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Installing Linux

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

I still have a hazy recollection of my very first experience installing Linux.

My brother and I had read about Linux on some bulletin board (or maybe it was a library book, not sure), and we bought slackware 3.x CDs from some online retailer. Remember the days when you had to buy CDs because downloading 700 MB was completely and totally impossible over a 9600 baud modem? Man, those were the good old days.

We waited and waited for those CDs to come in the mail, and it took *forever*. Well, it felt like forever to me and my brother, but maybe it was a week or so.

We ripped open the packaging, threw the CD into the drive, and booted into the (curses-based) text installer. A few steps later, it asked us which drive partition to install Linux into. Partition? What’s that, some kind of privacy screen? Being the clueless noobs that we were, we told slackware to blow away the existing partitions and create new ones. Little did we know we had just tossed all our schoolwork, and 8 months of work on a 3D game engine we thought would make us rich and famous.

The next few hours were pretty stressful, as we ran all over the house looking for anything we might have backed up to a 3.5″ floppy, then we searched all the 5″ floppies. No dice, all our code was gone.

On the bright side, I stopped spending all my free time on Pascal and 3D models and started focusing more on my homework. Also, we both got completely and totally hooked on Linux. Something about the whole experience either scared us into learning more, or intrigued us – we spent the next several years fiddling with every *nix distro we could get our hands on. I’ve installed (in no particular order) Slackware, Debian, Knoppix, Gentoo, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, Ubuntu, MeeGo, Fedora, RedHat, CentOS, OpenSUSE, SLES, and probably some I’ve forgotten.

Along the way, I’ve picked up some useful skills that I turned into a career which I owe largely to the open nature of Linux. But that’s a story for another day.

Fast forward a bit to 2010. I recently made the switch back to Linux from Windows… on my work laptop.

I’ve been using Linux fairly consistently for about 15 years, but a lot of that time it’s been on desktops and/or servers. I’ve tried all kinds of Linux distros on laptops, but nothing ever seemed to work right. The video card didn’t work, or the wireless driver crashed, whatever. And even assuming the drivers were fine and everything worked on boot, let’s face it – there’s a lot of reasons Linux is in the minority of desktop OSes.

But I digress. I installed Ubuntu 10.10 (aka Maverick Meerkat) on a thinkpad, and I was pleasantly surprised. The installer was nice looking, easy to navigate. The partitioning wizard automatically resized my Windows partition so I can dual-boot if I ever need to. Installing the graphics card driver was painless, the sound card works out of the box, and I was pretty much blown away by how accessible Linux is on 10.10.

I guess the proper way to summarize it is Ubuntu makes Linux painless / easy. Or at least, nearly painless. Evolution/exchange support is still buggy as all get out, plugging into my docking station doesn’t change my monitors, and suspend/resume/hibernate always crashes… but all things told, Linux ala Ubuntu has come a long long way.

By way of reference, I’ve had to install Fedora, CentOS, and OpenSUSE recently and not much has changed in 10 years. The desktop is still ugly and inaccessible, the package managers rely on mirrors which are broken more often than not – and OpenSUSE refused to recognize my existing partitions, I had to boot a Ubuntu LiveCD to delete them so OpenSUSE would install.

Also as an interesting data point, I found a Ubuntu 6.06 LiveCD lying around and booted it up for old times sake. Wow, I forgot how terrible Linux was as a Desktop OS back in the day. I’ve always been a Linux junkie and I LOOOOOOVE the command line… but I am very glad to see the progress of Ubuntu and I have high hopes for Unity on the desktop.

So that’s all really, just a rambling long story about my experiences installing Linux. I spend most of my time fiddling around in the kernel, but it’s amazing how much impact minor usability improvements can have for even a kernel hacker / developer like me.

Here’s hoping the future of Linux is even brighter, and that we’ll see amazing user interfaces and other improvements that make Ubuntu 10.10 look pathetic.

Rock on Canonical, rock on.

Atto

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