I chose instead to hang my hat at the Suse camp and have been happily using it since version 7 as my primary desktop and server platform


Why Linux is not

Anonymous's picture

Why Linux is not winning:
All new hardware comes with a Windows driver and supported software for Win OS. Anyone could buy the hardware and it works. If it does not - don't blam MicroSuck cause they are not the company which produce lousy drivers. Can you name a Linux version which have a GUI base that plays DVD without having more than 64MB of system RAM on a 600MHz computer with a 4MB VRAM. My Win2K/WinME OS can.

For the masses to accept Linux -- think like Puppy Linux.
Stop creating more XXX Linux OS its just going to confuss new potential user.

For people it should be:
I want to be able to browse the web, email, manage daily scheduling, edit pictures/video/music and they don't really cares what OSX, Linux XXXX, or Win whatever as long as it does not cost too much and less of a headache to get what they want done and over with it. Right now the answer is MS with Apple closing in and Linux at a 1%.

Great article

Adias's picture


Great article man.
Love the writing.

I do have a question:
Regarding the great finale in your article,

First they ignore us,
then they laugh at us,
then they fight us,
then we win.

Does this means, that next, you'll be running Windows ?

Regards my friend... cheers!

Thanks Dirk

griff's picture

In addition to your obvious computer skills, you are a talented writer. I had not planned to read your entire article, just skim the first paragraph. You hooked me right in. It was a very nice, well organized walk down memory lane (I also started with RH 3).


What a stupid article.

Anonymous's picture

What a stupid article. Pedant and baroque.

pedantic and smug

Francesco's picture

Totally agree - pedantic. All that BS about the unwashed masses who can't configure ports below 1024 etc. It illustrates a certain self-satisfied smugness that really bothers me about the "Linux community". I'm not too impressed by the article or Linux.

You did know that article

Anonymous's picture

You did know that article was about Linux, and that the website is dedicated to Linux articles. Strange enough though you obviously read it and took the time to complain about it being to "Baroque". This is a trip down memory lane for the author and for him a good one. I personally found it rather interesting myself. But what I find most interesting of all is a couple of Windows fan boys on a Linux site actively bashing an author for his creativity and Linux as an operating system. That’s fine and I can be a smart ass to, but let see you do better. Otherwise move along Windows fan boy to a site that may be of more interest to you.

Linux from Bookstore

tehmasp's picture

"...Barnes and Noble and buy an install disk and try it out. Yes there was a time when Linux was sold in book stores - wacky."

yes! how true - I started w/ Linux by getting 'Linux for Dummies' by John "Maddog" Hall from a local B. Dalton in NY - it came w/ a copy of RedHat Linux 5.1/5.2?.

Same here. Different B&N.

Anonymous's picture

Same here. Different B&N.

Little Unsatisfied

google's picture

I am Linux user for more than 6 years when I install RHEL 8 on my system at first it was very difficult to manage but latter on i found it bit easier than Windows , The best part about Linux is its stability i mean i never found Linux giving you odd behavior like Windows, then slowly i explore Fedora and other flavor as well like SUSE,Ubuntu etc.
I mostly use it for server side but found little issues on other than RHEL or Fedora , but as a whole i love Linux more than any operating system .

Ensure the job gets done!

Rambabu Shastri's picture

I finally settled for Fedora. Not because I am tech savvy, or a geek, but just to ensure I get the job done, without much fuss. Do like to tinker, but would like the stability that is much wanted.

Recently tried Ubuntu Jaunty, but performance was slow, so switched back to Fedora 11, and it is a big leap from the days of Red Hat 6.

Linux Distro

Anonymous's picture

1 "problem" = Ubuntu not is the best Linux of all, much bloatware and stability bugs (is made from Debian unstable...)

