Back to Linux

I have had an on again, off again love affair with Linux since 1998. It has been an enlightening experience plagues with numerous installations and CD/DVD ISO burns. I remember the first real exposure I had to Linux. I was living with my grandfather. I was working in a factory. My hobbies were computers and playing guitar. There wasn’t a lot to my life at that time. I worked, wasted money, and slept. I also chatted on IRC quite a bit. Back then, I was still on dialup so that was about the best thing to do with my internet connection.

I had a friend who some could call a bad influence, but to me, at the time, he felt like a mentor and older advisor. He knew all the ins and outs of IRC, especially on the Undernet IRC network. He went by the nick “Fud”, short for “fear, uncertainty, and doubt”.  He had Eggdrop IRC bots and Energy Mech IRC bots. He had shell accounts. He had knowledge of things to which I’d never been exposed.

I wanted to create my own IRC bots. So he introduced me to the idea of shell accounts. I remember configuring my first Eggdrop bot. That seemed like the most complicated thing I’d ever attempted. It didn’t help that I was configuring the bot in an operating system that I’d never been exposed to at all…Unix. Unix was a mysterious word to me because I’d had no college classes and my high school had barely covered DOS.

I had learned DOS on my own. I didn’t have any friends who knew DOS. My dad had bought government surplus 8088 computer and when we turned it on, we were greeted with a command line. We didn’t have a clue, so I typed “help” and pressed enter. The output presented to me with that command is how I learned DOS. I felt like such a hacker, mainly because it was a retired government computer and I thought I may be able to find some kind of interesting data on it. It was really a cool way to learn DOS.

Jumping back to ’98 when I was first getting into Linux, I was presented with a command prompt that looked nothing like the familiar DOS prompt that I had used before. Typing “help” didn’t help. Luckily I had Fud there to help get me started with basic commands. Some were similar to DOS. Others where completely different. I was used to typing cd to change directory but in DOS to change to the parent directory (move up the directory structure) you can type cd.. all together. In Linux this would give you an error. It was required to put a space between the cd and the .. which took some getting used to.

I loved the idea of Linux right from the beginning. I felt excited mainly because I was learning Unix, that mysterious operating system that serious computer geeks knew about and a rural hick like myself had never seen. I was also excited to break the chains from Microsoft. I mean imagine it, an operating system that’s completely free. Since I’d always wanted to be a programmer, there was also the added bonus that the source code was also available for most of the programs that came with the OS. Side note: I know some of you are chomping at the bit to tell me that Linux is the kernel, not the OS. Get over it. Everyone calls it Linux.

Ah my early days with Linux. Like I said earlier, I was still on dial-up, which presented two problems. First, downloading Linux was impossible. An ISO file of Linux was at least the full size of a CD-ROM back then, and for some distributions it was multiple disks for an install. It takes a very long time to download 720 megabytes when your download speed is roughly three or four kilobytes per second. So the only real way to try out many different distributions was to order them from places like CheapBytes. I bought a pack of about 10 different distros and tried them all. It included: Debian, Slackware, Red Hat, Mandrake, and others.

The second problem with dial-up and Linux dealt with dial-up modems themselves. Most modems at that time were “WinModems”. They weren’t “hardware” modems. They were interfaces for phone lines and such, but the actual modem functionality was handled by Windows itself. They were hardware interfaces for software modem code. These wouldn’t work in Linux, and honestly they weren’t as good as real hardware modems. Most WinModems used a PCI bus, and the hardware modems used the older ISA bus. The hardware modems also usually had hardware DIP switches for configuring interrupt settings and such. Hardware modems were superior, but WinModems were cheaper. So most people were using WinModems. The first thing a new Linux user back then had to do was purchase a hardware modem.

I dual-booted back then, but still stayed primarily in Windows. There was still very little compatibility with lots of hardware and commercial games just weren’t available. However, I was able to learn a lot during that time. I started learning Perl. I created my own IRC bot in Perl. My first preferred Linux distribution coming from Windows was Mandrake. At the time, it used KDE and was pretty user-friendly. I learned to hate RPM. Mandrake changed its name to Mandriva, and at some point decided to charge for using it. So I switched to Debian.

