Ten Years and Counting
Ten years ago this month (April 1, 1998, to be precise), I got hit with the Chernobyl virus. It wiped out my hard drive’s partition table and boot blocks, leaving me with the computing equivalent of a cement block on my desk.
I had been experimenting with Slackware Linux, even getting to the point of having a dual-boot system via AUTOEXEC.BAT and the LOADLIN.EXE Linux loader. But when the partition table got zapped, I made a draconian decision:
NO MORE MICROSOFT WINDOWS FOR ME!
I had seen enough of Linux to be impressed, from the pure 32-bit environment to the system’s stability in the face of program naughtiness. Microsoft couldn’t make any such claim in Windows 95. I knew that, with such credentials and effort behind Linux, it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
The next day, I re-installed Slackware Linux, but this time on my entire hard drive. No Microsoft Windows. None! No safety net, no fancy GUI to hide all the registry options, no programmer in Redmond telling me what I wasn’t allowed to do. I had “cast off the bow-lines” and bravely sailed into new waters.
The first few days were tough. I had to re-configure my X server (this was before XFree86 supported monitor detection) and get my Internet dial-up to work again. Then I fired up the Lynx browser and re-downloaded the latest Netscape browser for Linux. Being in the countryside, the best dial-up I could get was 28.8Kbps, and that was on a good day. It usually connected at 26.4Kbps. Either way, the Netscape download still took well over 2 hours.
Since that day, I’ve seen Linux get better, with:
- full multi-processing
- running fully from a live CD (first on Knoppix)
- support for myriad architectures, from the tiny Chumby to the hulking IBM S/390
- an incredibly short average window between bug detection and fix
- expanded run-time configuration via sysfs
- an ever-growing list of filesystem choices and options
- virtualization and hypervisor support (such as User-mode Linux, Xen, and QEMU)
- vast improvements in GUI choices (although these are not specific to Linux)
Two years later, I had done so much with Linux (even ran a web server through dial-up, just because I could), that Mom asked me to build her a Linux system for Christmas. I actually tried to talk her out of it, but when she pointed out the support would be easier with fewer crashes and BSOD’s than Windows, well, she convinced me. I put some old parts together, put Mandrake Linux 6 (now Mandriva) on it, and taught her as much Linux as I could during Christmas vacation. She’s gone through a few hardware upgrades, and switched to Fedora 8, but she’s still using Linux.
Two weeks ago today, I set Dad up with a Linux system. Mom had turned off his laptop to clean it, not knowing that the shutdown would be the laptop’s last. So I donated my IBM Thinkpad 660X to the cause, setting it up to boot automatically into XFCE and launch Gnome‘s Aisleriot solitaire program. It’s the only thing he does on the laptop, but for the man who made sure I had food and clothes growing up, I’m glad to help provide his entertainment. And I’m happy to use Linux to do it.
My brother is the only one not using Linux, because his cell phone model is explicitly not supported for anything except Windows and MacOS. Still, he tries to be careful about his web surfing, so he uses the Opera web browser and the Privoxy web firewall.