Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Diary Of A Linux Newbie: The First Year

From FUD to Fandom

Just a year ago -- April 21, 2009 to be exact -- I installed a Linux distribution. I installed it from a DVD of Ubuntu 8.10, Intrepid Ibex, that came with an issue of Linux Pro magazine I bought from a news stand, and I put it on a hand-me-down eMachine with 384MB RAM (the other 128MB being dedicated graphics). It was the first time I had ever installed an operating system. In fact, it was the first time I had ever installed anything at all, anytime, anywhere. I had always just called for (and paid for) professional help from a neighbor who extended me rates more favorable than his enterprise customers paid. Raised at IBM, he had become a born-again Microsoft True Believer and wanted to keep us all happy Windows users.
I had wanted to do something with Linux for quite a while. The idea of a whole new approach to computers, one that allowed someone without formal training to explore the way computers ran, fascinated me. I was much too timid to leap into action at once, risking my one and only machine (2002-era Compaq, Windows XP Home) that contained several years' worth of writing, notes, and comparable trivia. Instead, I did what every ex-academic would do, I read up on the subject.
Linux for Non-GeeksNow here's a point some distro fans might like to take into account: I started my reading with Ubuntu not just because it was well-advertised, but because the books (by Brian Proffitt, Paul G. Sery, Keir Thomas) were readable by humans like me who were starting with absolutely zero computorial vocabulary. These books are scorned by the geek world cognoscenti, I'm sure, but I can bet you they have actually drawn more newbies into the throng than a score of the deep-knowledge textbooks have. You can catch up with the Real Story later -- first you've got to start from scratch.
One evening last year when I carted my Compaq down to my neighbor for its annual cleaning and checkup (he had a satellite internet connection -- at the time the rest of us in our tiny community had dialup that downloaded at a peak rate of 2.4 KiBps!) he announced he was moving away in a few months but assured me I could call him for questions.
That was a real uh-oh. What was I to do? It's 50-plus miles to the nearest city, I'd be at the mercy of a stranger to fix my computer (and see all the personal stuff on it), and it was just at the time when Microsoft was making strenuous noises about abandoning Windows XP very soon. So I took him up on his offer and asked a question.
"What do you know about Linux?" I asked.
"I know how to spell it," he said -- not in an unfriendly way, but it was clear it was not a topic he wished to pursue.
I should have known at the time his reply would become my quick-launch into the world of Linux...

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