Archive for February, 2010

How I became a Linux user

12 February 2010

Why I became a Linux user

About one year ago I switched over to Linux and every day I use my computer there is a smile on my face. Here I’d like to tell you how I came this far. It goes beyond economics — Linux and all applications I want to use are free to obtain — it is also philosophical. Linux is in fact the way I like how we human beings function best. Going our own ways, contributing to the community everyone in his or her own humble manner, aimed at a greater good.

Lets start with the Switch. Way back in the eighties I used ms-dos computers at university. I really disliked it. Too many commands with strange names that didn’t have anything to do with my day to day (dutch) language. In a separate room there were about twenty nice looking small all-in-one devices that seemed to fit my way computers should be better. They turned out to be Macs, several Plusses and SE/30. Unfortunately these nice looking machines threw out my new 3.5 inch floppies when inserted. Noting happened.

After some time I got acquainted with the Apple Educational Program and I became the proud owner of a Classic with one 1.4M floppy drive and one megabyte of RAM, both beyond the green monochrome stuff I knew. This was — and still is because the ol’ Mac stil boots when I ask — great. The Educational Program and campus licenses gave me plenty of useful tools both for study and leisure. Best of all was HyperCard, an intuitive programming environment for making my own tools, learning from code others build, discovering the endless possibilities of my computer although I never got that far from the starting point.

After the Classic came a 40M external hard disk, a 7200 and a second hand PowerBook 1400 and a modem. All of them great and usable but around 2005 really outdated and not capable of serving new tasks like working with remote access for business…

Luckily my employer had a program where I could buy a new computer and get half of it sponsored. The new machine however had to be compatible with corporate structures and software. My Mac always was compatible with MacLink and some acme translators but that was not what my employer ment. It had to be Windows. Luckily Gates gave me a key to remote access so I could work at home and still be at work online. Great! Not so great was that my Acer Aspire became slower and slower. The remains of updates and other not-any-more-useful bits and bytes made the system double its size and reduced its speed more than half. Defragmenting somehow created new fragments that never existed and never disappeared.

Linux' TuxIn 2008 I discovered these netbooks. Acer had the Aspire One and it looked very well. The OS came in two flavours, Windows and … Linux? After googeling the Net I decided for the 8Gb SSD with Linux. Playing around with the AA1 I wanted to know more about Linux and burned several LiveCD’s to try on my Aspire. With these LiveCD’s — on CD or USB — I was able to run Linux as for real without touching my windowized computer. I’s like learning to swim without getting wet. I tried several flavours of Linux. Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and fell lin love with Fedora. Blue is my favourite colour and I very much like the structured and fundamental way this distro is runned. It ended making a dual boot system where I choose to use Linux and sometimes (working at home with remote access or filling in my annual income tax forms) running XP.

Linux became my day to day operating system. It is very stable and user friendly and all the applications I want to use are available though a list with click-and-install software. For free, at no cost! Help is always somewhere on the Net and by joining several forums I am able to share my experiences and questions. And it works, really!

Using Linux gave back my old feeling and enthusiasm using a personal computer and discovering the possibilities. Sharing knowledge, learning new things both practical and abstract. After nearly twenty years I bought a new book on understanding what I was doing. The HyperCard and ResEdit guides are still on some lower bookshelf, my Practical Guide to Fedora and RedHat Enterprise Linux by Mark Sobell lies next to wherever I sit or sleep. It gives me background and guides to useful things like sharing my data disk and printer with three computers at home.

Maybe you asked yourself what might be philosophical about this. I think it isn’t, it’s merely practical, a brief history of the platforms I used ending being a Linux enthusiast.

The philosophical part is about the way people from all over the planet working together on different parts of a bigger picture. I really like that. People share their needs, test reports, dedicated time and program code and I — and you too — are invited to be part of it! The way the Linux community works together is fundamentally different from other tightly closed development of operating systems like with Apple and Microsoft. I guess Linus Torvalds the initiator of UNIX-likes understood well how people can work productive and cooperative in some sort of chaotic way. The essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond gives a very good description of how this way works. The essay is available on the net. This essay touches some very fundamental aspects of cooperation and can be useful for whatever branch. I guess you’ll have to read this piece to get the philosophics I mean…