The new year, and what Linux means to me

Categories Open Source

I started the new year nicely, although I currently have a nasty flu. My life is the same, I go to work as usual, when I wake up and I come home (as usual) when I finish. Short deadlines and administrative chores cut down on my free time, so I don’t really have enough time for other things, such as my girlfriend, family, myself and a lot of tiny projects that I would like to work on.

RedHat Logo

This year I decided to completely liberate my home computers. I always had Linux installed, dual booting, since RedHat 5. It’s taught me a lot of things over the years, especially my Slackware period.
I always like to think that GNU/Linux prepared me for the real IT life, for the long nights of enterprise deployments and roll-outs on Linux and Unix(mostly AIX) platforms and for the long days of Oracle troubleshooting. Most importantly I like to think that Linux taught me how to handle failure, how to resolve things gracefully and especially how to prevent “evil” things from happening.

When you first started using something like Linux, especially in the old days, it was all dark magic. It was something miraculous created by highly intelligent creatures that seemed to come from another universe. Imagine a 13 year old boy, getting a PC Magazine (or was it Chip?) CD that had something called Linux on it. I already knew what a BIOS was, I was already accustomed with 3 versions of MS-DOS and two versions of Windows (3.11 and 95) but I thought “Oh my God, this is so cool! I have to try this!”. That was the first time I really understood what disk partitioning is and what it really means to lose all your data. It took me a week to install everything back, and almost a month to get RedHat 5 and Windows 95 to dual-boot. I especially loved the power I had. The power to bust everything up and the power to learn how to fix it.

Fast forward to five years later, Windows 2000 and Linux Slackware. I settled on Slackware because it was probably the only distribution that was “old school”. I couldn’t stand the “evolution” of RedHat and Mandrake (I think it’s Mandriva now) configuration and the fact that almost all distributions seemed to bloat. Entire gigabytes of “miscellaneous stuff” needed to be installed, spawning 3 to 5 discs. That was just insane. I loved the simplicity of Slackware. It’s tgz packages, it’s bare-bone nature, the possibility to install 50 megabytes of core packages and then each package I needed. I usually only needed Disk 1 for core and a few X and shell packages from Disk 2 and I was done. I did my homework on it, I spent hundreds of hours on Freenode’s IRC servers, talking to all kind of people that I still remember, people who are still there now ( like Zhivago, on ##c, one of the people I looked up to, I still do).

Penguin Logo

Fast forward to five years later. Not dual booting anymore. I’m writing this from my Ubuntu laptop, sharing an internet connection (through a ASUS WL-500G Deluxe wireless router running OpenWRT) with my Ubuntu desktop machine.
I think that this is the first time in my life when I can sincerely say that Linux fills all my needs as an operating system, and it’s not just about Ubuntu (although it is one of the best distributions I had the chance to work with), it’s about everything it contains that I use. Looking back over the years, I have to admit that Grub is definitely better than LILO, ext3 is definitely better than ext2, vim is better than vi, mc is better than nc (although nc was very good) and some modern GNU/Linux distributions are now better than Windows.

I am not a zealot, not am I a GNU or Linux fanatic, I am a technical guy working in a technical position, writing software that is usually hosted in application servers running on Linux platforms accessed by clients running all flavors of Windows. I must admit that although a lot of people think otherwise, Windows is a stable and pretty strong system, as I do all my development(and other spooky stuff) on a Windows machine, that I never shut down (it barely restarts once every month when some automatic updates really ask for it). Windows was installed sometime in the last months of 2005 and has worked flawless ever since (except for some strange Outlook issues that are out of the scope) so I admit that I trust Windows XP (with emphasis on XP), but not any other version.

In short, GNU/Linux shaped my life as a hacker, shaped my life as a professional and (I’m not afraid to admit it) shaped my life as an individual, so I want to send a warm greeting to all the people who made it what it is now.

Anyway, that was my Linux story for the new year, and I leave you with a screenshot of my new BluBuntu themed Ubuntu desktop.

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