The Progression of My Linux Usage

linux - tux

The beloved Tux.

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!


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  • Kevin

    As an old-school slackware guy (1998/slack 3.5), how “different” is gentoo? I’m debating about getting back into linux and have been looking at slamd64. Just curious about some of the differences gentoo would have.


  • Matt

    Good article!

    I first tried Linux a few years ago; it was Fedora, and I knew very little about it. I couldn’t get it to work on my old G3 iMac because the graphics driver was buggy. I looked around at a bunch of distros, and eventually found Debian–which managed to fix my graphics driver problem on it’s own (I later figured out what was wrong, but I didn’t go back to Fedora because I liked that Debian was able to handle the problem for me. My only complaint is that some of the packages are a little out-dated. Although the flip side to that is that it’s wonderfully stable. I’ve tried Ubuntu, too, and some others based on Debian, although not much else. I’ve been wondering about Gentoo for a while, although I’m kind of afraid to leave behind Debian’s APT system. I’ve heard that portage is not as stable. Have you ever had problems with it? Or have the two (Ubuntu’s APT and Gentoo’s portage) compared in your experience?

  • mungman

    Good article, thank you for sharing your experience. Indeed, Linux is not for everyone. I agree 100% that Linux’s configurability/controlability is a major selling point, but after 2 days of fruitlessly trying to install (unofficial) drivers for my EeePC’s wireless card, I gave up and settled for Windows – yes it’s much more restrictive, but it took 30 seconds of clicking Next, Next, Next through the driver’s installer’s interface to get the card set up.

    I hope one day everyone will be able to reliably find official, easy to install Linux drivers for their hardware…

  • smythos

    It’s nice to see such a well reasoned argument about why some people are drawn to linux and some people aren’t. I totally agree that you should save recommendations of ubuntu etc until you actually hear somebody complaining about something in Windows that they feel is deficient. Good work!

  • RpgFan

    I’m assuming you meant “Office 2007”, not “Office 2008”. Office 2007 is for Windows; Office 2008 is for Mac.

    Great article! I used to preach how great Linux is to a number of friends, but I don’t anymore because people get tired of hearing it, ya know? In fact, I actually had one person try Ubuntu approximately 5 years ago. He hated it because he couldn’t figure out how to find the right programs for anything he wanted to do, and he apparently were satisfied with Solitaire and such on Windows XP since he completely disregarded the fun games offered through GNOME (relatively speaking). I was a real newbie that just wanted to share the joy. ^_^

    I also managed to get one of my dad’s friends to try it a couple of months later. He decided against it, choosing Slax instead. He mainly uses it for rescuing systems, but the point is that he uses it. Why pay for expensive tools designed with Windows in mind when Linux has a wide array of useful tools already, right? :D

  • Darren Poulson


    As a few before me have said, great article. Personally I use Ubuntu because its quick and easy to set up. I don’t have time to tinker any more and prefer to spend the time looking at new technologies. That being said I’ve been through the early years of linux, libc5 to libc6, a.out to elf binaries, etc. so know and love the configurability of Linux.

    I tend to try and get people onto openoffice first, then suggest Linux once they’re happy with that. Baby steps!

    One of my favourite bits is, because I tinker and upgrade and ultimately break things, it takes less than an hour to re-install the whole OS, patches, office suite, and other programs and be back into a working state.

    Recently I’ve been trying to use Linux ((K)Ubuntu) as a user would and only do things through the gui without dropping to the command line, just to see how much you can do these days without opening a terminal. The answer is a hell of a lot! Bluetooth is about the only thing that needs manual configuration in my experience.



  • Dave

    I started out on Ubuntu, used it for nine months, moved to Debian for awhile, tried out most of the other major distros, a few obscure ones, and PCBSD, finally manned up and installed Slackware, haven’t looked back.
    I live in a sort of backwater. The nearest LUG is 250 miles away, and the only person I know out here besides me who uses Linux is my wife. I know lots of Windows users, but I don’t give them a hard time about it. Sometimes people find out I use Linux and they ask me about it, but nobody is really interested in switching from what they know anyways and I don’t push them.

  • Plain Jim

    I use Linux for two reasons: because I’m a sucker for “free”, and because when I have something that works, I don’t want to be forced to upgrade (and I have been forced to upgrade software when I bought new hardware because the old software was no longer available*, as well as having to buy upgraded hardware because replacement software wouldn’t run on my antique machinery). But I’m a computer hobbyist, and I don’t have the knowledge to edit config files (and don’t know how to get it: Google offers too much info to sort through, and there’s not a book for “What Plain Jim Needs To Know About Linux”). So I use Linux on my desktop (the hardware for which is common, and so, presumably, will be supported by my Linux distro), but not my laptop (which is likely to have proprietary weirdnesses which may not be easily supported). Further, I work in a mostly-Microsoft world, and, for some things (like a feature on our work website that uses an ActiveX control to generate printable forms), there is simply not a non-Microsoft replacement available.

