Monday, September 24, 2007

Does Linux suck?

Every once in a while I try to recall just how far back it was when I began using Linux.

I remember using a version of Slackware that was available for purchase on some nice Infomagic CD sets. I also recall Redhat's Mother's Day release (very slick compared to Slackware back then). I can also remember months before these handy CD distributions were available, downloading individual floppy images from the Internet over my pathetic modem, just to get Slackware to install.

So when was it? I'm guessing that this was around 1995. Twelve years seems like a long time doesn't it? Wait, it's even longer. Version 1.0 (Mother's Day), was back in November 3, 1994 (1.2.8 kernel). I definitely recall downloading those floppy images I mentioned even before that release. Thirteen years! Now I feel old. Eve though I recall testing a version of Linux with kernel version 0.99 with my buddy Rick., I wasn't using it as early as some folks. They were using Linux as far back as 25 August 1991, when Torvalds first made his famous post to comp.os.minix.

Linux wasn't exactly smooth back then. Version 1.0 of March 1994 supported only single-processor i386 machines. When Linux 1.2.0 was released it only had 310,950 lines of code. Even after installing it, I wasn't sure what Linux was capable of doing for me, but I kept exploring. Using X Windows was not exactly easy back then. It was not like it is today. In the good old days, FVWM was perhaps the most popular desktop/window manager around. I had to edit all the conf files by hand for that little beauty, but I loved doing it. If I wanted to go on the Interenet with Linux, I had to jump through several hoops. Now people complain about wireless support in Linux. Ha! We had to hand configure scripts just to dial up with either PPP or SLIP. Once we got on the net, we had nothing like Mozilla, Firefox, or Opera. We used Mosaic or Amaya.

Linux was definitely an interesting and fun challenge back then. Computer system resources were low, especially for poor people like me. I was thrilled to have a entire MB of memory, but I knew that Linux ran better with more available memory. So what's does a Linux lover do to free up memory? He compiles his kernel to strip it of absolutely all unneeded stuff. I would configure the settings and start my kernel compilation before bed. My little 486 SLC would take all night to give me my fresh, thin kernel. Getting up in the morning to find that I made the slightest error meant I could watch the compile process on my screen for another 5 to 7 hours. Half a decade later I recall using a dual Pentium Pro board and having a contest with a buddy to see who could compile a kernel the fastest. Twenty minutes to get a new kernel built, whoo hoo, I was a kernel compiling god.

Learning how Linux worked back then was great. Everybody was using Windows, and this new operating system was so alien. It was exciting to find that after researching something really complicated and finally figuring it out, that I had just seen the tip of the iceberg. Linux and all of it's tools, apps, configurations, and languages, was so vast, it felt like taking first steps into the new world. I was an explorer.

I used to sit happily and not complain too much about re-compiling my X server to trim it of all the unwanted junk, or building my own scripts to launch windows. There was no handy GDM or KDM back then, I had to know the startx command intimately. Even with all the manual configuration, and lack of important apps and tools, I never complained too much. I was in love.

Now I wonder if Linux is starting to suck. After all these years and all the different distributions of Linux, I find that Linux is doing things to piss me off. Years ago, I found Linux to be very solid and reliable despite its youth. Perhaps I was looking at Linux through rose colored glasses. Now I find it locks up, or does silly shit just to make me grit my teeth. How many distributions do I have to fiddle with before I find a decent Debian based distro that doesn't screw up when it encounters my Intel based sata controller? Ubuntu handles the controller. Why not Sidux, or Mint Linux, and some others? Why do my recent installations (tested with different distributions) sometimes cause my KDM display to be massively huge with what appears to be a ridiculously large virtual, scrolling display? Sure I can restart the X server, and it magically cures itself, but why should I have to? Lately I notice that in Ubuntu, I have to hit enter after everything loads at boot up, or the screen just sits there as if

it is taking hours to complete rc.local. Having to hit enter just to get a login sucks. Those types of annoyances never happened years ago. As problems, I'm sure that to some people, these little gripes of mine are all too trivial to complain about. Are there other more pressing issues in Linux that I am simply not aware of? I also wonder if I am using my selective memory and not considering some real annoyances in Linux that bothered me years ago. Maybe Linux doesn't suck any more or less then it ever did.

It still beats Windows.

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