Looking back (and forward) at Linux

Since we are on the theme of “Remember 20 years ago ?”, let’s talk Linux. I think it was somewhere in the last days of 2004 I heard about this Linux distribution called “Ubuntu”. I had been dabbling with Linux since the early 2000’s but it never ever “went” anywhere. Distro hopping to find a solution that I could actually use meant valiantly trying to deep dive into some distribution only to back out in a huff of frustration because there would be no way to get the hardware to work or do simple things like play an MP3. Mandriva, Suse, College Linux, Knoppix … many were tried, but none stuck.

Only when I started using Ubuntu, things changed. Suddenly I was introduced to an operating system that not only seemed to work “out of the box” it also came with some third party scripts that would auto install some of the crucial components that would turn this “quirky” operating system into something that I could viably use….

Fast forward 20 years and a lot has happened. I started using Linux in earnest. From running it on my own machines (as a secondary machine), playing with it as a server, using it to resurrect old pc’s, getting it to play nice with old macs AND converting my wife’s then 70 year old grandmother onto linux (and becoming an overnight sensation on the DIGG and having the serverfarm of my webhost go into a chernobyl like meltdown).

Today my infatuation with all things new-and-Linux has mellowed. I don’t try out every new distro and have a hard time grasping why the Linux community, who, back in the days of newsgroups, flamed everyone who asked a “non-commandline question” has become infatuated  with producing hundreds of different distro’s who only differ in the configuration of their graphical user interface. The only comparison is can make is that some group of stuffy librarians turned into overcrazed car-tuning gearheads overnight. Suddenly its all chrome, rap music and showing of their “pimped out rides”. This distro craze has taken valuable attention and resources away from developing what Linux really needs: Good applications.

On many occasions I’ve been confronted by another group in the Linux community: The “Freedom” guys who insist that no piece of code should be closed source. From their laptop hardware to the bios, to the operating system and all the applications: It should all be “libre”. Although they make a good point, these “Stallmanites” ( see: Richard Stallman ) put an extra hurdle in front of the further development of Linux. To grow it needs to incentivise cooperations like Nvidia, Canonical, Valve to invest time and resources in the development of software that runs on Linux so people will actually use it.

Today Linux is still interesting to me. Maybe not so much as a desktop, or as a “geeky alternative” to the mainstream, but as an interesting tool to increase the efficiency of my work. Using scripts and interesting applications (either in a command line or graphical user interface) to get my work done faster still gives Linux its allure.

In light of that I have switched over one of my laptops to Linux to rediscover the “state of Linux” not by trying out some exotic distribution, but relying on a rock solid codebase and using a graphical interface that doesn’t get in the way. With plenty of things working in a browser and just a few applications that are not directly available on Linux, the question of “could Linux be my daily driver” is once again preying on the little free time I have.

We shall see how we fare in the next couple of days with my experimental little machine and try to deduce the power and added value of linux in my daily workflow.

Who knows … The penguin might return for real..

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