My Linux History

I started using Linux during school, roughly 1998. Influenced by movies like Hackers, I read a lot about hacking. Stuff like Phrack. A phrase I vaguely remember is that somebody wrote: "You can access cyberspace with Windows, but only with Linux you feel like a fish in the water." I wanted to feel like a fish in the water.

Since playing games was also important, dual booting Windows was a must. Downloading large things from the internet was not an option, so installing from CD was the way to go. I started with SuSE, because it was considered the "beginner Linux".

I had no internet to look for advice, so I often broke my OS and had to reinstall. Installation itself became a game. Soon I had figured out how to use multiple partitions, so one partition contained my home directory with relevant data. Other partitions contained various Linux distributions. Coming from Windows, it felt like magic that reinstalling did not delete all my data.

I tried Red Hat and Debian and Slackware and whatever I could get my hands on. I learned that Linux is actually only the kernel and the operating system should be called GNU/Linux. I learned compiling programs on my own, doing the configure-make-make-install dance. Going further I discovered Linux from Scratch: Documentation about bootstrapping your very own Linux distro from scratch. It sounds very deep, but ultimately means to type configure-make-make-install a lot. I felt very proud, when I finally had a useable system with a GUI. My very own distro, where everything was configured and optimized exactly to my desires!

Soon I realized that I now had to keep my system up to date by hand, which means a lot more typing of configure-make-make-install. Then Gentoo appeared in 2000. It automated the Linux from Scratch method, but still allowed for a lot of control. Today, it sounds ridiculous to compile with "-O4", but for a teenager it feels like having found a big secret and being part of an elite group of hackers. Who cares that you have to keep your computer running during the night to compile a new version of Firefox.

Well after a while even my teenage self considered that folly. Being a fresh student of computer science and an Open Source idealist, I switched to Debian. The initial configuration takes a while. For example, back then you needed to get video codecs manually. X11 still required manual configuration, even without proprietary nvidia drivers.

Then Ubuntu came along. Being a user-friendly Debian I switched. Stuff just worked out of the box! The level of convenience was better than any other distro. It was great.

Still, after a while I became restless. Ubuntu started to feel bloated. Ubuntu was not bleeding edge and lagged behind. I wanted to use the new Gnome version, but it took months until it became available. Arch Linux looked attractive. It was low-level control like Gentoo, but without compiling everything yourself. Well, not hyper-optimized software, but software like Gnome was more up to date than elsewhere.

Then I had a girlfriend. While I enjoyed Arch, I did not want to remote administrate it on her laptop. So, I got her Ubuntu. To replicate her problems, I had an Ubuntu for myself as well. Over time I found myself gravitate to Ubuntu as well. Then I got an Ubuntu desktop for work and went Ubuntu for everything.

Administrating Ubuntu PCs felt increasingly tedious. Most of Ubuntu was good enough. New versions lost their desirability because I was not waiting for some feature. Instead, a new version meant something broke and I had to fix it on multiple PCs. When a new version fixed something, it broke something else instead. Now I'm a fan of Ubuntu LTS, where a new version comes out every two years and you can use a version up to five years. At least I know the problems and workarounds and only have to update that knowledge every few years. There are more important things to do than upgrading software and finding workarounds for whatever is currently broken.

That is today.

In the Linux community I often heard the call that surely now is the year of the Linux desktop, where Linux would be ready to be used by ordinary people. The point where finally Linux would be as good as Windows. For me, it is now nearly 20 years of Linux desktop. The call has stopped, mostly because the desktop is not as important anymore. Desktops are mostly used to display a browser and browsers are available everywhere. Also there are smartphones and most of them run Linux.

Linux has grown tremendously in the last twenty years and I'm pretty sure that I will still use a device running Linux twenty years from now.

Why do I care for Linux? I don't care that much for other software. Linux is more than a kernel or an operating system. It is a symbol money does not rule everything. You don't pay for Linux. You don't have to watch ads when using it. In return, please be a little more friendly and tolerant to the people who build it. While Linux is built by professionals today, there is more heart and soul poured into it than in other operating systems.

I'm now using a Linux desktop for twenty years