Great Article

ppw's picture

Great article. In some ways mirrors my own experiences. I started off with an Ohio Superboard (wow.. showing my age for a geek girl... not cool) and moved on to a Digital Mini which came to me from my father who I think salvaged it from where he worked for the scrap price.. maybe £20
Then a stint after school dabbling with big unix server networks in college before getting lumbered with windoze in an office for 4 years.. yuck! Also had a mac which was admittedly better than win3.1 on a very early pentium 75... but no cigar. I missed my unix where everything worked and what's a crash?
A few years out of the scene and returned to find XP was the same nasty buggy restrictive nonsense 3.1 had been.. Buy or pirate.. and the malware had arrived sucking up 80% cpu cycles just keeping the script kiddies amusement out. Decided to look back at unix.. was mystified by Open BSD (is it still broken.. the first I tried refused to install... the last I downloaded was similar) and then had a dabble with both redhat and slackware. Redhat didn't like me.. everything I tried to install broke the system... at least slack worked out of the box. Finally got a little annoyed with having to hunt and pretty much make everything.. went looking and found debian. Been a happy bunny ever since.. but will admit lenny doesn't like my hardware so this desktop is still on etch... plus I can't be going through the hassles of trying to install an ATI driver yet again!!.. Productivity on a machine with 300+ days uptime is paramount for my online activities.. It works so who cares how up to date or cutting edge it is?
Now with my tail up and competent again I have even dabbled with solaris9 .. that's fun.. the old server somebody gave me had been inhabited by some rodent life.. and the little monsters had eaten the network card.. nice learning curve installing unsupported network hardware on a slightly strange network. No nameserver running on my setup.. so solaris has fun.. configure improperly with ip rather than system alias in the hosts file and it works.. Documentation is poor with solaris.
Anyway.. my experiences.. If you don't ever stick your toe in the water how can you say how warm it is? Windows and mac zealots beware. I have tried it all (even QNX) and always found myself back on debian or a relative.. ubuntu?.. no thanks.. I feel those furry cuffs again. I like control.. it's not meant to be easy is it?
ppw - geek girl and general nutjob (or so the xp crowd tell me)

I didn't read the whole

Philip MacIver's picture

I didn't read the whole article, but I did read enough to spot the similarities in what I have done.

I started using Unix when I was 16 (oh so many years ago now), and Linux when I was 20. I went from redhat and rpm dependency hell, to gentoo and compile build hell (have you ever compiled open office?), and then I came to what is now my resting point Ubuntu, when I decided that life is just too short.

But I too was curious by so many people moving from windows/Linux to Mac os saying how wonderful it was. So curious in fact I went and bought a macbook (refurb) just to see what all the fuss was about. I told all my Mac friends that I would not dismiss it out of hand but give it a proper go. 3 months on, I have sold the macbook and am back to ubuntu. The Analogy of "fuzzy hand cuffs" is a very good one, in that I felt I was restrained using mac os.

The way I see it is like this, before cars and motorised vehicles were about people used horses to get everywhere. Would people have transitioned from motorised vehicles to horses? I don't think so. So if like me you are fluent in Unix/linux and know how to use it to its fullest ability (at least I think so) and have almost total freedom to do what you want with the os, why would you transition back to the horse days i.e. mac os. Going from total freedom to fuzzy hand cuffs feels very very restricting. But I guess if you come from something like the windows world (lets call it Alcatraz) then transition from a maximum state island prison to just a pair of fuzzy handcuff would seem like total freedom. The same is true if you don't use all the advantages Linux give you.

In the end it is all relative. To some people living in the US seems like freedom, being from and living in Europe I beg to differ.

Operating Systems Currently Bootable In The Galt Household

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Operating Systems Currently Bootable In The Galt Household

DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP(not sure what happened to Windows 95, strangely enough)

OSX Tiger(very impressed with the aircraft grade metal shell on their laptops...you'd think they were made by American Tourister)

DSL, Puppy, Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, PCLinuxOS, and a dozen other *nix distros

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owner's Manual For The Universe!(tm)


A fellow Trinity student

Anonymous's picture

I've dabbled in Unix/Linux for years, between Mac OS X and various Linux distros. I've really gotten into Linux now that I'm at Trinity and a CompSci major. I'm really glad to be part of a department that so heavily uses Linux. We've probably even had some of the same professors.

Been very happy

economysizegeek's picture

I was really happy to see so much Linux in there the last time I made a presentation at Trinity.

Don't we all have a similar story.

Grant Wagner's picture

I think we all have similar stories. Mine isn't to far off from yours, okay, maybe it is. But at least it starts out with an old Texas Instruments 99/4a

By the time my family was interested in getting a computer, the world was firmly divided into PC and mac users, as we went with our beloved dos. That was back in 1994, and our 486 was a screamin' beast. My second was my first build, in '97, a Pentium 2 with only dos. At the time, I was comfortable with wordperfect, all my games ran so much faster on dos (Doom 95 put me off windows until 2K came out), and yes, I too trolled the big computer shopper magazine and the BBSs, and finally, Netscape on Win3.1. I touted off mac users as people who got confused by more than one mouse button.

My first introduction to both Linux and other unixs came when I transferred school for my sophomore year of college in 2000. Redhat 7.3 had an equal place in curriculum as sun and Irix servers, both for the longest time simply existing as mysterious black (or bright blue and purple) boxes at the other end of a putty terminal. I quickly grew to the opinion of that Linux was some hacked together second rate clone of this big Unixs, and the other had much more polish. NextStep boxes quickly become something drool worthy. After a short stint with Slackware, I dove into FreeBSD...

Their handbook had all the answers, everything worked well together, there were so many options for everything at the other end of a ports compile. Everything was compiled just for my machine, but without any sort of real user interaction, just a few questions. And I remember when I first found mplayer. The video CD which would take windows media player to it's knees would open not once, but 30 times on the same machine, the audio echos as so many streams would play the same thing slightly out of sync of each other, any everything still smoothly.

Eventually I gave Linux another try, with a new fangled Ubuntu, and from that I actually discovered Debian. All of my Slackware nightmares were gone, and the apt system gave me all of the freedom of my old ports, without actually demanding recompiles. Testing keeps me up to date enough while still being much more stable that just about anything else out there, and the ability to customize is endless, even to go backward.

Now all of my machines have Debian testing, fluxbox, and slim. It's a good time to be a geek.

Home automation?

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for a good article, Dirk.

Could you elaborate on how you're using Z-Wave with Linux? Are you using LinuxMCE or some other home automation software? I looked into Z-Wave for Linux about 1 year ago and it wasn't great. To start, there were no Z-Wave PC interfaces at the time. So I dropped the idea. After reading your article I am now wondering if things have changed and if it may be time to look into Z-Wave again.


Cheating ATM

economysizegeek's picture

right now I'm actually using the Mi Casa Verde system - so it's basically an embedded Linux box with a dongle. It looks like a number of Linux home automation tools support Z-Wave via the Mi Casa Verde dongle (I'm going to play with that once I finish installing all of the new switches)

Nice read. :D

McDutch's picture

Liking the article, always enjoyable to see/read what time does with a person :)

I find myself using my macbook most,
but I have a linux desktop and a separate windows box as well.

It's sad to see these articles often result into either an OS war or a flamefest.

My opinion on this is that every OS has it's purpose, and it's up to the users to choose wich suits them best.

Everyone has the right to make choices, and should not be frowned upon these.

If you like OS X best, so be it. If you'd rather run one of the hundreds of Linux distro's, or if you'd rather have an OS you can just play your games on without too much hassle, so be it. No need to force your choice upon another, because you disagree with his.

Every OS has something that attracts a certain kind of people, so why can't you just 'stay with your herd' instead of wandering into another, claiming what you're using is best for them as well?

The only right choice is your own, not one that is forced upon you.

"From error to error one discovers the entire truth." - Sigmund Freud.

I agree

economysizegeek's picture

Although I probably came out against Apple than I stronger than I should have (more because of my history with them). That was part of the point I was trying to make. I own a number of Macs (My wife loves them and I needed one to dev for the iPhone). And I have windows boxes/products as well. I'm sure there are people who are able to get all of their needs met from a single thing - but these are all tools. That being said - the tool that I most often reach for is Linux.

revisit things now and then

Dick Davies's picture

"Little do they know that I've been on their side before - long before."

If you haven't used an OS in a while, remember things move on.

I started on Redhat back on 5.x and left it for : Slackware -> FreeBSD -> NetBSD -> Debian -> Ubuntu -> Solaris -> OSX.

Recently I've come back and turns out RHEL has advanced a bit in the last decade. If you tried OSX recently and don't care for it, good luck to you, but don't be quick to dismiss recent converts to technology based on your own (possibly outdated) experienc. .

It's a really common disease amongst techs, myself included, and it can blinker you if you're not on your guard for it.

Updated some

economysizegeek's picture

I was trying to point out some of that in the RedHat section. I have a lot of projects going on - so I typically find something that works and then only move on once what I've got doesn't work for me any more. Case in point - I was thinking about checking out all the distros pre-jaunty since things had gotten so bumpy.

Great article!

Dan haworth's picture

I think you've just summed up my experiences with Linux almost to the letter :) wonderful read!

