Friday 22 January 2021

Day 312 of self-isolation - The change to Linux

The change to Linux

25 years ago, I knew nothing about Linux. I had encountered SCO Unix while doing a data recovery, and that threw me in at the deep end, and it was painful. I didn't even know how to do a directory listing (it's ls instead of dir). But when I started running internet servers, Linux was the obvious choice. At first, Debian, but I soon switched to Red Hat Fedora on the servers. And I wrote all the software I needed in perl, which is sufficiently like Pascal (and Algol, my first love) to make the conversion easy. I found C horrible.

Then I came up with the idea of doing all the data preparation and computation on a computer that wasn't being constantly accessed from the internet, so I set up a server for that. I looked at Debian, Fedora and BSD, and chose Fedora, because at that time, BSD didn't have a way to mount Windows volumes on the unix server.

But I was still using Windows as my general purpose workstation. For things like email, browsing the web and editing.

Then I got hit by The Register. The Register is a tech news site (I still use it) which I visited every day. But one day in 2004, I visited The Register and all hell broke loose. It was immediately obvious that my Windows 98 computer had been hit by a trojan, and it turned out that the cause was an advert (which I hadn't clicked on) being shown by The Register.

I spent half an hour trying to get rid of the thing, but it kept coming back, meaning that I hadn't actually gotten rid of it. And then I sat and thought.  I could either flail around trying to remove this thing that was obviously going to be difficult to remove, or I could completely Zap the hard drive and reinstall Windows from scratch.

So I zapped the hard drive. And then I had another thought. Since I'm starting from a clean system, and since all my important data is on a file server that isn't the infested computer, why reinstall Windows?

So I installed Fedora Linux, with a Gnome graphical user interface (GUI). From my work with servers, I was already familiar with the command line of Linux, but the GUI was completely new to me - or was it? It turned out to be remarkably similar to the Windows GUI.

But what about the applications? For email, I was already using a terminal to my mailbox with Pine as the mail app. The advantage of Pine is that it's a text-only interface without javascript or other clever stuff, so it's going to be immune to the attacks that are made on web-based email apps. For my browser I used Firefox, and browsers all work in pretty much the same way. Instead of Excel, I used gnumeric (now I use Libre Office) and all spreadsheets work much the same way. Instead of Word, I used Abiword (now I use Libre Office)and all word processors work much the same way. Instead of Notepad or Wordpad, I used nedit, a text editor. Instead of PC Paintbrush, I use Gimp. 

And when I need some particular piece of software, I just go get it, because you don't pay for Linux software. And pretty much everything is available, because when someone has an itch, they scratch it and make it available for other people for free.

So now I have dozens of Windows licences, because often when I buy a second hand computer, it seems to come with a Windows licence taped to it. Or does it? Maybe the licence is only to the original owner? I don't care, because I'm replacing it with linux. And right now, I have just two Windows computers; one is for running GSAK because there isn't a linux version, and the other is for playing Civilisation VI.

But for everything else, there's linux.


  1. I'm contemplating switching to Linux too but I'm not sure yet. Will probably install it in a VM first to try it out.

  2. A couple of comments... in 1981 when I was a freshman Computer Science student at Syracuse University in New York, ALGOL W was one of the languages along with APL & LISP.

    You are a geocacher if you are running GSAK. I have GSAK running on my MAC under Wine if you wanted to give it a try. I am user #3 (C;yde was user #1 & 2) in the GSAK forums when Clyde first started, but I hardly use it now and rely more on Project-GC. Project-GC works well for me and it has everything online vs the offline approach typical of using GSAK.

  3. APL deserved to die. Lisp was clever - too clever, I though.

    Yes, I'm a geocacher, but haven't been out for a long time now. At one point, I was number one in Europe.