Ramblings of a Professional Computer Geek

February 11, 2006

Why Linux? (Part Two)

Filed under: Linux — Padma @ 11:22 pm

Why was I concerned about IBM and Microsoft getting into the home computer business? At the time, I was, admittedly, more concerned about IBM. Up until then, those of us who bought home computers were, unapologetically, geeks. We enjoyed being on the cutting edge of new technology. Even though we talked about commoditizing them, there was an ego thing going on; we were the first implementers.

When the IBM PC was first introduced, it used stable, tried and true technology, not cutting edge stuff. And of course, there was the unspoken thought, “If it’s not IBM, it’s not a computer.” That was particularly infuriating to those of us who had been using home computers for years, already, and doing things that were clearly unable to be done with the IBM PC. Many computers already had graphical interfaces, and virtually all of them had a better OS than PC-DOS (IBM’s branded MS-DOS). But IBM had something the smaller companies didn’t: a top-quality marketing team.

About this time, I had my first exposure to UNIX. DoD decided to implement UNIX workstations as the end-user terminal systems to our mainframe. Of course, nobody at our headquarters could even spell UNIX, so I volunteered to be “point”. I explored the systems, learned how to use their built-in security features, and wrote a set of scripts to assist other administrators in installing and setting up their systems. These were adopted by the integrationcontractor, and distributed with the systems throughout the world. This was what I had been missing: solving a problem, and then sharing the results with anyone who wanted it, with no expectation of recompense.

I used UNIX for several years, at work, until I moved on to a different job in 1993. In my new job, we used PCs running Windows as terminals, and to connect to the net for inter-base communication. By this time I had come to accept the logic of having a standard system, even if it was imposed by a vendor. Still, it wasn’t until the release of Windows 95 that I thought the PC had reached the level of sophistication we had enjoyed in the mid-80s.

During this time I still used my beloved Atari at home. It had a good word processor, and plenty of good games. I couldn’t see forking over the money for a PC-clone. Then I got sent to Italy and Bosnia for two years, as a final “gift” from the Air Force. When I got back, my wife had bought a small 486-based system, because she needed some programs that weren’t available for the Atari, and I wasn’t home to write them for her.

So I joined the ranks of the “average” users. I had been writing programs to MS specs for several years, now, and could appreciate having a standard set of human interface specs. But I was starting to notice something. In Windows 3.1 the spec was such and such. Then in Windows 95, it was changed a bit. Then in Windows 98, it was changed again. I was starting to get a bit frustrated.

In 1998 I also stumbled across an early copy of Mandrake Linux. I remembered the fun I had with UNIX years before, so I installed it as a dual boot, to see what it was like. It was a struggle getting anything but a command-line interface, so I located a copy of Red Hat, and gave it a try. Even worse. No matter. It was an interesting experience, and I learned quite a bit.

Meanwhile, I had started with hardware upgrades, and was building my own computer. Like most people back then, I didn’t bother tobuy a new copy of Windows for every machine. I already had a CD with Win 98 Upgrade, and I had Windows 3.1 on floppy to upgrade from. I had bought them, so who should care if I put them on more than one machine?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3



  1. Cool, Padma has a blog!

    I still haven’t gotten around to installing Linux…. I might wait until I build myself a desktop next year.

    Comment by WildWeazel — February 13, 2006 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  2. Heh, Yeah. I decided I had things to say that didn’t really fit at CFC, and #civfanatics on irc is too ephemeral. And you had one, and Chieftess has one, and …

    So I decided I could do one, too. 😀

    Comment by Kevin (aka Padma) — February 13, 2006 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

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