Super article! LJ is getting

Anonymous's picture

Super article! LJ is getting back the the roots, mon!


You're old-skool :)

IGnatius T Foobar's picture

Greetings to a fellow old-skool Linux fan. I share your opinion about the Mac -- it really isn't "all that" even if some Linux people eventually defect. There's one Mac in our house and I still feel like I'm wearing fingerless mittens when I use it.

Hey, if you want to meet up with a bunch of other old-skool denizens of the classic computing and BBS scene, you should visit my BBS ... online for more than 20 years now. Go to http://uncensored.citadel.org. See you there :)

Zombie (Steve) == Zombie (Mark)

Anonymous's picture

OSX (Steve) == Ubuntu (Mark) == Zombie

one and all the same , sad story.


economysizegeek's picture

First - there is always something to be said for having a strong leader - most successful projects have one.

Second, Mark Shuttleworth has an amazing life. He's accomplished at lot. But you have to admit that he hasn't generated the cult of personality the way that Steve Jobs has. I don't think Shuttleworth is infallible. Nor do I see a desire to emulate him in the Ubuntu community - maybe I need to find some more hardcore Ubuntu people :)

"First - there is always

Anonymous's picture

"First - there is always something to be said for having a strong leader - most successful projects have one.

Second, Mark Shuttleworth has an amazing life. He's accomplished at lot. But you have to admit that he hasn't generated the cult of personality the way that Steve Jobs has. I don't think Shuttleworth is infallible. Nor do I see a desire to emulate him in the Ubuntu community - maybe I need to find some more hardcore Ubuntu people :)"

I have to say the fact that Mark Shuttleworth has no Cult of Personality about him is one of his best traits. The problem with Apple products is I see nothing really excellent, just a lot of blind hero-worship from fanboys/fangirls. Look at the iPhone.

However, I think Ubuntu is far from perfect. And I think a few things are hurting them:

1. Aiming to shield the user a little too much from the system itself. This results in a lot of abstraction and abstraction leads to bloat and bugs. This is one problem Windows has had since the early 90's.

2. Experimental software introduced as stable. I think one thing that could improve Ubuntu's reliability is ditching things like Pulse Audio. Pulse Audio has been in Ubuntu for a few versions and I think it's proven it's simply not ready even remotely for a production system. If they are concerned about "improving" non-existent sound problems in Linux, put OOSv4 in there. It's oodles better and doesn't break anything. I use it in Arch all the time. I used Pulse once in the same install and it had unforgivable latency and would sometimes just stop working and take all my sound with it. I know people seem to think ALSA's the crappy sound system, but ALSA's been around a while, and there have been sound daemons before nd after Pulse Audio's rise in popularity that could use ALSA without screwing up. That's a pretty clear sign it's PA, not ALSA, that has quality problems. I mean, seriously, ALL the other sound daemons have NO problems WHATSOEVER with using ALSA, but PA has issues with it and suddenly it's ALSA that has problems? Call me when PA has a post-1.0 release and we'll talk.

3. Too short a release cycle. Canonical spends too much time adding new features and gives too little time to quality assurance. 9.04 is okay, but a tear will always come to my eye with the dozens of GAPING OBVIOUS BUGS 8.10 had. (Actually, the entire 8 series of Ubuntu stank badly. But 8.04 wasn't anywhere near as bad as 8.10.

4. Obsession with the tech-hype du jour. I'm glad I bailed before the web integration hit, and I'm glad I won't have to put up with the "cloud" fad.

If they were to fix these problems, Ubuntu might actually become something decent. So far it's just a stepping stone for newbies to learn a few things before moving on to a different distribution.

(Steve != Zombie) & (Mark != Zombie)

Amgad's picture

Thank you for telling us your history with Linux, its a great post. I've installed and administered Linux on a lot of servers and I think its the best server OS out there (whether you pay for it or not). But I did not use it on my laptop as my primary OS until I tried Ubuntu 8.04. Ubuntu is reaching the Windows and Mac desktop standards fast. I think the only obstacle Mark Shuttleworth is facing is the envy of other distros and their users. I say its envy because I've been following Ubuntu's news for quite some time now and havent read anything that should make someone hate it or hate Shuttleworth. And yet every blog post that mentions Ubuntu some Linux beginner starts bashing it.

Please tell us Anonymous what did you contribute !!!

And while your at it, could you please tell me what did Steve Jobs do, other than not give you his products for free???

