Warning: this might be a rambling story of self-serving nostalgia. Sometime in 2022 will be the 25 anniversary of me first installing Linux.
In 1994 I first logged into a Unix server. This was for a programming class (I was terrible at it) but we got to use the full range of text-based Unix tools. There was Lynx to surf the web (Mosaic for Mac looked cool but Lynx was faster and more useable). Pine for email, Talk for chat, Finger, newsgroups… there was a whole suite of tools for the Internet, which I barely knew existed.
DOS/Windows was good for games, Mac was unstable crap (people romanticize it today), but Unix allowed you to communicate with the outside world!
During my senior year of high school my friends were talking about Linux, which allowed you to run the whole suite of Unix stuff directly on your x86 PC. We were chafing under the crappy Windows Internet tools and wanted the full flexibility Linux might offer. As I left for college in 1997 I was gifted with my very own Pentium II computer. It was mine to bend, break, and do with as I pleased.
How do you get Linux in 1997? It was free after all. But downloading over dialup onto floppies wasn’t a realistic option. At Barnes and Noble I found a Linux manual about as thick as a phone book that included 3 CD-ROMS: Red Hat, Slackware, and Caldera. I devoured it. I tried out all 3 distros over the course of the year (and I got a Debian CD from somewhere). I liked Red Hat the best. (I hated compiling apps from source, still do). I struggled with keeping Windows 95 dual-boot working throughout it all. I’m not sure how often I reformatted the hard drive. I wailed and gnashed my teeth as I battled with XF86Config. Why were the screen refresh rate and the mouse settings in the same file?
I began to experiment with server applications. Eventually I found out cool things you could do with running X applications remotely. I installed Slackware on a free 386 I obtained. I used that doorstop to run a web server that nobody visited and an IRC server that nobody used. It sailed through Y2K with flying colors. My favorite desktop distro on the Pentium II desktop was Mandrake. I think because it used RPMs and ran KDE.
In 2001 I bought a new computer (custom-built AMD something) and started medical school. I reluctantly gave up on Linux for awhile. Windows XP was much more mature and stable than the previous versions. I needed a computer that reliably worked, not something to tinker with. I also bought a Windows laptop at some point.
When I started residency in 2005, a reliable desktop was less vital. If I needed Windows, I had my laptop. I wiped XP from the desktop and installed Ubuntu. At the time, it was the new hotness. For several years, I was happy with Ubuntu. It did what I needed it to do, keeping the software updated was easy, installing new software was sooo easy and it looked good. I didn’t tinker too much for a few years.
We moved into our new house in Portland and I built a new PC in 2010. I began thinking about the possibilities of this machine as a desktop and a server. The home has two stories. There’s a laptop, smartphones, a printer, a Roku. It would be useful to have a file server, a streaming video server, etc. The possibilities for this were endless.
At some point I got fed up with Ubuntu and switched to Linux Mint. Around this time, Ubuntu, Gnome (and Microsoft) were trying all kinds of crazy changes to the desktop environment. The Mint developers understand that computer graphical interface design peaked with Windows XP.
These days, it’s rare that I actually ever sit down in front of my desktop machine. I use x2go to remotely run applications at work or on the laptop downstairs. My computer is everywhere. I also use it to power a Plex server which is great for watching movies from anywhere.
Before I close I would like to say a word about MacOS. I hated Macs back in the day but now I love them. The hardware is solid, reliable and lasts a long time. I disagree with some design decisions in the GUI but it’s never hard to use. And the BSD command line is always there waiting for you if you want to do something outside of the box. If you want a useable, reliable Unix/Linux machine, a Mac can’t be beat. I just can’t justify spending the money on their desktops.
So I hope I haven’t bored you to tears. That is my 25-year adventure in using Linux!