How I came to be involved with Linux

I used to think Windows was so amazing. I thought it was at least 20 times better than Macintosh. Not only is their interface so obtuse, they don’t really have any programs other than video, audio, and photographic production. Windows was awesome and Bill Gates was a near genius. Those were the days! I remember being so angry at the government for filing an antitrust lawsuit. So what if Windows came with IE, weren’t people smart enough to download Netscape if they really wanted it? I remember Sophomore year in college being so excited at the new Windows Media Player which promised so many neat little trick like auto-playlists. The reason why I loved Windows so much si that I didn’t know I had a choice. I thought it was Windows or Mac and I certainly preferred Gates’ little creation.

Then, in the summer after my sophomore year I decided that I would like to run a web server. I wanted independence from Tripod with their stupid ads and other such malarky. My parents were toying with the idea of one day starting a family business and I made it my responsibility to find out what it would take to have our own servers. My Google searches brought my attention to a program called Apache, which, when run on a computer would allow someone to have a webserver. A weird program called Sendmail would work as an email program. Then a weird thing happened, I had this very stthrange feeling in my gut about these programs. Did I just read that they were free to use? Not free to try, but free to use? WTF was this? Surely it was some sort of scam and I started looking around in different websites. WHAT?!? A large portion of the Internet was run on this free software? I couldn’t understand it, it was just too much for me. I had used freeware and shareware before, but it was usually pretty rudimentary software. This seemed to be big league stuff here!

Then a link on one of these pages pointed me to a page about GNUY/Linux. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Someone was offering a free operating system? My brain suffered a meltdown and I put the subject away for a few days. Then I went back to the website, I read about the OS, I read the GPL, and I was amazed. I went to some distro websites and my first instinct was to try Slackware Linux. I liked the sound of that because my dad was always calling me a slacker in jest. Thankfully I never tried that distro or it might have been the end of my forays into free and open source software. I told my parents about all of this and they were just as incredulous as I had been about the prospect of a free operating system and freely being able to have a server. After all, they said, if it was free why doesn’t everyone do it? Good question, I thought. The Linux subject again went dormant in my life.

Midway through the second semester of my Junior year of college the idea surfaces from my subconscious with the force of a torpedo. Suddenly it consumes my thoughts. All I can think aobut constantly is the possibility of using Linux to run said server. In an attempt to placate these thoughts and concentrate on my school work, I go to the new Ithaca Borders Computer secion and look for a distribution that comes with a book to explain all of this to me. My prerequisite: the book must talk about setting up Apache and Sendmail. It all came down to Debian and Fedora. Something put me off about the Debian distro, I think just because I couldn’t take seriously a distro that sounded like it was named after someone named Debbie. I bought the Fedora book and the instant I touched it I remember seeing a box at Best Buy about 5 years prior with a penguin wearing a Red Hat. I remember it talking about a new OS, but at the time I didn’t really understand what it meant – I wasn’t ready for the paradigm. However, this memory helped me realize that this “Linux-thing” had been around for a long time.

There was one problem, buying the book, which came with CDs for the OS (another requirement of mine) made me want to install it even more badly. Since I had to buy the book to learn to OS I said to myself, it wasn’t really a free distro, but at $40, it was 1/4 the cost of a new Windows XP install, not bad. Finally, I used the campus auction newsgroup to obtain a 200 Mhz POS Dell computer with monitor, soundcard, and ethernet card from a senior who needed to get rid of the computer so that he could have room to move home. It cost me $50. So far this whole endeavor was still cheaper than a new copy of Windwows.

Installation took forever due to the machine’s slow speed, but I couldn’t wait to install Fedora Core 1 onto the computer. I read about the OS between classes and at night and realized it was based on Unix, which I had some experience with from the previous semester. Finally the machine booted up and, it was ok. I have to admit that it wasn’t love at first site. Basically, the computer was much too slow to do anything except be a server, which I figured out with time. HOwever, the seeds were planted and when I found out that it was upgraded every six months, I couldn’t wait for the next upgrade. This was 10E8 times better than Microsoft!

With Fedora Core 2 installed on an old dilapidated laptop which barely ran Windows 98, I was able to see the beauty of Linux. It had brought back to life a computer which could barely do anything. As I continued to sample the fruits of free and open source software, I loved it more and more. I loved the concepts behind the GPL which provide all with freedom (as in speech). I loved the social aspect – anyone from any socioeconomic background could afford a free (as in beer) OS. I loved the programs which did anything the Windows programs did. Some, like GAIM and K3B were better than their Windos counterparts. Some were worse. And some, like Kino and Openoffice, were about the same. So why pay for something when you could get it free and not have to deal with DMCA crap. I learned about OGG and how it was free and MP3 was not. I learned about Xvid as opposed to Divx and I became very well educated in the ways of Linux and its superiority and inferiority when compared with Windows.

Now I am a college graduate and a coworker came to me with a problem. He needed Windows XP because he wants to use Napster which requires windows since they use the Windows Media Audio format. But he couldn’t install it because Windows required him to register his product key and he didn’t have internet access. Boy did that make me happy to be a Linux user. Since there can be no such thing as bootlegging something that’s given away for free, we don’t have to worry about crap like activation keys for Linux. I tried to convince him to switch over, but he really wanted Napster. I told him I’d install it for him. It had been a year since I’d done a Windows install and boy was it crappy!

People complain about Linux installs, but I can honestly say that, at least with Fedora Core 1-4, the installation process is orders of magnitude better than the Windows installation process. Let’s compare! Windows starts up with blue screen and white text – not even a GUI! It does a bunch of cryptic things. Then it asks if I want to install Windows XP. This is an upgrade and it doesn’t detect Windows 98 already installed on the HDD. Therefore I need to ask my coworker for his Win98 CD. This delays us a bunch of days as he searches for it. Again, since FC is free, this is a non-issue. Then it presents me with the giant partition on his hard drive and asks if I want to use that one. No ability to make separate /home partitions means that one part of his drive crashing will destroy all his files. Then it asks me if I want to keep FAT32 or switch to NTFS. Then it says that it finds Windows 98 (why couldn’t it find it before?) and warns me about this. Then it says to reboot. When I reboot I end up back in the same place and have to go through all those steps again. This time it actually installs something. But it doesn’t even ask me which programs I wants. It just installs everything. How prehistoric! Even some of the text-based Linux installers give a choice of software and Fedora certainly does.

Then it goes through a setup process including registering the product with the activation key. No root user is set up! How will we protect users from borking up the computer? When I was done I was disgusted and pretty much have been left with a worse taste in my mouth for Windows than I previously had. Amazing that Linux isn’t “ready” for the desktop and yet installation is a breeze compared with Windows. Let’s look at a Fedora install.

After booting in, I push enter and the graphical boot starts. It asks me for language and some other settings. It helps me partition the harddrive in a logical way. It lets me select which programs I want installed along with some predefined installations. Then it figures out which discs I need and installation begins. Aftferwards I set up the root account and my account and the OS is ready to go! Can’t get much simpler than that!

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2 responses to “How I came to be involved with Linux”

  1. Interesting read.. It’s been a while since I’ve read such an excited story about FOSS.

    I do have to mention though, you can do XP registrations via telephone; it’s a sorta hidden option near the bottom. But that doesn’t solve the problem of: Why should you have to “activate” anyway?