Meeting Mr. Tux

One of my friends asked me as to how one should get started with linux. That made me think, “How did it all start for me?”. I didn’t know too much about linux when I started, so let me recollect those memories that adventure and share with you the difficulties that i faced and the mistakes I made. Probably it’ll help someone who is just starting out, in not making the same mistakes that I made. A wise man learns from another mans mistake whereas a fool makes them all himself and then learns, morons just keep repeating them over and over. I fall in the category in the middle and if you’re reading this then you fall in the first category.

I first encountered linux sometime in 2005, we had an introductory C++ programming courseĀ  in school and I’d heard somewhere that linux was better if you wanted to program stuff. I tried mandrake 10, which came bundled as 3 cd images in a computer magazine. I got myself blank cd’s, burned the images onto them and got on with installing. In the process i nuked my windows install, lost my data which was basically some games that i used to play. I didn’t have a broadband connection then and I struggled a lot with it, It didn’t play my movies or music. I couldn’t get it to compile my C++ programs it was a horror show, I gave up on linux after a week and went back to windows XP.

As fate was to have it wasn’t my first and last encounter with linux, lets fast forward to year 2008. My first year at the University of Delhi was over and we had a long summer break with nothing to do, its pretty much the same even now. I glanced over the syllabus booklet and we had a paper titled System Software in the upcoming software which covered the basics of unix and some other stuff. Unix is a dead beast for most practical purposes but its various incarnations remain hugely popular even today, the Linux, BSD and the Solaris families are the most prominent. The memories of the previous failure were in the back of my mind but this time i decided to bite the bullet and try again. I picked up the ubuntu cd’s that i’d got from their ShipIt programme( It’s a real shame that this programme is now closed, countless people have been introduced to linux with this ), when I ordered them I didn’t have any intention of using them, I did it for the fun of it but they turned out to be one of the most useful things that I’d ever got. The best things in life are free, they say and with hindsight I can testify to it. This time I didn’t rush it, I read up the instructions and various guides that described how one could dual boot both windows and linux. I was able to successfully install ubuntu 8.04 hardy heron that resided along with windows on the hard disk and I was elated, not for long though I ran into similar troubles again, I couldn’t get audio and video to play and I still didn’t know how to compile the damn programs. This time however, I had an unlimited broadband connection ( it wasn’t too fast but it worked that’s the best you can say about mtnl ), and I searched around looking to find answers to my problems and soon enough I reached ubuntuforums. They are such a helpful bunch of people there, the greatest bunch of people who took out some of their precious time to help me and other newbies out with linux problems big or small. It was here that I realised what a fantastic thing open source is and more about the community that keeps it alive.

It wasn’t easy, some of the concepts like package management and editing configuration files by hand were daunting at first, I feared the shell at first and reached a dead end many a time. I tried other flavours of linux, mandrake was now mandriva, linux mint, puppy, suse, pclinuxos, zenwalk and countless others, for a period of time i was affected by the disease of distro hopping. Whilst hopping distros, suddenly the command line didn’t feel all that alien anymore, package management started making sense. I had finally started understanding linux, the philosophy, the community and everything else and as it inevitably happens started hating windows. I had become an free software ultra, everything windows was bad and it was all linux, foss and free. You watch a few hacker documentaries a few linux movies and then you know how it goes. Now however, I have a very balanced view of the various operating systems, I like them all now be it Windows, Linux or Macintosh, all of them have something right, something wrong. These days everyone seems to be copying everyone else, its a mad mad world out there.

Hopefully this gets you started on your own journey or helps you along the way. Let me sum it all up here, learning anything new is never easy, linux isn’t either. It takes a lot of determination, patience, some hard work and persistence. Once you get over the threshold it’s a wonderful feeling and you can never become the master, there’s always something else to learn. With all that said, linux has come a long way, these days the distros are really easy to set up and most things work out of the box another thing that has made it really easy to test new operating systems is the emergence of the Virtualization technologies which were in their infancy when I had started, the hardware these days is much more powerful too. There couldn’t be a better time to take the plunge, these days the reach of linux is growing all the time, it will probably never reach the same levels that windows has but as a computer science student I feel that we should know about more than one operating system doing so has many benefits some tangible, some non tangible. It is only by looking at something from a different perspective and challenging our preconceived notions do we really learn something, it holds true for both software and life.