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First Linux Encounters: 'As Memorable as the First Girlfriend I Married'

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Apr 23, 2009 4:00 AM PT

When the average person recollects the "first time," it's not typically an encounter with an operating system that comes to mind. Of course, Linux geeks are by no means average, so it should come as no surprise that that's exactly what they were referring to in a recent conversation on the blogs.

First Linux Encounters: 'As Memorable as the First Girlfriend I Married'

"The introduction was as memorable as the first girlfriend I married," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider.

Would a Windows user ever make a statement like that? Not unless it's Bill Gates himself, we'd bet.

That comparisons could be made with such defining moments speaks volumes about the plane on which Linux affects its users' lives -- and about the beauty that is our favorite OS.

'When Did You First Use Linux?'

It all began at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit held in San Francisco earlier this month, where attendees reminisced about when they first heard of the operating system. (A video of some of their answers is available.)

That, in turn, led Computerworld's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols to ask much the same question on his blog, sharing his own story along the way.

More than 140 comments greeted the question there before it was picked up on TuxRadar, as well as on OSnews and on Digg, among other forums, turning the conversation into a virtual blogosphere-wide lovefest.

'I Have Fond Memories'

Many of those chiming in had known Linux since its early days: "Late summer, early fall of '92 I think it was," wrote dgarcia42 on OSnews, for example. "I have fond memories of my roommate and I downloading floppies using 20 machines in the lab to download them in parallel. I think we were using TAMU at that point. I had a vt100 clone that I plugged into the serial port of his dx2/66 box so that we could share his machine ;)"

Also present, however, were members of what one might consider the next generation. Ubuntu 6.10 was the first distro used by TuxRadar blogger Muzer, for example: "Yes, I'm a newbie. But I'm only 14!"

Some bloggers even dragged out a Linux Timeline to help them pinpoint the dates.

With so much love and nostalgia in the air, we here at LinuxInsider couldn't resist taking the question to the streets ourselves.

So Much for So Little

"I first used Linux in September of 1995," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. "I found an article in the local computer mag about this Linux thing and ordered the August 1995 edition of Slackware. The install was a challenge but well worth it, because now most of my income is Linux-related."

Similarly, "I first used Linux on my first 32-bit PC, a 386DX25," Slashdot blogger drinkypoo chimed in.

"I installed Slackware 2.0 from floppies, and was able to get the GNU compiler toolchain and userland, and even X11 including Netscape onto a 120 MB hard disk."

That decision led to drinkypoo's first systems administration job, he told LinuxInsider.

"Ironically, my first exposure to Unix-like operating systems had been through SCO Unix and Xenix -- not uncommon in people who grew up in Santa Cruz," he added. "While modern Linux distributions offer a lot more than Slackware did in those days, it's hard not to admire how much you got for so little back then."

'I Am Disappointed'

Whether Linux has come far enough since its early days is a matter of debate.

"I have actually been testing Linux off and on since 2002," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider by email. "Each time I hope it is ready for my customers, and again and again, I am disappointed."

Support for popular consumer peripherals such as Lexmark printers, for example, "is nonexistent, and many drivers that are in Linux have reduced functionality compared to their Windows counterparts," hairyfeet asserted. "Worst of all, at the slightest bit of trouble the first and usually ONLY help you are given is 'open up Bash and type...' -- which should be translated by the Linux community as, 'Please go have someone put Windows on your computer. Thanks,' because the John and Jane Publics of this world will NEVER use CLI."

Nevertheless, "once every year or so I will keep downloading a few ISOs in the hopes that one day it will be good enough," he said.

'I Read That It Did Not Crash'

Still, whatever its shortcomings may be, there are many who love the OS and passionately sing its praises.

"When a person first used Linux is likely to be etched in their mind like a wedding or a train wreck," blogger and educator Pogson asserted. "It will be an intense process, whether it is enjoyable or not."

Pogson came to use GNU/Linux "after only seeing it once and without ever having seen a GUI on it," he recounted. "I read that it did not crash, and I had hourly crashes in my classroom with Lose '95."

It took 10 days "of nights and weekends to download a CD of Caldera's eDesktop GNU/Linux on a Mac down the hall," he remembered. "Having never used a Mac or burned a CD, that was an intense adventure."

Installing the distro on five PCs "took a couple of evenings, mostly because I had to configure the X display and I had five different monitors with unknown specs," he added. "The machines were also incredibly slow. These were Pentium I Pros. ... When a default/reasonable value did not work, I had to browse to find the sweep frequencies."

'It Was So Cool'

In short, Pogson said, "I had a day or two discomfort/stress getting GNU/Linux to work, but it ran for months in my classroom with no more crashes. Indeed, even when the browser/word processor might choke, I had a desktop tool to kill the process, xkill. It was so cool. When that other OS would BSOD, I would keep on going."

All in all, "it was an intense period of my life that had a happy ending," Pogson concluded. "Since then, I have used GNU/Linux in many different schools and introduced thousands of students and hundreds of teachers to GNU/Linux. The height of my career of introducing people to GNU/Linux was building a complete system of thin clients in a school with 500 students. That system is still running smoothly three years later."

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NICE inContact February 12 webinar