I love Debian. It has been my favorite grand-daddy Linux distribution since I moved away from Mandrake. I’ve tried just about every major distribution that exists. Some of my favorites along the way were Gentoo, Arch, and Sabayon. However, as soon as Ubuntu came out, I, like many other Linux users, switched to it. It quickly became the most popular distribution. Ubuntu took Debian, which was already pretty easy to use, and made it even easier. Around 2004 or 2005, I started using Ubuntu 100% of the time at home. This went on for about three years. In 2007 I took a desktop support role in the IS department of the Manufacturing company I had been working at for about 9 years. Most of this desktop support dealt with Windows, so Windows became a primary OS on my home computer once again.

I’ve glossing over many things during this, but it’s so I could get to this point. I started working for myself as a web developer and internet marketer in 2009. At that time, I had the personal freedom to use whatever operating system I saw fit to use. I used both Windows and Linux, but gravitated toward Linux most of the time. As a developing environment for web applications Linux is by far my favorite. My career path was gradually moving in a direction that allowed me to use Linux full time. I interviewed for a position with a travel agency in 2011 as a PHP developer. I went to work there and was pleasantly surprised that everyone was using their favorite OS on their work machines. Some people were using Windows 7. Others were using a flavor of Linux. I picked Ubuntu and installed it on my work machine.

It was around this time that Ubuntu started using Unity as its main desktop environment. I’d been very content using Gnome 2. Unity brought cool features with it, but it also seemed to be a huge buggy mess. I had many problems with it, both at work and at home. I switched to XFCE at work for a bit, but eventually switched to Windows 7. That’s where I stayed. After seven months of working for that travel agency, I decided that Orlando, FL just wasn’t for me (I had moved to Orlando to take the job), and I moved back to north GA. I was again working for myself, but this time I continued using Windows 7. Oh I tried to use Linux, but I had so many issues with the new desktop environments and the new forks of Xorg that I just gave up on it.

These distributions were all trying to make their desktops work well on mobile devices. As a result, they made things suck on the desktop. Gnome 2 had been perfectly stable and usable. I really liked it. Now Gnome 2 wasn’t an option. You could use Gnome 3 in classic mode which made it look like Gnome 2 a bit, but that wasn’t really the problem. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the new look. It was beautiful. The problem was that it just didn’t work well. Dual screens worked fine and dandy in Gnome 2. Unity and Gnome 3 choked on them, or just handled things poorly. The push toward mobile device integration by the Linux community, nearly killed desktop Linux for me. I hated it. I was so mad at it, not that there was an actual entity to be mad at. I was just mad at what I viewed as pure stupidity.

We had Android. It was already the ultimate Linux mobile platform, but everyone else wanted to get in on the action as well. This could have been accomplished by having a separated mobile desktop environment, but nah, we need to force everyone to change. We need to take perfectly stable working desktop environments and throw them out, replacing them with desktop environments meant for mobile devices that are unstable.

I’d like to point out that of the major desktop operating systems, the only entity that got this right was Apple. They made iOS for their mobile devices and OS X stayed on the desktop. Sometimes change isn’t a good thing. Apple got this transition correct. Microsoft screwed the pooch with their Windows 8 introduction as well. What were all these people thinking? Did they think the desktop was already dead and that everyone was already using only mobile devices?  I think they lost sight of the fact that people still listen to radio, even though TV was invented. People still watch TV even though desktop computers and the internet were invented. People still use desktop computers even though mobile devices are now in wide-scale use. Why would you screw over the primary user of your operating system just to try to get a foothold in a mobile device market which is already dominated by Apple and Android? Let me backtrack a little there. I’m not saying that they should try to obtain some market share in the mobile device market. I’m saying that they should have wrecked their desktop environment to do so.

Between 2012 and September of 2015, I used Windows 7 nearly 100% of the time. Occasionally, I would install a new version of Ubuntu or LinuxMint, hoping that it would be good enough to turn me from my Windows desktop. After all, I was programming and my projects revolved around LAMP stacks. I still used Linux, but it was in the form of virtual machines with no desktop environment. I had completely given up on the Linux desktop.

In early September 2015, I installed LinuxMint on a spare 120GB SSD, and for some reason everything just worked again. The Cinnamon desktop, which I had tried out a few times during my Windows 7 years, seemed to be stable and user-friendly. I left Windows installed on my main 500GB SSD just in case. Three weeks passed and I hadn’t booted into Windows.

Today, I reinstalled LinuxMint. This time, I removed Windows and set that 500GB SSD as my /home partition. I’m again Windows free and loving it. Sure, there will be some Steam games that I can no longer play because there are no Linux versions, but I also don’t have Windows 10 spying on my every move. I also now have a much better working environment for my development work.

So for anyone else who may have given up on Linux a few years ago, go give it another shot. You may enjoy it.

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