A Journey into Linux

Or how I jacked up my score on the Nerd Quiz.

Dave got me going and if I know me (and I think I do, although sometimes I wonder) I know I could go on and on with people about Linux. So instead of dominating the comment of my other blog with it, We can talk Linux here.

First, a bit of my personal computiong history:

1986 – My first a computer! A Laser 128, a clone of the Apple IIc. I had a professor who was a dealer of them, and he gave me a good deal. That, plus a bootleg copy of Appleworks and I was on my way to writing bliss. Seriously this machine turned me into a writer

1991 – The Laser died and there was no way I was going to survive without a computer. I was still poor, tho. What to do? I bought a used Macintosh 512. I had seen and worked with these wonders of technology in the 1980’s and always wanted one. With the extra disk drive, and a lot of software, I was on my way again.

1993 – The Mac died. Time for something new. And since I finally had a steady income, plus some financing, I got my first brand new computer. A Mac Color Classic II. It was fabulous. HOWEVER….

While I loved my Apples, the rest of the world was running Windows/Intel. And Apple charges a hefty penalty for loyalty. When I spilled coke on my keyboard (the beverage), I paid nearly $100 for a new one while the PC keyboard sitting right next to it in CompUSA was $20. Every single Mac component and the software cost a ton, if you could even find it. I did end up going clear across Atlanta to get a 2400 Bd modem, and did manage to get on AOL for 30 days with it, and several BBSs. But most BBSs were geared for PCs. Fortunately I had some bootleg emulator software that allowed me into the online world.

1996 – Armed with an employee discount from my new wife working at Wal-Mart, we bought our first PC– a 486 running Win95.

And then we went on to Win98 and finally WinXP.

Sorry, no pictures of those because everyone had them either at home or work or both.

I remember seeing Redhat in the late 1990’s, but everyone knew Linux was for geeks. And this was before geeks were cool. In 2001, I did order some Mandrake disks but never even ran them. I didn’t want to ruin my existing system. But in 2005, my existing system ruined itself anyway. And this was what really put me on the road to Linux. As I tried to reinstall my copy of Office XP, which I had actually bought legally, I discovered that I had to call the mothership in Redmond to get permission to put it back on my repaired emachine. And of course, there was all the malware, trojans, spyware and worms that often slowed XP to a crawl. It had to be nursed by several programs to guard it, fix it and optimize it all the time. I was seriously missing my Macs. Until I looked at their prices.

The first distro I tried was Simply Mepis 3.3 live CD ordered from my favorite place to get distros, since I was still on dial-up. I had been reading up on it, and decided to give it a try. It was an eye-opener. There, I saw I could do most things that I wanted without having to type command lines (CLI). Yeah, I had done things with DOS before, and didn’t like it. Later, I would attempt a few tasks with the CLI, but each time I felt like I was partying like it was 1989.

But I never installed it and Mepis was mostly a toy I played with, until someone gave me an old 550 Mhz win98 machine. Mepis 6.0 went on that, and I liked it. I also tried PCLinuxOS 0.93, SuSE, Mandriva, Ubuntu 6.06 and Freespire. But because I was still on dial-up, XP still ruled our house. Linux could not negotiate most modems, because they were tied to the Windows software. I eventually bought an external modem, but still no luck. Until I discovered Puppy Linux. That little distro got me online, and it was blazingly fast even on the 550 MHz machine. I still would recommend it to someone new to Linux because it has wizards for everything and you don’t have to committ to anything to run it everyday. It sets up a little save directory of about 512 M for all your settings, bookmarks and files or it will run off a USB drive as small as 512 M. I actually recommend the Lighthouse Pupplet, as it has more apps and looks nicer.

Oh, and all of these distros come with all the software you need. And they are all FREE. Free as in beer, and free of malware.

Once we got the cable modem (and an increased risk of malware) I installed Mepis 7.0 on the family desktop on a seperate hard drive. My two boys didn’t much care what it was except they thought it looked neat. My wife was a bit more skeptical, but she did enjoy the security of surfing the internet without having to worry about getting a virus. Next came PCLinuxOS 2007. That one blew me away, and it was the family OS of choice until I tried to upgrade to PCLinux 2009 and it froze every time I tried to login. Even the live CD acted up the same way. In the meantime, I installed Mandriva 2008 on a partition on my laptop. Mandriva 2009 is on the old desktop, but it doesn’t have the same appeal as PCLOS had, so I may try a Mepis derivative called Antix.

And I may upgrade my Laptop to Ubuntu 9.04, as it really is a gorgeous-looking OS that seems to have good speed, lots of support and access to every program you would ever need for most tasks.

There are problems with Linux, though. Most notably, those of us who like to do work with video do not have many tools to work with in Linux, and those that do exist are buggy or kludgey. But the most promising distro for anything creative is called ArtistX. As a live DVD, it contains almost every Linux program/package that exists for anything creative. Since it is based off of Ubuntu 8.10, it will have a familiar look and feel but it simply comes integrated with hundreds of applications. It is very cool.

And it is all FREEEEEEE!

