By Tom Duffy
The first time I ever used Linux was back in 1999. It was Slackware 7 with KDE 1.0. I was immediately hooked. It felt good to be a part of something new and exciting. As newer Distributions rolled out I tried a lot of them. I found myself enjoying the challenge of getting all of my hardware to work properly, compiling drivers, writing scripts to automate tasks, etc. Time progressed and I found that I had less and less time to spend on the configuration aspect of my OS. So, I started using Distros like Suse, Fedora, Ubuntu, and Mandriva. It wasn’t long before I started to feel like I had been wasting my time with all that nonsense of messing with config files and scripting. I felt as though Linux shouldn’t be a challenge. It should just “work”.
This continued until around a year ago. I was fairly happy with my Ubuntu laptop and everything seemed fine. Until the day arrived that I got a Wacom Tablet and hooked it up. It worked to a certain degree out of the box. But some of the main features weren’t working, such as pressure sensitivity, the eraser feature on the pen, and the tracking wasn’t great. So, I visited an old friend. The xorg.conf file. Man…It was like returning home! I quickly got the tablet working correctly by setting up different input devices in my conf file. After that, I noticed that my graphics card wasn’t configured correctly either. (even though it “worked”) So, I hacked away for a few hours and configured it correctly fixing a weird screen resolution issue that I had ignored to the point of completely forgetting about it!
I started digging around in some other config files for things that “worked” but didn’t quite seem configured correctly. I edited my hosts file to add some security. I was back! It felt great. But something wasn’t quite right. I realized that at the expense of “ease” I had sacrificed what I had grown to love about Linux: The lack of bloat and high performance speed. I thought at this point I had two options. I could go through the kernel and spend a week or two completely cleaning it out, or I could back everything up and install a more base distro and customize it to my liking.
I opted for the latter! I downloaded the latest Slackware release. I believe it was Slackware 12. After the install, I got to work configuring. Then I remembered someone saying that if you want to take the time to configure, Gentoo is also a great option. Well, I hadn’t tried Gentoo. So I scratched my Slackware install and in went Gentoo 2007. It was a little foreign at first, but I quickly got the hang of it. Within a week or so, my laptop was screaming fast and ALL of my hardware was working CORRECTLY!
I guess in the end, some Linux users prefer the configurability of Linux. Others just like a distro that works. I have a friend that claims that anyone who really learns Linux and uses Linux for a long time will eventually wind up with a nicely configured version of Slackware or Gentoo on their box. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it turned out to be true for me! Now I run Gentoo 2008 and it is great! I realized that I only need to spend time configuring after an install or when I add hardware. I simply wrote some scripts to help automate the configuration process for when I need to reinstall.
I used to be a big Anti-M$ guy. I would PREACH about Linux all the time. I would look down at people who had proprietary Operating Systems. I don’t know if it is age or what, but I’m starting to see things differently now. Nobody likes to be told that they are stupid. Especially based on something that’s on their computer! I’ve stopped preaching Linux. It’s NOT for everyone. It’s not better than Windows for everyone. It is better than Windows for me. If I see someone struggling with their computer or complaining about M$ then I will simply MENTION that there are alternatives and if they need help I offer it to them. About 2 weeks ago I was at a coffee shop and a nice gentleman started a conversation with me about computers. He started complaining outloud about M$ Office 2008. He was talking about how he felt trapped into using M$ products and he felt stuck with Windows. I mentioned Ubuntu to him and gave him a CD. I told him he could install it under Windows and just try it out before making any decisions. I warned him that it isn’t the same as Windows and that he might not like it. Yesterday I saw him at the same coffee shop and he had installed Ubuntu in Dual Boot mode with Windows and he said he was using it for about 80% of his work tasks. It felt good to offer an alternative and see it work for someone. Had I come off as preachy, he almost certainly would have avoided the possibility that he could install and run Linux!
My point is this. Most of us rely on our computers on a daily basis. Some people need Windows, some don’t. I personally am a Linux user. I love Linux. I love the community, I love the software, I just love it all. My progression from Slackware to Fedora to Ubuntu to Gentoo is relevant because it shows that there’s a different flavor for all of us. I just need to keep in mind that for some people, that flavor is M$ and that is okay! I know this article is a little scattered and jumps from one thing to another, but I felt inspired to write about this…so there! I hope that someone out there enjoys this article and please feel free to comment about your experiences with MENTIONING Linux rather than PREACHING Linux. Or you could comment about what distros you have used in the past and what you use now!