My computer Experience

Responding to Penguin Pete’s WHY is the transition from Windows to Linux easy for some people?, I had no idea my response would be so lengthy. So I decided to copy it over to my blog. Read his and the other comments and here’s mine.

As for me, my first computer was a Tandy T80 – I’m not 100% sure about it being a T80, but I know it was a Tandy. It was just a keyboard that connected to a Tv. I learned to program in basic and I played proprietary games that came on cassette tapes.

After about 2-3 years of begging, we got our parents to buy us a computer. It was a Packard Bell with 100 MB hard drive and no CD-ROM or soundcard. (Remember buying those packages back in the day??) Packard Bell had some alternative shell that could run instead of Win 3.11. It was prettier, but more limited. I loved customizing Win 3.11 and changing the colour schemes and driving my folks nuts. I did all the tutorials and became a Wiz in MS Works. Eventually we got the CD-ROM and soundcard.

About 3 years later we got another Packard Bell with 1 GB of HDD. Then about 3 years later a Compaq with 5 or something GB. It was a Windows 95 machine.

Next machine I got was a Windows ME (upgraded to XP) when I started college. I think somewhere up to 40 GB. I had no idea anything else existed other than Macs which I thought were dumb. Why? They were expensive and nothing ran on them. Certainly not any of the programs I used.

Two years later I had to login to something called “the unix cluster” to do my homework. I hated it. There was this stupid text editor called XEmacs that didn’t use C-S for save C-X for cut, etc I had assumed the Windows shortcuts were universal – every program I had ever used had those commands. I had to do some X11 tunneling thing was was ridiculously slow. Then there were these annoying things call tarballs that made me think of the story of Brere Rabbit. And I had to give my partner “permissions” – why wouldn’t he just edit my files! What a PITA! Oh yeah, and in the engineering labs they had these weird computers with some cutesy demon on the login screen. And the desktop had these squares going down the right side and a little paper-clip icon that could “switch desktops”, whatever that meant. And I had to right-click to open programs! I thought right-clicking was for changing the system settings! Oh, and it had some aim wannabe called gaim.

But some time later I wanted to run my own internet server. I didn’t want to be a slave to geocities, tripod, or my university. So I heard about this OS called Linux that had some program called Apache which would allow me to run my own internet server! How exciting!

I knew absolutely nothing about Linux other than I had seen some disks for it at best buy about 3 years prior. So I went to the bookstore and whichever one had a chapter on web servers, I’d get that one. It came down to Debian and Fedora – that’s what borders had. The Fedora book (Sams Unleashed) looked more comprehensive.

So it came to pass that I installed Fedora 1 as my server on a computer I’d bought for $25. For a while I played with the GUI and found it to be extremely intuitive. Click on the red hat icon and it was just like Windows. I didn’t understand the difference between this KDE and Gnome thing because in Fedora 1, Red Hat had configured them to look and behave exactly the same.

Eventually, I got myself donated another computer and ran Linux on there as my secondary operating system. I loved it! When Gnome and KDE proved to be slow for the machine, I experimented with other Window Managers like Fluxbox, WindowMaker, XFCE and e16. I couldn’t believe how wonderful this was. It was so amazing to be able to discover these different technologies. I loved it so much! And the level of customization! When I was in middle/high school I thought it was neat to change the icons in Windows with themepacks. But this was on a whole different level! With Windows you can move the start bar around (at least prior to XP), but with KDE you can have as many bars as you like! After about 2 years I even started to understand and appreciate the value of multiple desktops! Writing about this now brings back such great nostalgic feelings!

Eventually I settled upon Fluxbox and running nearly everything off the commandline. As I blogged at the time, this allowed me to receive messages from the system that you get from the command line, but not if you run the program from its icons.

I had fallen in love with Linux so completely that I wrote somewhat of a thesis paper on how the University could switch over completely to Linux.

So, while I hated Unix when I had to learn Unix at the same time as learning how to represent a processor in code, I quickly found myself at home with *nix when I had time to play. Also, in retrospect, I came to see that I probably would have been better off with Debian for my server. With its abandonment of n-2 releases, Fedora is not that great for that. Plus, upgrades are not guaranteed to leave you without a broken system.

As a funny aside, I originally considered Slackware because I thought it was easy – slack as in slacking off. Good thing I didn’t pick that one or I would probably not be using Linux today.

So, epilogue. Things have now reversed. I have a fairly powerful Linux comptuer now so I use Linux as my primary computer and my custom-built Windows computer is my secondary computer. I use it to play video games (not too often) and do photo editing. GIMP is missing a few things for me and I’ve been using Photoshop for so long, I doubt I’ll ever switch. The keyboard shortcuts are all different and I don’t see enough of a gain. I use emacs everytime I need to program anything.

My main computer runs Fedora Core 6. Another box runs Debian Etch and is in charge of being a print server and backup box. I now use freeBSD for my server instead of Fedora. The stability, speed, and upgrade process is much better. And I have 2 POS freeBSD machines which I am using as a drqueue-powered render farm for my blender animations.

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