I will not be upgrading to Windows 7 any time soon. And we’ll just skip the whole Vista debacle. I noticed that when looking at computers in Walmart, you never even see the word “Vista.” It’s simply “Windows Home” or “Windows Home Premium.” Thing is, Vista is probably now better than XP, other than being a total resource hog.

Give Linux a try. Download and burn, or order a live CD (Most are less than $2), put it in the CD drive and reboot. And hold on to your butts, because you might just be blown away at how good something is that is free.

Freedom is cool.


5 Responses to “A Journey into Linux”

  1. Tom Allen Says:

    I only tried it out recently, mainly because I have an old laptop that was running XP, but with all the updates now takes 10 minutes to boot up. I can’t add more ram (the Dell MB maxes out at 512m), but the machine is comfortable and I don’t want to buy something new, since I only need a laptop to blog a little and check my messages.

    I installed PCLinux 2009 – the Gnome version. I liked Ubuntu, but after 10 or 12 distros, PCL was theonly one that recognized my wifi card. I don’t have enough Linux skillz to mess with ndiswrapper and win drivers, so I’m leaving it alone until I get time to learn more. It also doesn’t recognize my power settings, but since it’s only a 2 minute boot up, I can live with that.

    Here’s the thing – I started messing with PCs way back in the day, and I know my way around Win machines pretty well. Linux is a lot more tweakable, but frankly, I don’t want to spend hours and hours relearning an OS; I just want to press the power button and go to it.

    That said, I put Ubuntu on my home office machine and my work office machine, just to play with them a bit. I haven’t figured out how to network yet, and when I do, I’ll use them more frequently.

    MS Office isn’t that important anymore; I can use Open Office (v3 is very, very nice), and I find that I’m using Google Docs most of the time, simply because it’s easier than carrying around a thumb drive. I’ve seen netbooks with Linux and I’m seriously considering buying one.

    Great post, Dr. D.

  2. 2amsomewhere Says:

    I’ll jump in on the LInux conversation.

    My employer from two jobs was, and still is, very Linux dependent. They were using it when I hired on back in 1996, both for IT and product functions. Moreover, they had a port of their software for Linux.

    It goes without saying that the ability to use and develop on Linux was an essential skill in those days. I installed my first distribution (Slackware 3) on a Packard Bell Pentium 120, on a November weekend in 1996. I would play around with SuSE 6 and 7 in the late 90s, RedHat 6 in 2000, Debian in 2001, and PinkTIe (a free build of RedHat Enterprise 3) in 2004.

    I stopped running Linux on my home hardware after my frankencomputer desktop died in early 2005. I wound up installing Windows XP when I replaced its motherboard. I used Linux some at the Titanic, but most of my development was on Windows XP, using Visual C++ 2003.

    At my current job, my computer is a MacBook pro, but development is for Linux. We have VMWare images of Linux that are remotely administered by our systems engineer with Puppet. I log into them via the Terminal app on my Mac, and point my browser to them for testing.

    If someone is unwilling to tear down their PC to worry about setting up a full blown Linux host, going virtual is the next best thing. For Windows user, VMWare player is free (as in beer), and you can get preconfigured appliances that allow you to bypass the whole charade of installation.


  3. Digger Jones Says:

    I hadn’t thought about trying the gnome version, Tom. But you mention a real bonus to Linux, which is faster boot and shutdown. Supposedly Mandriva has been having the fastest boot times, and it does function well on legacy systems. I agree with you in that I really like when something just works and like to stick with those things. But I’m also a nerd, and can not resist taking a peek at the next big thing, or the next modern distro. And since they are free, I become pretty fickle. I’m also a user of Open Office on my laptop. Office XP is on the old family desktop and has a few uses, but I’m not forking out any more money for something I can’t even own!

    I wonder: would I still have to call the Mother$hip if if I installed Office XP using WINE?

    I knew you were way into Linux, 2am. Yeah, for testing out new distros (like I like to sometimes do) virtualization is a good way to go and I have seriously thought about wading into that and trying it out. But the majority of my Linux needs, like Tom, involve keeping legacy machines running and useful. Would anything less than 1G RAM work with VMWare? For sure, if one can afford a Mac, that really is the best of both worlds. Relatively good software support without as many malware hassles. Of course, in the last couple of pwn to own contests. the Mac did not do so well. But I think that’s more because the competitors wanted a Macbook more than the other two machines!

  4. 2amsomewhere Says:

    Would anything less than 1G RAM work with VMWare?

    I think it depends on what you’re doing with it. VMWare allows you to specify the amount of memory used by the virtual machine, and I set mine to 256 MB. However, those VMs don’t run any GUI apps. All they do is host a LAMP environment (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) with memcached thrown in for good measure. I don’t run into memory issues because that Mac is running 4 GB of RAM. However, I have noticed that my system can bottleneck when I’m running two Linux VMs and a Windows XP VM to do browser testing.

  5. Links 07/06/2009: More Migrations to GNU/Linux in Schools, Shop | Boycott Novell Says:

    […] A Journey into Linux And I may upgrade my Laptop to Ubuntu 9.04, as it really is a gorgeous-looking OS that seems to have good speed, lots of support and access to every program you would ever need for most tasks. […]

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