Me & Linux

Many years ago seduced by the Dark Forces I was (Yoda mode off). From 1991 to 2001 I was a hard core Linux fanatic, I could not use a Windows (or Mac) without feeling an acid feeling in my fingers. I loathed all that was not Linux. This is how it all began for me.

The Equipment

I bought my first desktop PC around 1991, it was a Highscreen full tower with something like 128MB (Megabytes!) of RAM and an Intel i386SX, it was rather powerful for the time and also the most I could afford being single and working at Philips Components Applications Laboratory (PCALE) in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. From the city, company and colleagues I have great memories. That computer sported a rudimentary Microsoft Windows 3.1 operating system. It had a mouse (wow!), a double speed CD writer (wow!) and a tape backup (what?). And to top it up, I had a Tornado 14.4K modem (I regret throwing it away years ago) which I used to the first ISP, I was one of the first 300 members (Internet Access Eindhoven).

And I saw there was light…

Quite frankly I was not impressed about Windows 3.1 even with its rudimentary graphical interface. At Philips I started hearing about the Linux operating system and read more about it on my first explorations of Internet with Usenet newsgroups and the Mosaic web browser. Who was this guy Linux Torvalds? well, I read more about the whole thing and what it did and how it was NOT Windows and I was hooked.

I think that by then I was already using Sun workstations at work with the SunOS (another UNIX variant). Before long, I had bought already a set of UNIX books, kind of a bible. I must have lost them in one of my several transatlantic relocations.

My First Linux Installation

I attended a Computer Fair at the Tongelreep in the (very) early 90’s and I came out of it with a copy of the Yggdrassil Linux Bible. It was an early Linux kernel (0.98 or so) and the first Linux distribution to sport a Live CD. I ran home, repartioned my hard drive and installed Yggdrasil Linux alongside Windows 3.1 using LILO for dual booting.

As romantic as it sounded, it was never easy despite the live CD. After the installation you had a somewhat working Linux system but many of the Linux subsystems were broken. But there was an active group where a list of manual fixes was being published. Using the VIM console editor I reconfigured ALL Linux/Unix subsystems in my installation. After that I had automated jobs, developed open software and along the years had to reconfigure my UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy) and Sendmail configurations so that my Linux PC acted as a server where I held and received all my emails as a UUCP node of my provider IAEHV.

It Shall not be defeated!

Those who worked with Windows 3.1 knew how easy it was to get a system crash, deadlocks, etc. I guess the best test that convinced me Linux was the best OS on earth was when I installed and configured an electronic List Server (Majordomo) on my i386SX Highscreen PC with so little memory.

I ran several lists because I used to develop several successful open software packages including the most successful MSN Messenger clone for Linux, the precursor of today’s automatic package updates, Chklogs management, etc.

One of those days I made a new release, and connected my PC to the Internet via the 14.4K connection and suddenly myriads of requests to my Mail List Server came once the UUCP connection was established. It was like a big punch to such a small system! It crawled without getting to its knees, it became so slow I could not do much with it on the console until after the List Server requests were all handled. But what impressed me was that despite the huge load, Linux and my PC did not fail, no need to reboot, no screen of death, it kept on working!

And others came…

I upgraded to a few other Yggdrasil releases although they all seemed to come quite broken. However, the positive side was that by fixing all those broken configurations I learned a lot about using Linux.

At some point I said goodbye to Yggdrassil Linux and came to install several other variants on my PC (and subsequent PCs) such as Eridani Linux, Debian, Redhat and when things started getting commercial I switched to Fedora (community version of Redhat). And at last I ended up with Ubuntu.

Linux is not Unix?

While that seems to be a common assertion, it has a lot in common with Unix. In fact, that is why it started as far as I know, sort of a UNIX for the elite masses.

At some point in I worked with several real UNIX operating system variants with various employers. I came to use SunOS, HP Unix, DECT (?), etc. I guess I was the happiest when at work I had a Unix workstation (or two!) in my desk.

I never sit idling, not at work and not at home. When I worked at Compuware, if there was nothing else to do I helped lightening a colleague’s load by writing shell scripts to automate his work. At that time I also did unofficial work by porting -as much as I could- the Uniface software to run on Linux. I figured, if it ran on UNIX, why not on Linux. But all Unix variants differ in so many things. It was not easy but it sort of worked, but it was not stable. They never supported Linux.

Seduced by .NET

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. – Yoda

As you earlier read, I by the dark forces infected was (Yoda mode off). I found myself jobless and amids economic depression in the both countries I was. It was not easy finding a job with Linux/Unix skills. And that is how I decided to embrace the dark side, I embraced Microsoft Windows and principally .NET development and I was hooked.

Linux and UNIX became secondary to me. As much as I loved them, I loved .NET development and with that powerful IDE there was nothing in Linux that could offer something close to that.

In the years to come I would still play every now and then with Linux. Mainly, I installed them on VMWare virtual machines. Unfortunately, as years passed the powerful and versatile Gnome system with several great window managers to choose from, became replaced by the absolutely ugly KDE desktop. That together with Linux graphical interfaces trying to emulate Microsoft Windows more and more simply allienated me. Linux was not what it used to be.

Even today I noticed how the user interface of Linux has improved and yet become so uninteresting. Nothing like the feeling of being “root”, of really having to know what you needed to do. Now it is all hidden in apps and windows that compared to the old days of Linux, makes me feel as if my right arm had been amputated.

I write this article now from my latest Ubuntu 18.04 installation after many years. I upgraded my laptop to Windows 10 -mainly for fear of losing access to security fixes- and have had it dual booting with Ubuntu Linux for sometime now.

But, in the end, the more I use Ubuntu Linux, I notice how Linux stability appears to have degraded. While it is nice, it does not feel as powerful as the old Linux, I feel truly limited (unlike how it felt back in the beginnings) with it. In my opinion, trying to make Linux like Windows was the worst decision the Linux community made.

And now on to configure my .NET development environment on my newly installed Windows 10. Dual boot it shall remain though.