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Why I like Linux

An essay/newsgroup posting on why I like Linux

Subject: Re: Email Attachment Complaints
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Organization: Ultraviolet

spam me please!  wrote:
>Perhaps you should think then.  Perhaps you should evaluate WHY you think the 
>way you do.  It is very common to adapt the beliefs of your parents, friends, 
>etc.  But what do YOU think?  I can't label you since I don't know you, but 
>from experience, I'd guess that your radical nature stems from someone elses 
>ingnorant, frustrated ideas.  Also, if you thought about it, you would have 
>never argued about using SMTP to transfer files in the first place.  Read your 
>quote above.

My mistake for thinking you were taking this personally. 

I have thought about why I think the way I do. When it comes to Linux I've had
a number of years to think about it and you aren't the first person to call me
on it. 

I was once a windows user.  I had no idea what the alternatives were. I had
never used any other OS in any serious manner. At one time I had messed around
with a little UNICOS and some VMS but not enough to get an idea of what could
really be done with it. I learned no real programming because there were no
free programming tools that I was aware of for the only environment that I was
aware of. And neither I nor my family could easily afford a commercial software
development environment. I had pretty much gone through the BASIC on my Apple
IIc inside and out and was looking into assembly programming on the 6502 and
the x86 since the Apple came with some ROM assembler/debugger software and DOS
came with debug. Not a pleasant way to go, let me tell you. I didn't realize my
486/33 was capable of being a multiuser/multitasking machine. I thought I had
little choice but to watch as applications crashed my machine and my little
brother screwed with my files since Windows 3.0 had no useful memory or file
protection to speak of.

Then I discovered SunOS. A machine the size of a pizza box with hundreds of
people logged into it doing all sorts of neato things which could actually be
very hostile to the system and try to crash it at any moment. And it had a
friendly GUI environment with graphical file managers, net clients of all sorts
(but no web at that point in time) and was capable of doing anything I wanted.
It was nice that I had lab and dialup modem access to this system, but it would
be even nicer if I had such a system of my very own in my room so I wouldn't
have to go to a lab to get a nice graphical display or get a text based display
over a 2400 baud modem line.

Then someone told me about Linux. I was reading the Linux FAQ in the lab when a
talk request came across my screen. said "I see you are
reading the Linux FAQ..." He could tell this from the system process listing.
We met for lunch and he told me a bit about it and loaned me a HUGE stack of
3.5" floppy disks. CD's weren't all that common then. He also pointed me to the
Linux Documentation Project, which had a respectable amount of documentation
online, even at that early stage of development. Like the vast majority of
other Linux users I have run into, he was immensely helpful and friendly. I
printed out everything I could find, read it, and installed it. Linux wasn't
nearly as easy to install back then as it was now. And the default setup
required a fair amount of knowledge to get things set up nicely and user
friendly. Linux sure has changed a lot.

Ever since then, I feel that I have been empowered. I turned my old 486 which
used to run only DOS games and crashed Windows 3.0 regularly into a a real
workstation. It was faster and more useful than I ever imagined it could be.
It ran for months without crashing and had all sorts of neat software which
would have cost me a fortune to buy commercially. Linux enabled me to do things
that I could not do before simply because the software I had wasn't capable or
the software that was capable was out of my price range. The technology was
working for me and making my life easier, not harder. It made the impossible

I was producing professionally typeset documents, suitable for publication. I
was writing tools and utilities which made my life and my employers life much
easier. I was using software written by others on the net to handle just about
everything a computer should handle. I was running mailing lists for my high
school alumni and my family so we could all keep in touch.

Sure, most people won't be doing a lot of this stuff. It's just what I chose to
do.  What is the most common use for computers these days? Word processing and
net stuff. I do see a need for most people to produce professionally typeset
documents. That's what word processing is supposed to be about.  But look at
paper done by Word and a paper done by LyX/LaTeX and you'll see a noticeable
difference. Word just doesn't cut it for me anymore. And the networkability of
Linux goes without saying.

I'm putting together a machine for my mom, stepfather, and youngest two
brothers back in Indiana (time and money permitting. It was originally gonna be
a Christmas present. I'm way behind schedule. :).  What OS does it run?  Linux.
Why? Because I don't want to send them an unreliable system which they are
going to have no chance in hell of being able to fix themselves. My mom?
Reinstalling windows? No way. But what if something does go wrong, you ask?
They connect to the net and I telnet in and fix it. What if a GUI app is broken
and a text based display won't cut it? I display the app over the net to my
desktop. What if they totally hose the entire filesystem and it refuses to
boot, much less get connected to the net? They type "emergency" at the lilo
boot prompt, it boots off of a second 150M partition (disk is cheap and even
150M is way generous) and automatically dials into the net. I then telnet in,
repair the busted partition, and they are on their way. If the machine is
permanently hosed (HIGHLY unlikely.) they remove the HD, send it to me, I dump
a disk image from tape containing an image of their disk to the HD, and send it
back. My stepfather can handle using a screw driver to remove a little silver
box from inside the computer and sticking it in the mail. I've talked people
through Windows problems on the phone before and let me tell you, it sucks. If
I sent them a Windows machine they would have to find someone out there to help
them with it.  I don't want to go to the effort of building a machine just to
send it out there, have it break, and then let them find some random person to
screw around with it. After that's happened I would have to wash my hands of
supporting the thing at all because I would have no clue what has been done to
the system. I don't need that sort of headache.

I've installed Linux on a lot of computers. And as far as I know, it has
greatly enhanced everyones computing experience. It is capable of doing
everything Windows can do. Word processors, spreadsheet, presentation graphics,
net stuff, you name it. It is quite slim on the video game side of things, but
that is changing slowly. Golgotha (Id's next big game) will be released for
Linux right alongside Windows. And now that we have KDE (a marvelous piece of
software) we  have a desktop environment  that Win95 users will find familiar
and easy to use. Everything  on the desktop is configurable via the GUI.
Eventually, we will also have GNOME, another very friendly desktop environment,
but it is still in early development.

I do not believe I have adopted this radicalism from anyone else. Not my
friends, not my family. Anyone I know that is radical about Linux is that way
because they also happen to think it is an amazing piece of software. Perhaps
the fellow who loaned me the Linux disks so long ago made me think the way I
do? Possible, I suppose. Although I only met him once to discuss it over lunch
and then once again for a brief few minutes to return the disks. And he was a
pretty mellow dude. Nobody else in my family knows squat about computers, so it
could not have been any of them. They are all quite conformist methodist
midwestern types anyhow. Not generally known for rocking the boat.

Must radicalism spring from confused and ignorant ideas? The founding fathers
of this country were considered radical. They were so radical it started a
war. Aren't there any causes you believe in which make you a radical? Do you
not believe strongly in anything which may diverge significantly from popular
opinion? Surely there must be something. Or is radical a word reserved for
those whose opinions we do not like? I have thought about SMTP for file
transfer. It is the wrong tool for the job and it causes thousands of people a
lot of grief due to slow and unreliable servers. 

I guess the bottom line is I'm spoiled. Linux has spoiled me. And it annoys me
to watch others reboot machines and reinstall their OS's and fork out loads of
cash (piracy is not an acceptable way to obtain software IMO) when my machine
has not crashed once in the entire year it's been sitting on my desktop and
easily does everything they need it to do.

I want them to be spoiled too.

Tracy Reed - Escape the Gates of Hell
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