Wonderful Article Dirk

Bhaskar Chowdhury's picture

I have been personally and professionally using GNU/Linux for quite sometime( precisely from 1999 onwards),although my interaction happened with UNIX/Open system in 1996.

I found your article fascinating to read .I am a guy who is living with it for long time,so enjoyed your words.Your observation worth noting.

Thanks man!

Not again!

Yonah's picture

Yet another Linux zealot who quotes Ghandi? Please grow up. The first 3 might apply to you in some situations, but you don't "win" anything. This isn't some intergalactic nerd war that takes place in a galaxy far, far away. This is a group of people who believe they are morally superior because of their choice of operating system. No thanks, I grew up Catholic.

I disagree

economysizegeek's picture

Two main things: First I was actually trying to distance myself from the idea of moral superiority for using an OS. I'm not a zealot. The whole point of the article was that although I use a lot of stuff - I choose Linux because it fits, it's fun, and it solves problems for me. I don't agree with the advocates who would force Linux on people in the hope that that will guarantee its survival.

As for the second part, the Star Wars reference was for fun :) But if you live in the real world, you know now that there is always a war going on in the market. This isn't simple fan boy arguments over Superman vs Batman. This is actually life and death stuff (for the technology). Not that long ago I'd reference Betamax -now I can just say - go try to buy a new movie on video tape. Technologies gain fans and lose them. Another example, I really enjoyed the Cyberdog experiment from Apple. About a year in they killed the project. That was the end of that. The same thing happens on a large scale in the market itself. In the market, survival itself is a form of winning.

The point I was trying to make with the article is that Linux has come a long long way - from having a funny name that people didn't know how to pronounce - til today - where billions of dollars of revenue are being generated by it. The coolest part to me is that people all over the place are using it and don't even know it. That is a great outcome. It means they get a problems solved - and I get to continue to use a technology I enjoy.

Linux solves a big problem

Laurent Fouretout's picture

Like most geeks I do free tech support for my family and while I had them all running free software like OO, FF, VLC and Thunderbird, I was spending most of my times dealing with the usual virus, malware, etc of the Windows world.
Finally, I had enough of always doing the same thing and I told them each that they can use my laptop for a week and tell me if they have problems (mandriva w. KDE).
It had the same programs as above, plus Skype and Opera and Amarok for mp3. I set up the FF extensions for those that use Gmail and Yahoomail and made it pretty close to their own desktop even adding their own wallpaper.
Afer the experimen proved a succes, I gradually moved them to Linux or dual boots.

My parents, inlaws and aunts and uncles are all around 70 and my mom and her sister NEVER used a computer before
and it was much easier than I thought.

I have cut down my support time by a LOT and have more time on my hand.
And time is something I cant buy.

Actually my dad has been using PCLinuxOS for 2 years now so the Linux desktop WAS ready back then.
With KDE4.2, it is even better now.

So please explain why Linux is not for your mom. Ive done it with 9 retired people and 5 who will retire within a year or two. IT IS READY for mom and dad.

I am now in the middle of working out a plan with some college students to refurbish some old PCs for use in a community center and a retirement home where we will be serving... you guessed it, seniors.
(and I know tht the number one thing they want is everything BIGGER)

Linux isnt for everyone but unless your mom has a specific use, I dont see why you didnt switch her.
Mine has been using a computer for less than 6 months and has no problems.

Old people arent retards and using FF, OO, VLC and the rest is no different on Mac, Win or Linux.

As far as free software use goes, I dont contribute code because I dont know how and have been using Linux for 4.5 years now. Im no Linux guru but after spending a lifetime building my own PC's and using Windows, it was that hard. Well, it wasnt easy 5 years ago but PCLinuxOS2007 was the eye opener for me that the Linux desktop was ready. The advances the past 2 years on the desktop have been just amazing,.


economysizegeek's picture

I didn't say Linux wasn't ready for my mom. I said I didn't put it on there. I didn't because she isn't ready for Linux. Yes she has her issues with Windows - but she's not interested in learning something new. At some point I'll offer and again and then seen what she wants to do.

So my point was - I'm happy to help people with Linux when they want to give it a try to see if it solves their problem. In her case - she doesn't want to take that step.

Some people just can't handle change!

