Originally Published: Tuesday, 18 July 2000 Author: MasterSibn
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Just How Does a Guy Get Into This Linux Thing?

This is my computer history, leading up to the point that I decided that I needed Linux. Specifically, I want to provide a "real-world account" of what made another Linux user. It may help you to understand me better, and more importantly, may help me to understand myself better.

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One night, I sat working a jigsaw puzzle (it's fun, you should try it sometime), and realized that I could write another story about Linux. Something that might be helpful. Something that just might enlighten you. Something to enlighten me, as well. But I needed to do something.

I already knew what I was going to write about before I sat down. I had been thinking about it all evening, and as I sit here at 06:04 GMT, this appeared in my preferred text editor. This is my computer history, leading up to the point that I decided that I needed Linux. Specifically, I want to provide a "real-world account" of what made another Linux user. It may help you to understand me better, and more importantly, may help me to understand myself better.

I bought my very first computer in October of 1998. I don't remember what the date was, and I really don't care. Anyway, I was very excited with my new $1,100 toy, but it had its share of problems. Running Windows 98 (tm). But I was very proud of my new machine.

The first few problems were not at all related to Windows, but nevertheless, they left a sour taste in my mouth. The problem was that, for whatever reason, my printer was not installing properly. When I worked that out (hey, it was the first piece of hardware I'd ever had to install), I turned to the other little problem.

The Registry.

Apparently, my hard disk had a faulty controller, or maybe my Windows CD was screwed up. Because every time I loaded Windows, I got an error message indicating a problem with the Registry. Reinstalling Windows helped -- the first few times that I did it. After that, it would happen anyway.

My OEM wanted me to ship it to them to be repaired, but I wasn't ready to deal with that. I'd paid most of my savings out to get that computer, and wasn't about to give it up. So, I brought it back to the vendor, and exchanged it. The next machine I had also had a problem, but I no longer remember what it was. But I exchanged it for another duplicate, which seemed to be hassle-free.

I had much excitement probing my new system learning exactly what an IRQ was, and USB, and so forth. Like I said, this was my first computer ever. Then I got into gaming.

Now this probably is what is referred to as DLL hell, but I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. My installation would go sour about every three months, becoming the equivalent of "nerd cramps." It was like clockwork; I'd be looking at the date with a dreading eye, wondering exactly when the next unresolvable issue would arise. Over the next 18 months, I would re-install Windows 6 times.

I don't even know when I had first learned about Linux. Perhaps it was by clicking a link on C|Net's Download.com site. But whatever the case, I had owned my computer for about a year, Give or take a couple of months.

It looked promising, yet extremely complex, and I didn't think it had all the software I needed. Would it print? Would I be able to edit graphics? Would I be able to even install it?

A few months later, I had installed AT&T @Home broadband Internet access at home, and was much more capable with my computer than when I started.

I downloaded a copy of PhatLinux, because if I didn't like it, I could always stop using it. The problem with Phat was that I was unable to configure my soundcard, or start the X Window System. My soundcard was a Yamaha DS-XG and I had guessed (incorrectly) that it was Sound Blaster compatible. Since I couldn't start X, or configure it, I thought that Linux was not capable of meeting my needs. Rightly so; it was not ready for me.

Over the next three or four months, I would download and try to install various other distributions that "worked on DOS/Windows partitions," and had about the same amount of success. Some of them would not be able to mount the VFAT filesystem, so they wouldn't load at all.

I was not content with Windows, but I felt that Linux was going to be my only other alternative. I wanted "the perfect system," that would do what I meant, and not what I said. I wanted to play with the command line more (when I had installed previous Linuxes, I didn't know what commands I had; I didn't know how to cd, or ls, or anything else).

I wanted a system that would automagically configure itself, and purr like a kitten, and that I would not have to reinstall on a regular basis. I wasn't ready for Linux, and wanted desperately to get away from Windows. I didn't mind rebooting ten times in a day, but I definitely did not want to have to backup and reinstall my whole operating system again.

Every time I did, I would forget to backup something (ICQ lists, mail folders, Unreal savegames, etc.) and I was tired of losing data. I became so disenchanted with Windows that I stopped religiously using scandisk after a minor crash, or defragmenting once a month. In fact, I had not used scandisk or the defragmenter during my last 6 months or so; and the system still went down every three months.

So, about 6 months ago, I resolved to finally get off my butt and do something about my situation. Downloading all the 2-8 megabyte patches over a 56k WinModem every three months was really getting on my nerves. Weren't these updates supposed to resolve stability issues?

I began to resent Microsoft bitterly. The only good thing I had to say about them was that they made Internet Explorer, the one piece of software that I actually liked.

Some time ago, I had acquired a 13 gigabyte hard drive, and added it to my first, so that when I reinstalled Windows, all my data (on the D drive) would remain safe. No backups necessary.

About four and a half months ago, I resolved to put Linux to work for me. I didn't care if it took me years to learn, but I was going to get away from my friends in Redmond. I was going to do all I could do to ensure that they couldn't burn me again, no matter the cost. I would have paid for a copy of Linux, with tech support and all the trimmings. But hey, I was a poor high school student, and I figured that I could live without it if I had to. I did, however, have nifty broadband access, and a new CD burner. It didn't take me too long to realize what I could do with this spiffy box.

I started out by heading to Linux.com, to read more about it. After all, I was going to forfeit all the documentation and install a copy that I had burned myself, and I wanted to learn as much about this strange new software as I possibly could.

I would spend the next month or so waiting for my 27.0 gigabyte hard drive to arrive from Outpost.com, because by then I had scrapped together some money. It's a nice drive, running at 7200rpm, and I was looking forward to getting Linux running on it.

I passed the time reading about four hours every day from the FAQs, HOWTOs, mini-HOWTOs et al on LinuxDoc.org, to further acquaint me with what I would need to know. I was going to get a shiny new copy of Corel Linux, so I started lurking in the CDL newsgroups to hear what other people had to say about it, and what kind of problems I might expect.

Just then (I already had my CD burned), I realized that with the number of hours I had spent reading about how to work it, that Corel Linux was far and away an insult to my intelligence. So I did something spontaneous to counter that feeling of being in another league.

I downloaded and burned a copy of the newest version of Red Hat Linux at the time, 6.1. I continued to read Linux docs, and hovered around the Corel newsgroup, although not as frequently. I never really went to the Red Hat groups.

I had several reasons for choosing Red Hat Linux, but the best one was that even though it was more-or-less a simple distribution, I was not very familiar with it. It would also pose a formidable challenge. Gone was the desire for a system that automagically set itself up correctly, and pain free. I was feeling particularly masochistic that evening.

I installed it the night my hard drive arrived.

The installation was pretty painless, and within hours I was running a gorgeous GNOME desktop with Enlightenment, probably version .14 or .15. I couldn't have been much happier, unless my Ethernet connection would work.

And in the end, I'm here running off of a 56k modem once again, and even loving it. I have sorted through every major problem I've ever had, Ethernet included. Recently, I downloaded linux-2.4.0test2, to see how it worked as yet.

During the compile process, I inadvertently deleted my /lib/modules/2.2.12-20 directory, containing all of my kernel modules. Even this I was able to fix; I had never configured or compiled the kernel before, but I was still able to get through it.

I'm sure some of you people find this all very boring, but my personal feelings toward Microsoft were spawned by a Microsoft product, and these alone were enough to propel me away from them.

For those of you considering installing Linux, go for it; you should have some fun with it. Don't try to take over your computer with it until you understand it. I did that, but I wanted the hard way out since it offers a sense of accomplishment.

MasterSibn is currently an unemployed professional bum; he spends his days trying to break his system so that he has something to fix, or putting together puzzles. He welcomes email, of all shapes, as long as they're under 10 kilobytes. His favorite Sony Playstation (tm) game ever is Konami's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and hopes some day to make an adventure game for Linux that's like it. He would like to thank the staff of Linux.com for their unbound patience with reading his tedious drivel. =)

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