My Linux Story, Part 1 – The Beginning

Today is a very special date for me. On March 30, exactly two years ago, I first came into contact with Linux ;) But let me start with the beginning. First, it was…

FreeBSD

In the dark ages with no logs…

After reading about it in a WinXP book, I downloaded some files (the bare minimum for command-line only), created the boot floppies, and, after skimming through the Handbook on-line, I jumped head-first into the unknown. After figuring out how to partition the hard disk without erasing Windows, I understood what ports and binary packages were, and finally got a working UNIX system. I could compile and run a simple Hello World program. What a breakthrough!
Something that really impressed me about the system was the concept of virtual consoles. But apart from this, there were lots of things I hated. The shell (sh, as FreeBSD didn’t install bash by default) didn’t even show me the directory I was in, so I had to pwd constantly. Also, there seemed to be no way to get a GUI, and when I first read about the “X Server”, I thought, This is not for me. What do I need a server for? Of course I misunderstood the point. I thought of servers on the Internet :)
Previously, I’ve been thinking one has to pay for Linux, so I never really got interested in it. Luckily though, I’ve come across a website talking about this free, universal operating system…

Debian

May 30, 2005, on a shiny new 160GB hard disk

Having no idea about the long release cycle of Debian, I downloaded and attempted to install Woody (2002, with the antique 2.2 kernel) on my nearly-2003 hardware. At one moment through the painful text-mode installation, it prompted me with a list of about 20 video drivers, generously letting me chose one. I didn’t have the slightest idea that I had an nVidia card. Not knowing how to change the driver without reinstalling the whole system, I ran the 2-hour installation process about a dozen times during 3 days or so, finally reaching the nv driver. I got a working 640×480 graphical interface!
I messed around with config files until I made it 1024×768. Then, I figured out how to switch between GNOME and KDE, and started exploring both of them. KDE was 2.2 back then. Things that I remember were the Mozilla browser (with that ugly red star icon), and a still young Konqueror (not even supporting SSL). I had no preference neither towards KDE nor to GNOME back then. GNOME got associated with a foot in my mind, and KDE with a gear. I was impressed with the versatility of both desktops. I could have panels on top of the screen, change the order of the menus, add applets, put the close button in the top-left corner, like I’ve seen in movies ;) It was the first time I realized that GNU/Linux is all about choice. I had the comfort of knowing the source was open and I could always change stuff if I really wanted to.
The next big breakthrough came when I finally got my modem working. It needed a lot of manual twiddling with the serial port settings, but in the end I got on-line with wvdial. I even wrote a silly tutorial for it.
I read a lot about APT those days, and eventually ended up using tools like apt-cache, apt-get and dselect regularly.
I never got sound working in Debian Woody. Eventually realizing that I was running antique software, I tried…

Mandriva

Sweating in the summer of 2005

Sound worked out of the box – wow! But that’s about all I liked about Mandriva LE 2005. There were graphical configuration tools for almost anything, but I quickly got tired of them. The modern KDE was very, very slow on my 256MB of RAM. Feeling very clumsy with rpm, I began missing Synaptic. Not such a clueless newbie anymore, I began looking for Debian derivatives, and waiting for the next version (Sarge) to be released. Lo and behold,

Ubuntu

The savior, in times of hardship and turmoil

Not very different from Debian, but never more than six months old. Ubuntu Hoary looked less flashy than Mandriva, but it was a lot faster. And Synaptic was back! With Breezy, the next release, the sound mixer worked out of the box (meaning more than one program could use the sound card at the same time). I was using GNOME exclusively at that time, as I didn’t want to download the whole KDE via dial-up.
Later breakthroughs include:

  • getting the FM radio card to work (had to compile the driver myself)
  • finally getting an ADSL connection
  • SSH-ing into my own box from a remote location :D

To be continued…

My apologies for such a long article. I hope I didn’t bore you. The next one in this series will talk about how I switched to KDE and why I never looked back.

6 Responses to My Linux Story, Part 1 – The Beginning

  1. vultoor says:

    Vad ca te apuci sa scrii memorialuri :)

  2. Constantin says:

    Seria va continua cu “review”uri ale unor programe pe care le folosesc si imi plac. Nu-mi pare rau ca am inceput cu un pic de istorie, caci peste citiva ani imi va fi interesant sa-mi aduc aminte ;) (do I sound like an old man?)

  3. Alex says:

    Astept cu nerabdare continuarea. Imi este foarte interesant sa aflu cum au evoluat lucrurile in vietile altor oameni.

  4. vultoor says:

    Constantin, yes you do! :lol:

  5. zburatorul says:

    Debian!
    Because unstable is stable.

  6. Constantin says:

    If only you were there 1.5 years ago to tell me to dump Woody :P
    *Ubuntu enthralled lazy old me ever since.

%d bloggers like this: