Do you know these Linux YouTubers creating hour long videos about their personal journy to the OS? I love these videos among other things because they remind me so much about my own. Getting involved with Linux and FLOSS can be such an intense experience that you want to share it with the entire world. So I’m going to do the same thing – in porg blog form.

The year is 2003. I’m just starting my apprenticeship as a laboratory assistant. A coworker lends my a CD of a Linux live system. Although I was interested in computers and alternatives to windows even back then, I couldn’t be bothered to google „How to install Linux“ and burn an image – lazy Markus(2003)… So thanks to Thomas I got my hands on Knoppix. I boot It up, click on a few programms, crash them and put the CD away. The experience was very reminiscent of my first go with WoW in 2007. Installation, quick look around, running into problems (Ravenhill Cemetary in the latter example), dismissal.

First real attempt

Fast forward to 2005. My senior year as a trainee just started and my salary allowed for some electronics purchasses of questionable usefullness. Amongst them beeing a Pentium II powered office desktop. Way to old for gaming or any other intensive workload. Much quieter than my actual daily driver still. So I decided to use Linux on this oldtimer for office work and creative writing. This time I actually googled „How to install Linux“ and ended up with an article claiming this „Ubuntu“ thing to be the best choice for newcomers. So I downloaded it, burned it to a CD and even managed to install it.

Never really getting warm with the look of Windows XP and its Fisher Price color scheme I was pleasently surprised with early Ubuntus visual presentation. Brown to orange colors and drums as login greeting were a welcome departures from the grey and white pre XP aesthetics.

On the software side on the other hand I was pretty much overburdened. I threw an extre hard drive into a case that wasn’t designed to hold a second one (at least these oldtimers were roomy enough to allow for some „redneck engineering“) and bought a graphics card. Unfortunately I wasn’t familiar with the linux file system and the missing drive letters I was so used to from Windows scared me off. It was back then the case and even today installing a distro already brings some of the bigger hurdles.

Although I head broadband internet access in 2005 I couldn’t be bothered to research what mountpoints are. So I missed that I just had to mount my secondary „data“ hard drive at /home. The fact that I wasn’t too keen on reading english guides but instead stick to much rarer german ones didn’t help either. On top of that the few tutorials in german that I did find were sometimes plainly wrong. Some stating that compiling from source was the only way to install software on a Linux distro.

Me revisting my old Pentium II in 2010 before finally laying it to rest.

The bigger problem however came in the form of the NVIDIA graphics card. In hindsight I should have settled on the onboard graphics. Surely enough for a GNOME 2 distro. But I wanted the card to be working since I paid real – although not much – money for it. Ubuntu even stepped up, reccomending the use of the proprietary driver. Since my analog flatscreen had some blurry zones I decided to do just that. Installing a gpu driver after the os is up and running is standard practices on Windows after all.

On the next boot I was prompted with login: In an uncharacteristic turn I actually googled for a solution and came up with the reccomendation to login in and type startx. This in turn just turned up rather cryptic error messages and I gave up. Ravelhill cemetary all over again.

Today I know that the best course of action probably would have been to either stick with the onboard gpu, live with the blurryness or just buy an ATI (how it was called before the acquisition by AMD 2006) card. Also possible: pasting to a forum or research further. Maybe even use NVIDIAs own installer.

But back then I expected my pc to „just work“. I was ready to manually install some extra software but not much else. What I wanted was a single installer file that I could double click and then follow a wizard – in brown to orange Ubuntu colors. I wanted to get away from evil Microsoft but still retain the comfort of a familiar way of getting things done.

So I deployed Windows 89 SE as my office and creative writing platform and labeled Linux as complicated nonesense for computer scientists only. At least I learned a thing or two. For instance that on a legacy BIOS system you have to install Windows first and Linux afterwards. Otherwise GRUB will be overwritten in the master boot record. Aside from that not much.

False Prophets

Fast forward again to 2008. After my apprenticeship I decided to achieve my „Abitur“ (german equivalent to high school graduation). Beeing exposed to Apples well oiled marketing machine and having experienced Windows Vista as only mainstream 64 bit Windows version on the market I made myself beleive that I was needing a macintosh for my studies.

To be fair I really believe that Mac OS X Leopard and later Snow Leopard were pretty good choices for an OS. They really had features and stable hardware support that Windows was lacking at the time. So I switched from Microsoft to Apple, preparing myself by heavily using iTunes and Safari.

Unfortunately Apples literal „It just works“ approach departed me further from understanding the inner workings of an os at least in a cursory manner.

This is only my personal opinion but it seems to me that apple shifted away its focus away from software towards the smartphone and tablet market. And i can’t shake the feeling that this hurt Mac OS X. When Lion and later Mountain Lion came around I was missing the stability more and more which I was so used to with earlier installments.

What really took the biscuit was the failure of time machine that cost me many of my personal files… okay, that I accidentally deleted them was on me. But that the backup image simply got corrupted seemingly without reason was a big let down. At that point I was deep in the apple cult, having bought not only an iMac but also an airport and later a time capsule for over 300€. That kind of money should buy a more reliable solution.

Step by step

Over the course of 2012 I got my hands dirty with Ubuntu and OpenSUSE again. Installing it over and over again, even natively on my MacBook Air. Not only had Ubuntu evolved but also had the hardware. Gone were the days of „integrated graphics“ on the motherboard. Succeeded by Intels i-series which had its own gpu right beside the cpu. Those were – and are – very well supported by Linux. Any laptop or desktop that had a NVIDIA gpu but still an i processor now were fair game. Also was the UEFI much more open to a dual boot option.

My resolution to ditch my iMac and finally switch (mostly) to Linux came at the end of 2013. I participated on a short university course on Linux basics which really familiarized me with the command line. On top of that I managed to compile a driver for a USB-3.0-to-ethernet-dongle and to manually install an NVIDIA driver finally being able to also use my dedicated gpu. These little victories were so much fun to me, that I wanted to try as much as possible. Bash scripting, ssh, easy backups via rsync and not clunky guis, the list is long.

When I wrote my bachelor thesis using LaTeX and R on a Thinkpad running Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr (the best one!) I was sure that I wanted to stick with the penguin. The final nail in the coffin beeing my own little cloud running on everything from an old Pentium IV to raspberry pis.

„Long talk, little meaning“ (long story short)

as we say in Germany. I guess the main takeaway is: If you like to tinker with computers Linux is your friend, be ready to learn new things on your own or from others, use search engines a lot and don’t give up!