It was back in 2002, in my second year of college, that i picked up my first Linux distro. Back then, we were all children of Microsoft. Most of us had some
pirated (yes, you heard that right, pirated!) version of Windows 98 or XP. We were not ready to move away from the easiness of Windows.
Our Head of Department, whom i thank to this day for what he made us do, wanted all of us to learn Linux. He wanted us to install Linux and start using it. His recommendations were – Red Hat 7 and Red Hat 8. There was a huge disagreement on moving to Linux. We were simple not ready to unlearn Windows and learn a real operating system. Installing Linux meant, to start with, learning how to install the OS, then learning how to use it. For almost everyone, it was the hassle, of installing a new OS and setting up a dual boot system.
RHL7 and RHL8 adoption took almost a year and didn’t really see many people moving to Linux. I didn’t move to Linux at that time because the system i had was a Pentium MMX, 64MB 4BG desktop and it was barely able to run Windows 98. Later the next year RHL9 was introduced and our Head of Dept. gave us strict instructions to move to Linux. What our Head of Department did was essentially kicking piracy out of the front door and teaching us what Open Source Software is and telling us who the hell Richard Stallman was. And he was quite effective in his method.
I still remember the first time i had to install RHL9. It was on my new Pentium-IV 256MB 80GB desktop. I needed a dual boot system, so the first step was to re-install Windows XP to occupy 60GB of space. Then install RHL9. If we had happen to install RHL9 first and later installed Windows, the MBR would be rewritten by XP and RHL9 would be inaccessible at boot time.
Once the system was set up, most of us who still use and swear by Linux to this date, discovered the power of the terminal or gnome-terminal as it is still known. Knowing the right commands and proving the mastery over the system was a matter of pride. So auto mounting the Windows partition in Linux at boot time by editing /etc/fstab was regarded as uber-geekiness in a class of 48.
Then there was the period when we were trying to mount a USB storage drive. I guess what we did was to look for the result of the command fdisk -l before and after plugging in the device. Then creating a directory and mounting it. Playing our favorite music was the one of the hurdles. MP3 plugins for XMMS was not there by default. So what that meant was numerous trips to the internet cafe to download plugins and packages to get mp3 working. The best part was installing MPlayer and MEncoder for video.
That brings me to the countless number of times we had to do - ./configure, make and make install. It was the sheer joy of getting something to work that kept us going. Unfortunately, most of the Linux distros these days take that fun away. In most cases, new packages are installed by a graphical package manager, yum, apt or something else. Well, chasing usability in Linux has taken away some of the fun that we used to have.
I have long moved away from RHL9, to FC4, 5, 8, 9 and now i’m with Ubuntu 11.10. Every time, i plug in a USB drive and it auto mounts, i miss RHL9. If the mp3 plugin for Banshee is missing, well the software does a look up by itself and gets the plugins. Want to play video, well install VLC from the Ubuntu Software Center. Just to be clear, i don’t hate Ubuntu. It is a neat little OS that still manages to fit in a CD (CD? who the hell uses a CD these days).
The whole joy of something not working and you sitting in front of the system for hours at length to get it working is something i truly miss. Ten years ago, to get something to work on RHL9 meant, frequent trips to the internet cafe. Downloading some new tar.gz package, coming back to the hostel room, firing up a tar -xzvf <package_name>.tar.gz, configure-make-make install only to realize that the some damn .so file is missing. The worst part is when you realize that it’s the middle of the night and there’s nothing that you can do.
If i had a choice, i would have still had a machine running RHL9. I would have kept it just to have the kick out of trying something new on it. Most things that work today, wouldn’t have worked anyway. But, i would have spent sometime behind it learning something new on the way.
Looking back, i’m happy that we had to use RHL9. The commands that we picked up, the debugging steps that we had to do to make things work, all have definitely come in handy over the course of my career. Thanks to RHL9 it has been an amazing 10 year journey with Linux.