Linux

Wednesday, 25/02/2009 ≅20:32 ©brainycat

I've been using linux since about kernel 2.2. I got into it for several reasons:

  • I was broke and tired of paying out the nose for crappy software
  • I was frustrated by the lack of visibility commercial OS's provide into their workings
  • I grew up in unix household, and I wanted to get back to something I understood
  • I couldn't afford the latest hardware, so I needed something that ran on cheap handmedowns
  • I wanted to learn how the web works, and all the best apps are unix apps

I fell in love with it right away. I spent a lot of time applying what I had learned growing up on other OSs similiar to linux, and with the abundant online documentation I was able to teach myself quite a number of skills. During the dotcom boom, I was able to parlay those skills into increasingly lucrative system administrator gigs. It was a lot of fun, but by the time the money ran out I was ready to work outside at do real hands on work for a while.

I fell in love with linux right away. There was so much I could do! I learned scripting languages, HTML, HTTP, SMTP, SMB... the list goes on and on. If something about the way the interface irked me, I could change it. Keep in mind, I've always been a "doer". I'd rather make something than passively enjoy somebody else's prefabricated version. I'm compulsed to find out the "how" of things work. Learning new things is the best entertainment I know (with the possible exception of F1). Being able to play with the same technology, albeit on much slower hardware, as the people assembling the internet was (is) incredibly fascinating to me. I absorbed myself into it, and eventually taught myself a trade.

What do I use linux for now? It's on my laptop. Most of my computing time is spent doing web development, surfing the net, and writing programs and learning new languages. Linux just works for me. It's such a trivial matter to work on this website when I have httpd and mysqld running on my laptop, where every edit I make is immediately viewable, can synchronize my work to my development server to verify all the host-specific settings, then push a release out to the production site. The development cycle is drastically shorter. The stability.. yeah. I have servers on my home network that have been running constantly for at least 2 years. My laptop gets rebooted about once a month or so, usually when I'm going to be away from it long enough that I won't have enough battery to sustain a suspend-to-disk.

I've been using the slackware distro for years. It's been really fun watching the same "flavor" grow up and mature along as GNU and linux develop. It's not an easy distro; I recommend newbies steer clear of it. I like because it's the most "standard" distro: learn your way around slackware, and you need never fear any other flavor of unix. The distro doesn't try to do anything for you or second-guess what you might want to do, it simply provides a very generous collection of the standard utilities, libraries and tools and quietly steps aside and lets you do what you need to do. Additionally, it comes with KDE which in my experience is such a better desktop manager than gnome; it's not even in the same ballpark. It's trivially easy to integrate your own software into the distro; I was able to get my beloved AfterStep window manager installed and working with KDE in a few minutes.

I don't necessarily get along with the community as a whole. It would be easier to integrate into the community if I were using linux professionally, but I'm not in the sysadmin gig anymore. I took a few years off from IT to go play in the dirt, and after injuring my back (it's better now thank you) I'm wending my way back into the fold. I find the linux community has 3 main types of persons:

  • The Enthusiastic Expert Noob. These are by far the most common types found on the net. They know a whole lot about which option on which menu does what on their distro, but take the GUI away and they're as lost as a baby in the woods. This lack of understanding of the internals of linux doesn't hamper their enthusiasm, or their certainty that they know all there is to know. If they can't solve the problem, they cast about desperately looking for a new program or updated version to fix it, rather than try to create their own solution.
  • The Grumpy Old Codger. I include myself in this category. These know-it-alls were around back in the day where you had to write your own device drivers because hardly anything was supported. We watched linux grow up while cutting our teeth on the Grand Old Unices of the day, and grudgingly jumped on board when we realized the commercial OSs weren't going to be any easier to use on our personal machines. The GOC typically avoids the typical support forums, instead lurking on bizarre IRC channels occaisonally offering cryptic advice and inside jokes to test everyone else. These people have already solved all their big problems, and now search around for novel problems to throw their experience at.
  • The Unwilling Professional. These poor sods got stuck with linux in their datacenter because it's just too cheap not to use it for some jobs. They don't want it. It's bizarre and confusing. It doesn't fall in line nicely with their beloved Domain Controller. It speaks versions of networking and application protocols that don't have all the out of standard vendor specific extensions that they've come to rely on. They desperately cast about on every forum they can find that seems to have anything to do with the situation at hand, posting cryptic messages containing no useful information whatsoever. I pity them, even while I point and laugh at their misfortune.

Answers to common linux questions that I hear over and over

I will also be posting a number of configurations, scripts, hacks etc so that others may enjoy linux more. They are listed across the bottom of the navbar across the top of this page.