Originally Published: Saturday, 19 February 2000 Author: Thomas B. Wilson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Birth of a Newbie

This weekly article will chronicle the misadventures of a Linux Newbie. I will comment on different tutorials, programs, and all that contributes to my Linux evolution. I welcome interaction from readers and will share their mutual experiences as we go along.

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This weekly article will chronicle the misadventures of a Linux Newbie. I will comment on different tutorials, programs, and all that contributes to my Linux evolution. I welcome interaction from readers and will share their mutual experiences as we go along.

When I contemplate my arrival as a Newbie I often think of it in mythological terms similar to religious conversion, loss of virginity, or sacrificial rituals. Linux vs. Microsoft is a classic David vs. Goliath story. Linux is the underdog of operating systems, the common man fighting for free, open source code. Microsoft, on the other hand, is widely regarded as a monopolistic hegemony straight from the Dark Side in Star Wars.

However, there are good reasons to be concerned about equating a software operating system to a mythological level. Is my choice of operating systems really a choice between good and evil, Linux vs. Microsoft? After all, what "good" is Linux if the average Newbie can not easily install and configure it? Personally, I have wasted far too much time trying to get DOS/Windows to work. Why do I want to struggle with a new set of Linux problems if Windows marginally meets my needs already? It is the content of my work that is important, not the vehicle used to create it.

In the end, however, I conclude that it is a leap of faith and that I am a believer. I believe that I will be taking the proverbial one step back to go three forward. But, in the end, I know that I will be saving money from an open source code system. And that I can not tolerate any more system crashes. And, that I can not support a company that is federally investigated for predatory, unashamed, monopolistic behavior. The mythological analogy can be over-exaggerated, but it's practical implications can not be underestimated. So, here's my story.

My birth as a Newbie occurred in April, 1999. I was waiting for a restaurant project of mine to begin construction. I wanted to gain more experience with networks to better prepare myself for the time when I installed one in my own company. I took a job at a computer company that installed point of sale systems in restaurants. The operating system was Windows NT and it inevitably crashed on restaurant openings and busy Saturday evenings.

One morning, I was talking with the system administrator about the problems and he mentioned Linux as a solution. Actually, his comments bordered on a messianic harangue. It took on the connotations of good vs. evil, and also the practical analogy of a mechanic working on a Microsoft car with no ability to look under the hood, yet being able to finely tune the Linux car right next to it. I was intrigued and began to surf the net for Linux sites. Instinctively, I discovered that the future was not with Windows, but with Linux. I quit my job two days later.

Now, I was faced with the prospect of implementing a general belief in a system that I knew little about. I discussed with my partners the idea of using a Linux point of sale system in our restaurant. On a lark, I had a local computer store try to wirelessly network a Linux box with a Windows box. They were Newbies also, but I figured they would be better able to handle the experiment. They attempted to install Mandrake 6.0 and ran into multiple configuration problems. Three months later, I had little to show for their efforts. Four months later, they were out of business. So I don't know who to blame, the tech guys or the software.

Rightly, my partners had no interest in becoming a beta testing lab for a product they never heard of. Our mission was to sell food and drinks as effortlessly as possible. Why not use a tried and tested Micros system? Micros is not a glamorous point of sale system, but it is a pretty good adding machine. However, I wanted a stable system that we could enter the 21st century with, add new restaurants, network the sites, remotely manage the books, and so on. In the end, it turned out to be a hypothetical argument. The partners disagreed about everything. The real estate value of the restaurant site increased with a rising stock market, and we received an offer to sell that we couldn't refuse.

In the meantime, I watched Red Hat and VA Linux both go public and achieve extraordinary gains in the stock market. Major hardware vendors like IBM, Intel, Dell, Compaq, Gateway all embraced the technology. I knew that I had been ahead of the curve and was now falling behind it. So, this series of articles represents my effort to catch up to the hottest piece of software since Mosaic became the World Wide Web and Netscape became "The Next New New Thing." I don't aspire to become a programmer, but something more than a Newbie, maybe just "The Next New Newbie."

I've got practical issues to consider though. I own an IBM Aptiva S90 with Windows 98 installed. My Internet service provider is MCI Worldcom and I use Internet Explorer as my browser and Hotmail for remote access email. I'm a hypocrite. I've got to change operating systems. I already use StarOffice for Windows so I am not worried about word processing, or spreadsheets, or a browser once I switch to Linux.

The question is what X Window Manager do I use? And then, which program do I use to create Web pages? Hardware compatibility and my Internet connection are also concerns. And, will I still be able to listen to this great Macy Gray CD that I just bought? I don't dare pull out the old hard drive with Mandrake 6.0 on it.

I've decided on PhatLinux for the distribution, and after that I have no idea what I will use. Supposedly, PhatLinux can easily be installed from a Windows platform and I don't have to partition the hard drive. Next week's article will chronicle my baptism. Hopefully, I won't be writing it at Kinko's.

Thomas B. Wilson, tbw@linux.com

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