Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How I got to use Linux and why you should too

Tux, the Linux penguin
Tux (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Guest Writer Aioanei Rares

The history part

While I know that this topic was used and abused lately, I'm going to take my chances in the humble hope that I'll manage to bring something new and fresh to the table. If I'm to fail, I apologize just as humbly, and hope I won't be wasting your time completely. The first computer I ever laid my hands on, if it can be called a computer, was a HC90, back in 1991, which was a ZX80/Sinclair clone at the local computer club. You know, BASIC interpreter, the works. When I finally managed to convince my folks to get me one of those, said computers disappeared off the market. So fast forward a few years later: I was using DOS 6.22 on a 286, then it was Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000...and so on. Since I already liked the idea of programming a computer since the HC90 days, if BASIC can be called programming, I started digging around to see how I can program on my Windows machine. My connection back then was via an external modem, with a limited data plan, so I had to download
documentation from Internet Cafes or whatever source I could.

First contact

Since Net access was in a primitive state, we relied greatly on magazines for game demos and all sorts of other software too big to download for a casual home user. One of those magazines used to publish special editions with CDs of various Linux distributions, and instructions on how to install and use. I was mesmerized. I don't know why, but I felt that was the coolest thing since sliced bread. The year was 2003, the distribution was Red Hat 9 and I was in a trance. I had an extra drive, so after a few attempts, I had it installed.

First use

My external modem had drivers only for Windows systems, so I had to write down what I wanted to do and didn't know (mainly everything...), then reboot to
Windows, look up the information and so on. There is something to be said about using a Unix-like system with no Internet connection, as you're forced to use the manual pages. And that is in no way a bad thing in my opinion, and is something that new users have to learn. But I digress.

The change

Fast forward two years to 2005. I got a job as a junior sysadmin, and at my workplace the 'net connection was flowing freely. I also found a new ISP that got me rid of any modems, just gave me an Ethernet cable to plug in my computer, and I started to learn more and more about Linux, BSD and programming. In the meantime, Ubuntu appeared. In that time Redhat and the new Fedora were the kings of the Linux world, at least 'round here, with SuSE as a second contender, so this new distro was received suspiciously. But I was too young to be indoctrinated, so I liked it. Then I found that it's based on Debian, so I thought I better install it. Before long Debian became my main and only operating system, and I never looked back.

The reasons

Many articles that get to this point usually write about freedom, ideal and so on. While these are important to me, I wanna tell you about another personal motive, and it's a more practical and technical one. Before Linux, while using Windows and the tools (Visual Studio and friends), I always felt I'm limited somehow.

Since the beginning I was fascinated about the low-level part of development, and that's why C is my favorite language, and that is a thing less likely to change. This being the situation, I was more than thrilled when I found that this system, Linux, offers one access to its innards from beginning to end. I wasn't proficient enough to understand all the concepts or to read all the code, but I wanted to learn, and yes, Open Source motivated me to do so. It also motivated me to help the community, because hey, that's what the community is all about.

The you part

If you want to blame me for writing and babbling about myself, go ahead. But there are lots of cases just like me, where Open Source just changed lives. What I intentionally failed to mention is that I am an English major. That means if it wasn't for Linux and BSD to start this passion, I would have probably worked as a teacher or translator and play with simple C code in my spare time.

So, the second part in the title: why should you use Linux? The situation is nowhere the same as it was 10 years ago: even the most non-technical people have heard about Linux, and how cool kids use it, and so on.

There are a lot of misconceptions (about Linux) that are still there, like:

  • Linux is for hackers, 
  • Linux is hard, 
  • Linux is all about some obscure command-line, and 
  • Many other misinformed opinions. 

The word hacker means tinkerer, not what some members of the media want to make of it, and it has nothing to do with "cracker", meaning a misguided, ill-willing individual set to do bad in the cyberspace. Second, everything you don't know is hard. Was it easy when you first touched a Windows system? About the command-line, nowadays one can use a desktop Linux system for mundane tasks like browsing, e-mail, instant messaging and social media without touching a terminal. But yes, many of us believe the command line is more powerful when it comes to 'serious' work, so we tend to use it.

The bottom line

You still haven't seen the why part. Well, here it is:

You don't get to pay for your OS, or for extra features, you're not depending on them to release some patch to a grave security hole that's affecting your whole organization, you can modify your system in every way imaginable, even if you don't know how to program, because in most cases there is a plain text configuration file to be altered, you have access to the source, so if you DO know how to program the sky is the limit, the community is awesome, and perhaps the most important thing, the feeling you get when you see that something you contributed is useful to someone. If you get thanks as well, even better.

If you believe that contributions can only be made by developers, think again. If you report a bug, that's a contribution; if you're good with graphics and submit a theme or a wallpaper, it's a contribution; if you help someone on IRC, you guessed it, it's a contribution. Every project will be glad to have you if you volunteer; there's always need for someone. And it will look good on your CV, not to mention you'll learn a lot and have a lot of fun. You know what they say: "if it ain't fun, no use doing it.".

So what are you waiting for? The Linux CD/DVD image is downloading as we speak, right?

--Aioanei Rares
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1 comment:

  1. Great piece... I almost recognize myself along the way, except for the programing part.