    I do most of my computing through a gui of some sort, as do most of my freinds and family. If I lived closer to my parents, I’m sure I would have set up an Ubuntu (or, perhaps, Linux Mint) install for him, and then cut out the virtual desktops (can you imagine how crazy he would get from an involuntary switch to an empty virtual desktop? Can you imagine trying to explain and fix that on the phone?) and drop in every week or two to do all the upgrades. I think one of the most underutilized places for Linux is for people who don’t want to know anything about computers – they just want something that works. Give ’em desktop icons that say, “EMAIL”, “INTERNET”, “WORD PROCESSOR”, and give ’em lots of hand-holding and support (the lack of which was the failure of the linux distros on the netbooks), and I think they’ll be happy for years.

    * I still have some old OpenOffice.Org Version I files that I occasionally use.

  • Skymt

    Very good article.

    I guess it all boils down to interest. Some people see the computer as a tool, and spending time configuring it, they see as something akin to putting make-up on a monkey wrench.

    All the configurational power in Linux may be percieved as a bit daunting. Which leads to frustration when the “tool” they have installed fails to do its job. That never happens when they buy screwdrivers. :)

  • Darkstriker

    I find this article to be quite funny. I really like your statement that some linux users want the configurability of linux and some want the ease of use. It is really funny because that is exactly the reason why the mainstream won’t go with linux for the next couple of years. Most users want the ease and thats exactly where linux has a hard time moving forward while microsoft focuses on just that. And it also perfectly explains why people who have lots of computer expertise (with linux mainly) or are trying to run state of the art software on legacy hardware (as in >5 years) always whine about Windows being slow and linux being so much better.

    if i were to buy a new pc (in parts or assembled doesnt matter) i really dont need a OS (like linux) that forces me work days on the configuration of my system because some of the many components doesnt quite perfectly work on my system. a C2D with 4gb WILL perform even with a bloated windows vista.

  • Immortaly007

    Interesting article. I recently installed Ubuntu (about a month ago). And I love it (or more like start to hate windows). But I can’ t do without it because i play games and stuff like that. So now I usually but in Ubuntu and then when I feel like doing some zombie killing, I just reboot to Windows XP.
    I think that when I feel a bit more at home with linux (i’ m still pretty much learning how it all works and stuff) I might try a more ” geeky” distro (yeah I didn’t know a better expression, but geeky isn’t a bad thing), like gentoo.

  • SanTrip

    An eye opener of every Linux preacher. My first experience with Linux was in 2002 and the distro was RedHat. Now using Mint 8 ( a dual boot system with Windows XP). I teach about Mechanical Engineering in a college and often ask my students to give Linux a try (most of them use pirated Windows, why? Well that is an another story) so that they have a legal and more powerful computing system without much expense on OS and other application software. But then I live in a country where most of the computer users still have not yet connected to internet and if you are using Linux and not connected to internet then you can imagine what may be the problem. Customizing and Configuring Linux without the help of community…..!!
    But sometimes the community is also unable to help when it comes to hardware issues (for example the VIA Onboard Graphics drivers, unfortunately I have one and my Mint is running at 800×600).
    Anyways though I am using Linux since 2002. I am still a newbie in Linux world. Linux conf files are always written in some alien language for me, tar files are nightmare to me. Dependencies still haunt me. But I love Linux, I still can’t understand why, but I love it.

  • Hammad

    I find myself “preaching” about linux, even when it starts out as a simple mention of its existence. I do realize, and regret it later. Any pointers on how to stop a “mention” becoming a “preach”?

    Actually, I love Linux. I do realize that some people just need windows, like I need linux on my pc, but when they complain about viruses, it gets me started.

  • daniel

    Gentoo is fine, but if you work somewhere where you might need to install new software fast, don’t use it. The last thing you want to do in a crisis is wait for a package to compile — or worse still, fix it when it doesn’t.

  • Eric

    Thank you. I’m a Computer Science major and I’ve been playing with Linux for years now, but I still prefer Windows over it. I find Windows easier and more intuitive.

    A lot of Linux fanboys are so set on hating “M$” that they don’t realize that Windows (7 especially) is made for the general mass user. I also find it a lot better for computer development (unless you are using MS technologies which are very bloated).

    For me, the simplest things I can do in Windows take a long time to do in Linux. Gnome-Panel is constantly fucking itself up, and a lot of the software, while free, isn’t very quality.

    That said, I love using Linux as a learning tool and for the customization. I’m constantly finding projects to work on in Linux. Unfortunately, I just like Windows better. It serves my needs better, it is more stable in my experience (I never have any issues with it, not even since Vista, but Linux always messes itself up on my other machine…it just does). Different strokes for different folks.

  • Juan

    Liked the article. Wanted to ask if you had used Arch? If so how was it. I currently when into Linux using ubuntu and looking to go into something more customizable