Sunday, January 6, 2008

Switching to Linux, switching to free software

This blog entry was first filed on The Tux Project in response to a forum question "What caused you to want to use Linux?" At "The Tux Project" people come and share ideas on how to promote Linux.

First a little more about myself: I work in Bucharest, Romania, Eastern Europe.  My mother is a computer analyst/programmer and I had a PC at home since 1991. I went to a highschool where I studied informatics (mostly programming in Turbo Pascal 6.0, Borland C++ 3.1). Then I went to university to study, again, Pascal, C++ and Microsoft .Net. Now I am employed as a Java programmer for a proprietary software company. I know a few things about software security too. 

I know about Linux for 7 or 8 years. First contact was with some other students in my high school talked to me about that other operating system called Linux. They were using this Linux system for a while, so they were more experienced with it.
It sounded interesting but I could not give up Windows, as I feared the change would render my PC unusable. Then another student had set up a Linux server in the Informatics Lab. The server was access by telnet and we were playing MUD and netris (games with a cli interface) on the virtual terminals. The server was also hosting schools's website and mail server, so we had pretty much to play with. This was my first meeting with bash.
And then I got a CD with Red Hat Linux 5.? or 7.2 from the Chip Magazine. I installed it, but all I new about Linux was that it's free and it was hard to use. My X server was not configured out of the box (bug?), so I was stressing out other students using Linux. Then I had learnt about RTFM and the tomes of documentation I had to learn before using it effectively. If I did not know the cause of the problem -most often- then I did not know where to find information about it. Back then I did not know the power of aking for help on a public forum. When I asked other students about the problems I had, they said I'm on my own
and I should help myself. So if I broke something in Linux I would simply reinstall it, instead of trying to find a fix. This was a major barrier in trying to use Linux.
I think Linux lacked an entry in the help menu saying "If you have problems, post here!"

Since then I had been using Linux for short periods of time: I installed Windows, then Linux. Then Windows broke and I had to reinstall Windows, which resulted in Linux loader being deleted pretty frequent. Since I knew nothing I could do in Linux, that I could not do in Windows and Windows was familiar to me, the Linux partition was deleted soon after Linux Loader. Then I would not use Linux for another 8 months. When I discovered SuSE was amazed by its usability so I kept dual booting it longer than Red Hat.

This touch and go game I played with Linux happened for several years until the second semester of 2006. By now my Internet searching skills had been improved, so I had read a lot about Linux and Free Software. Because of fear of malware I was using only free software programs on my Windows XP (* more on this malware below), but I was not convinced to move to Linux. And then Windows crashed. My computer at the time was already having only SATA hard disk drives and Windows XP would not install without a SATA driver floppy disk. I had 2 floppy drives at home and lots of floppies to use for a driver disk. None of them were usable in Windows Setup, although they were just fine otherwise. You should note that I did not have a valid licence for any Windows version so calling Microsoft for support or going to a computer shop to have Windows installed for me were not valid options.

For the first time in my life I did not know what to do with Windows, so I decided to try again Linux. I tried several distributions - SuSE, Fedora. None could completely replace my Windows. Debian was rejected as I could not understand how can I administer the system without being able to login with root. Then I tried Ubuntu 6.06 LTS. I was impressed most of things worked out of the box. Then the same issue with root, only now I had made more effort on researching the problem. I understood it and afterward I started to love Ubuntu. I still had Windows partitions, but I had not use Windows partitions for a long while.

Back to the present: I got a new computer with SATA hard disks, so I decided to install Windows XP first, just to check out if anything was wrong with my Windows installation skills and possibly to check out hardware problems. After installing Windows, I installed Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) in a dual-boot configuration. However since I have the possibility of using Windows again, I never felt the need to boot Windows. Ubuntu fills all my needs now - even gaming.

First I stopped using Windows XP, because of their lack of security. I had to constantly check for antivirus updates and configure so many firewall rules that my computer became unusable. The time needed to keep my PC in working condition was increasing constantly. I could "pride" myself for having the "latest" worms on my network. A newly installed Windows XP would start to break after 30 - 40 minutes of working online.

Automatic updates were another pain in the lower part of my back. Schneier of BT Counterpane summarized very well some critics against Windows XP (and Vista). It was an article on  Schneier's blog  that helped me decide that it was time to ditch Windows for good.

AFTER using Linux constantly for a while and taking part at a Free/Open Source Software Conference ( I started to appreciate its freedom, which until then I could not fully understand.

I could not understand if this development model is stable and won't shake down like a sand castle does when a big wave comes closer. When I finally understood what is pushing this system forward I went through full steam ahead.

Now I am struggling to learn more and more and I try to become a free software developer. Yet, my migration to Linux will not be complete until I become a successful free software developer. I want to at least be as successful as GNU Emacs which is still in development after 20 years since its inception.

1 comment:

Divided By Zer0 said...

Well, all I can say is: Welcome to our world and welcome to the Blogosphere as well ;)

Be glad that you have programming experience though. I would love to be able to program and hope to train myself as well, but I just don't have time :(

eLiberatica 2008 - The Benefits of Open and Free Technologies Conference