JimmyTheGeek's picture

[quote]So please explain why Linux is not for your mom. [/quote]

I too use only Linux for my desktops, both at home & at work. At work, I'm the ONLY one who uses Linux -- Ubuntu 8.10 -- for everything, from network monitoring to photo editing and website administration. I experimented with one Ubuntu Ultimate Gamers ed. box in the public access area, and most people hated it because it was different from what they were used to. It used FF, just like the other boxes and played Flash games and YouTube videos just like the other boxes. The public users just couldn't get past the idea that it wasn't Windows. Additionally, some of our patrons use (shudder)MS Publisher(/shudder), and of course there is nothing in Linux for that one. Additionally, some of my co-workers are very technologically disinclined, meaning that they have trouble learning new things even on Windows!

My wife WOULD use it if she could run Paint Shop Pro & Photoshop under Linux (I know, GIMP), but she doesn't want to have to learn how to use GIMP, and her use of Paint Shop Pro is a deal-killer. Additionally, she hates dual-booting. I put Mandriva on there a couple of years ago and she has never touched it because it's too much trouble to use dial-up connections on it for her. (At the time I couldn't figure out how to get it to work.) So she is stuck in Windows' Fantasy Land, at least until taxes come back. Since she does web and graphic design, she is getting a 24" iMac. It will be the first Apple product I've ever owned --no iPod or iPhone here -- and I may hate it, but then again I may love it.


fredds72's picture

Hi, liked your article, it was interesting reading a different account of life with linux.
You made some good points about the attitude of companies selling computers/ software.
I have a couple of linux using friends and we have all wound up using ubuntu; although we wait about a month after the new releases, till the dust has settled:)
For the less computer literate, we recommend Mint7, which comes complete with all proprietary drivers; just works.


the force

Anonymous's picture

"Linux is the force" - that would make a totally dope t shirt!


Carlie Fairchild's picture

We have some stickers in the Linux Journal Shop that nearly fit that bill:

Carlie Fairchild is the publisher of Linux Journal.

I Guess I am a Zombie

Josh's picture

Nice article. As someone who didn't even give Linux a serious look until Ubuntu, it's nice to read about how those who came before me got into Linux. On first boot, I was quite enthusiastic about Linux; but, after a year of running Ubuntu full time -- and dabbling with Fedora and SuSE), I kept hitting roadblocks that I just didn't have the time or energy to resolve, particularly with wifi, usb devices, and graphics. I eventually switched to the Mac, where I could have my beloved Unix (and most of what is great about Unix and Linux) without the hassle.

Unfortunately, as a Mac user, I frequently have to shrug off the condescending sneers of people like yourself who think that I am a zombie. I just want a system that works. I am a developer by day, and after spending hours staring at code and debugging and fixing others' problems, I don't have the patience to mess with my computer the way I once did. I just want to get to my work (or play) as quickly as possible, not spend hours trying to figure out why Metacity won't center my windows properly, or why I can't use my extended mouse buttons, or why my card reader causes my desktop to crash randomly, etc.

I don't care about openness either. Proprietary is fine with me as long as it doesn't get in my way too much. Unfortunately, the Mac community just isn't as interesting as the Linux community, but -- like you mentioned -- a lot of Linux refugees have been moving to Mac lately, so maybe the crowd will diversify a bit.

I still follow Linux very closely and I eagerly await the day when my hardware works and the numerous annoying bugs have been squashed.

Particular Sore Spot

economysizegeek's picture

Maybe this didn't come across as clearly as I hoped. My issue with the Apple community as it stands now - is that I'm often advocated to switch to OS X because I use Linux and OS X is *nix. The people who do this never seem to understand that I am aware of the choice and have decided to stay.

I guess it is one of those things. I understand why people choose XP/Vista. I understand why people choose OS X. I wrote the article because all too often no one seems to understand why I chose Linux.


Esteban's picture

I am self employed, long story short, I do taxes. So it was several years ago during the off season, summer time, I heard a radio program talking about loading Ubuntu in "your old computer". I loaded Ubuntu into two "toasted" laptops. They were turned back into working tools. Yes I have had my up and downs with Linux, and I must use windows to do income tax returns. I have two computers in my office using Ubuntu, and two using Windows.

Oh, the real reason for this is to thank you for your article. I enjoyed it.

sweet ride

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the good article. You should mention that mac osx itself is a bsd unix variant with a proprietary desktop to offset hardware driver issues. No I am not a mac person I just encourage computer people to distinguish between os and desktop for novices. Its all good its all unix ;)