How Far We’ve Come with Linux – Part 1

Last week my wife’s laptop started dying; for the record, it still is. In the interest of full disclosure, I love Linux. I don’t have a computer in this house running windows natively, though I do use windows on a virtual box to run Photoshop CS4  and Adobe Camera Raw. I also have countless virtual machines of windows (and other linux distros) for testing purposes–as a consultant I work a lot with windows, but it’s not the OS for me. I’m not a apple fanboy either, I’m a red hat guy: servers run CentOS, desktops run Fedora.

My wife doesn’t mind Fedora, but she’s switched to Ubuntu for the last few years on her laptop. She’s an English teacher at a state college and uses Linux and Open office, how great is that? How many College English teachers do you know that accept papers in Open Document format? Oh and the other day when I was watching the trailers for the new Halo 3 ODST, she may have been more excited then I was. I think we’ll end up playing ALL of the other Halo games through again before ODST comes out. For those of you who were wondering, no, my wife playing Halo has nothing to do with any of this… My wife chooses to use Linux and Open Office, she LOVES Halo… Just wanted you to know how lucky I am. If you were in my shoes wouldn’t you tell everyone?

Anyway, her part time job is online tutoring. So when her laptop started dying I needed to get her a desktop up and running as a backup. She had the choice between two computers I also gave her the choice of Windows XP, Ubuntu or Fedora and assuming she chose Linux the choice between Gnome and KDE. At first she wanted Ubuntu but her reasons were a little out dated and mainly applied to laptops. I have long been a fan of Gnome but on my main desktop recently switched to KDE so I suggested she choose KDE. She ended up with an older Pentium 4 & a gig of ram with Fedora 11 and KDE. Running Linux for word processing, email, IM and a few card games it’ll work fine till we replace her laptop. Her other option was a newer AMD dual core, four gigs of ram, and 256mb video w/ HDMI. But I would have had to pull it from it’s current purpose.

Loading Gnome during Red Hat 7.3 boot

Loading Gnome during Red Hat 7.3 boot

My first experience with Linux was somewhere around Red Hat 4.2 or 5, what was that? Twelve years ago? The first version I really used was Red Hat 6. I do remember my first linux install suffice it to say that computer had less hard drive space than this computer has RAM. Living in a small mountain town in rural Idaho and having less than a 56.k connection I bought a book that had the CDs with it. I vividly remember reading a paragraph in one of those early Linux books that was talking about “Pre-Install.” Among it’s suggestions were to order pizza and have a 6-pack handy. I chose a 2 liter of Dr Pepper, still my Tech Drink of choice and put a frozen pizza in the oven. If a retail box for Microsoft Windows said under it’s install notes: grab a six pack and a pizza, the install is going to take ages, be frustrating and you’ll get hungry… That box would go right back on the shelf. The resilience of some of us long time geeks has allowed Linux to be what it is today. If it makes you feel better, I just checked the oldest linux book I have handy, Red Hat Linux 8 Bible and this install prerequisite had been already been dropped.

The Fedora disc I had handy to install Joy’s backup computer was a KDE Live disc. I don’t usually like installing from a Live environment, but it’s what I had handy. Joy took the dog for a walk as I was putting in the CD. Installing from a live CD I had a full desktop up so I opened kbreakout, one of my favorite linux games. The Install went perfectly smooth and 12 minutes later it wanted to reboot while I was still playing my game. Joy was gone for about an hour, by the time she got home I had installed Open Office, done the updates, configured several of her applications the way she’d use them and connected to our network file server. All that was left was setup an rsync of her folders from the laptop. All that… no drinks, no pizza, I didn’t even get out of my chair. Aside from the after install reboot, I did everything with the kbreakout game open. Not bad.  (quick note: if you’re gonna install Linux from scratch or stage 1 gentoo, I’d still suggest a pizza)

Just to reminisce I decided to pull out some old red hat CDs and do an install. I wanted to install RH6 but the oldest CDs I could find in my possession were Red Hat 9. Which, by the way was an awesome version. So I went online, the oldest version I found (in 3 minutes of searching) was 7.3 so I fired up virtual box and did the install. But I don’t think running a virtual box assigned 512mb of ddr2 1066 ram, 1 core of a AMD quad core and installing to a SATA drive from a mounted iso on another SATA drive quite gave the same experience as installing on a 386 😉 I say this because the install only took seven minutes. I almost youtube’d the whole install, but instead just took a few screen shots. I did record a boot sequence if you need a blast from the past the video is on youtube and at the bottom of the page.

Not that long ago Linux was only for uber geeks. Now? Even English teachers are using it. That’s progress! While my wife doesn’t qualify as an average computer user and in several categories she is a geek, she wouldn’t be using Linux if we still had the Linux of seven years ago (when we got married). Back then I had my Linux boxes and I had to maintain a Windows XP box for her. Eventually she liked a game or two on Linux so I set up a dual boot Linux and Windows XP on her computer. When she bought the laptop with Vista on it, I set up the dual boot then. Ubuntu was much more stable on her computer than Fedora, since she was the one using and maintaining it, we switched her. She’s stopped using the Windows install on there, but I did have to setup a virtual box with XP on it because her part time job requires her to log into a scheduling webapp every two weeks that requires native Internet Explorer 7. My wife is my default Linux test case, I’ve learned a lot about Linux from watching her use it over the last seven years. Linux has made some remarkable improvements during that time. I’m not going to get into the Microsoft vs Linux debate here but for fun: compare Linux seven years ago with today and then compare Windows seven years ago with today… Aren’t most Microsoft users still using the exact same version of windows they were seven years ago? And aren’t we still trying to get rid of an eight year old version of Internet Explorer? hmm.

Obviously the Linux community has made progress over the last five or ten years. But I still wouldn’t install it on my parents computers. And while most of my clients would go for a Linux server, they wouldn’t dare touch it on the desktop. We have opportunities right now that should be taken advantage of, what are they?. What do we, the Linux community as a whole, have to do in the next five or ten to maintain sever growth and make a name for Linux on the desktop? Think you know? leave a comment below. I have a few things to say about it… which, will be the subject of the “part 2” post next Tuesday.

I’m going to be writing a few more articles on Linux in the next couple of months, I’d appreciate you takeing a short survey to get an idea of what people outside my circles, think about Linux. It’ll only take two minutes and would be a great help, I posted the link earlier on twitter and have already received quite a few responses add yours here: Random Linux Survey

Thanks, and be sure to check back next week for part 2, or subscribe to my RSS feed to receive updates as they’re posted.

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