25 August 2016 was the 25th anniversary of the Linux family of operating systems. Its birth is dated to 25th August 1991 as that is the day on which its inventor Linus Torvalds announced that he had created a new operating system on an online forum. The Linux that came out of that initial project was a kernel or the central part of a computer operating system, which communicates between the software and the hardware. Torvalds' original version was extremely limited and only ran on the specific hard disk drive that he owned, although it was easy enough for the technically minded to add the details for their hard disk into the source code and recompile the system. The fact that Torvalds provided the source code placed Linux as part of the then burgeoning free software movement, indeed he cites as the central point of its success the adoption of that movement's General Protection Licence. That license was at the heart of the GNU project that was building a free operating system. They were planning on making it into a complete operating system with a kernel called Hurd. The progress of Hurd was too slow and the combination of Linux and the GNU tools became what is sometimes referred to as the GNU/Linux operating system. Linux as a server system now powers the vast majority of the world's websites and without the free software to serve up pages the web might not have grown to the size that it has today. Linux as a kernel has also found a home in other operating systems, most notably in Android, which powers more smartphones than any other software system.
I first encountered Linux about May 1992 when the first ever Linux distribution was released: Softlanding Linux System or SLS. A distribution went beyond just the Linux kernel and the GNU tools to include software for end users such as the GNU Emacs word processor. I downloaded the entire distribution on a 2400 bits per second modem in the days when that also meant paying a large phone bill. I was interested in the project, but I had only one computer and needed that for writing my PhD. I was using Microsoft Word for Windows and I did not fancy trying to learn how to use the Linux text console word processors, even though I had only recently switched to Word from the text based Protext. So I reinstalled Windows and Microsoft Office and decided that I would return to Linux once it had a decent word processor.
My next venture into the world of Linux did not come until computer magazines had starting offering free cdroms and I obtained a copy of Red Hat 4 in 1996. I loaded it a few times to experiment with, but stayed away from using Linux because of the word processor problem. That situation changed the same year when Star Division announced that their integrated office suite Star Office would be free to Linux users. That persuaded me to use Linux in a dual boot with Windows, but I continued writing the PhD in Microsoft Word. Once my PhD was finished I went over to using Linux exclusively going through a variety of distributions that were made available on the cdroms that came with my Linux magazines, but then I settled on SuSE and paid for several editions of its boxed distributions. Then I switched over to Debian once broadband arrived in my part of rural Wales, although I had ran a Debian cdrom distribution around the turn of the millennium.
In the early 2000s hardware compatibility was still a big problem and printer configuration was a particular issue. Eventually I lost patience and after inheriting a Bondi Blue iMac I switched to Apple computers and OSX about 2003. The lure of Linux was still there, so I began loading Debian's version for Apple computers and that put the dampener on my Apple enthusiasm, which led me back to the PC world in 2006 and installing Linux on that. I switched back to Windows when I was briefly a student again in 2008 and was able to buy Microsoft Office for £35. It was installing Linux onto a netbook that had previously ran Windows XP that brought me back once more to Linux in 2010. The only version of Linux that I could get working on that netbook was Ubuntu, which by then had become the dominant distribution. Ironically I had trialled the very first version of Ubuntu back in the days when I loaded a new distribution every month depending on what was on the magazine cdrom. Ubuntu was based on Debian, but I preferred the real thing for my laptop and desktop computers.
In 2013 I had the money again to invest in computer hardware and after toying with a return to Apple I went for a Windows ultrabook laptop, which get their name from being ultra light. I planned to load Linux on it straight away, but found that with the arrival of the new UEFI booting mechanism it was no longer easy to install Linux. I later bought a desktop computer and thought that it would be easier to install Linux onto, but again was disappointed. It was not until 2016 that I finally worked out how to tweak the setup of those computers and returned to having Linux as my main operating system. Neither of my computers are easy to set up for wifi on Debian, so I switched to Ubuntu style distributions that are modelled on the Debian collection of software. Initially I went for Mint, but found it too resource hungry and so switched to Sparky Linux, a Polish distribution that gets your computer up and running well, but then leaves you primarily to update as Debian.
So I have been there or about for most of the first quarter century of Linux and I even have an Android phone. My adoption of Linux was hampered by software and hardware issues in its early days and then again by the UEFI problem until recently. Now that I have sorted out those issues I have returned to Linux just in time to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved