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Linux: My First Contact

July 16, 2011

This one is for the nerds, naive and passionate about technology. It’s just something to remember. A snapshot of a time when the term hacker was still used to referring people who just loved knowing how stuff works, and not the headless bankers of today.

I remember the dawn of public internet in Brazil. It was early 1996 when I signed up as the 5th user of a local ISP in Fortaleza-CE (Roadnet was its name). At that time, everything was nerdy and amazing (a bit naive as well). To grok C, makefiles, TCP/IP, telnet, ssh, ftp and other underlying technical foundations was something to brag about, and somehow a consequence of the love we all had for the new star OS: Linux…

The first time I had contact with Linux was also in 1996. My uncle “Sizoca” presented me me a CD with the Slackware 3.0 distro. I remember the stable kernel that came with it was 1.2.13, and 1.3.18 the beta one. Early days yet indeed…:) Me and friends Mateus and Carlos spent all night long trying to do a very careful install, custom designed to fit all of Mateus’s PC specs. Madly enough, we read every package description before opting to install it or not.

It was around 4pm when we started to configure the custom kernel compilation. Manually choosing which drivers (and their options) to include for network, sound and other hardware adapters was exciting, and used to give us the sensation that our fine-tunned kernel would give us blazing speed, exploiting all of the available BOGOMIPS power of the underlying machine. That was before the popularization of loadable kernel modules, which basically rendered custom kernel compilation unnecessary for future distros/installs.

Following the boot-up process was mind-blowing. I remember somebody commenting this: “do you know why there are so many strange messages during the boot process? It’s because Linux is actually using all of your computer resources, instead of hiding this from you”. Lol, one can argue that the comment is not actually true, but it is funny to see how a technology can make someone passionate about it.

Accessing the internet with your carefully configured Linux box used to give you that felling of safety and power over the mere mortals. Even if it was impossible to use WinModems (ruim-modems, as we used to say in portuguese), creating shell scripts to automate the dial-up process was a pleasure, in the same way planning a play as a child was much better then playing it itself. Doing it from a Linux-powered (by hand, not factory default as crappy netbooks of today) was even better.

Things I remember and miss (more or less):

  • BitchX
  • Lynx
  • Doom
  • XF86Config
  • make xconfig
  • the “./configure – make – make install” loop
  • man pages
  • The Enlightenment Window Manager

Did I forget anything important? I’ll finish with a personal opinion:

Now that Linux is pretty much consolidated in the server and embedded (mobile included) market. However, I still think it haven’t (and never will) got a place in the ordinary user Desktop. Given that Linux’s future is well secured because of its relevance in the server/embedded/mobile space, why waste energy trying to convince people to use it in the Desktop? Nerds still love to have something to call their own, and theirs only…:)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2011 10:47 pm

    Bacana o post, Eric… Me fez lembrar bastante do bons e velhos tempos que eram o final dos anos 90. Quantas noites de sono eu não perdi, recompilando o kernel do Linux…

    • July 16, 2011 11:25 pm

      Why waste energy trying to convince people to use it in the Desktop?

      That’s obvious. Because with more people using it, better the system will be. For any customer of any product, the most efficient version is not the best one, it is the most used one. Why are you using Facebook instead of Hi5? Because everybody else is on FB and thus you do not need to convert them to turn Hi5 efficient for you. More users, more tools, more customization, more personal efficiency (if used right). Linux still lack in a not of tools. Making it the default desktop solution will blow Linux deficiencies away.

      Besides that, it is cool to say that someone else’s OS is worse than yours. It is like cheering for a soccer team. You will always be happy when your rival loses 🙂

  2. vinicius permalink
    July 22, 2011 2:37 am

    wow, BitchX!! :-)) my first Linux was a slack 3.4. nice revival! i still remember the “minicom” odyssey to connect to the Internet.

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