posted by Mike Reed on Tue 22nd Apr 2003 19:02 UTC
IconI keep reading all these tales of woe of people having bad experiences with Linux. Sure, I've had my own bad experiences, across many an OS, but just lately I've been running a Red Hat Linux 9 desktop full-time at home and have yet to run into any major issue. What follows is an overview of my personal experiences with Linux. But first, a bit about me.

Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of

I've been involved with computers since my Dad brought home an Atari 400. That must have been around 1979 and I would have been eight years old. It's now 2003 and I earn my living from IT, architecting and supporting a datacentre full of wintel servers. I work with Windows enough to love it and loathe it in generally equal amounts.

My first playful encounter with Linux was in 1999, I think it was Red Hat Linux 5.x. I got as far as installing it on some old and abhorrent IBM PS2 486 complete with MCA architecture and 16/4 token ring. After configuring network connectivity and using Netscape for a bit I git very bored and began tinkering. Naturally I broke something and (shock!) Linux crashed, dead. Nothing for it but a hard reboot. This was before Linux used a journalled filesystem and the box never recovered. It took me a long time to forgive Linux for that.

In 2000 I was a well paid IT contractor and I came across a security consultant who ran Windows2000 atop Red Hat Linux 6.2 using VMware workstation. I was impressed, albeit confounded by the seemingly pointlessness of the exercise. Until I saw tools like Nmap, Ethereal, Etherape and Samba. Tools like that could cost a fortune on the Windows platform, certainly at that time. I wanted to know more about Linux. I still considered myself an utter newbie and began researching for the easiest to use distro. I considered at the time that Red Hat Linux was for experts so it didn't really get a look in. All reviews and personal opinions seemed to point to Mandrake 7. I don't remember using it for long - just long enough to break it through my own mix of exploration and stupidity. It's very true that a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing!

Another contract later and in 2001 I kept reading great press about SuSE 7.1 and how it was a 'Windows Killer'. Well, if nothing else that must mean it'll be easy for a dumbass like me to get it up and running. And it had ReiserFS! Hurrah! I began running my business on SuSE/KDE - webserver, mailserver, desktop (I used Smoothwall on my ADSL/USB connection). At client sites I would fire up VMware on my laptop (running at 500MHz) and boot into Windows for the daily chores while all the time trying to make the most of my SuSE Linux experience.

The pinnacle of my SuSE experience was 7.3 on that 500MHz laptop - Linux was still improving and I wanted to take those improvements onboard. When it came to buying my next laptop I chose based on Linux compatibility - mainly the graphics card. I opted for a 1GHz Dell Inspiron 4100 with a 16MB Radeon and a combo DVD/CD-R which I still use as my main desktop computer today. It came with XP and I kept a dual-boot system for gaming purposes. From SuSE 8.0 upwards I've found the distribution wanting. They left out the GLX packages meaning that 3D didn't work out of the box. SuSE 8.1 and 8.2 are still wanting - 8.1 had horrid and small fonts on my 1400x1050 display and neither ship with kernels that support my laptop APM fully. I'd also come to realise that, although it ships with a plethora of software, the Apt4rpm repositories were nowhere near as brimming as other popular distributions.

In the interim to all this usage of SuSE the IT contracting market slumped and I was forced to close my business and get a permie job (where I find myself today, a year later). Because I was so disappointed with the SuSE 8.x series I began to look elsewhere. For a while, Mandrake 9.0 was it. I'd discovered Apt4rpm and URPMI and excellent website resources to help get me going and bring back things to my desktop that Windows users take for granted - namely multimedia. The single best general Linux portal that caters for all 'consumer orientated' distros that I've found is PCLinuxOnline. It's a great starting point for anyone new to Linux, and EasyURPMI is a fantastic timesaver. Of course, a broadband connection is essential.

Through using URPMI and Apt4rpm/Synaptic I managed to uglify my desktop and break my RPM database. Well, I didn't (and rarely do) have time to fix stuff so I knew it was going to be a reinstall. Besides, I still had my XP install on the other partition so I had a working system one way or another. About this time Red Hat Linux released 8.0. Well, I figured I'd been using Mandrake long enough, and Mandrake was originally a KDE-biased fork of Red Hat Linux so how hard could Red Hat Linux be now? (I'd used Red Hat Linux 7.3 with Ximian desktop for a while but was frustrated with Gnome 1.4)

My first impressions of Red Hat Linux 8.0 were good. It installed flawlessly and KDE wasn't broken (although I do understand the KDE developer's point). My laptop would suspend and resume okay. It was trivial to install fonts (at last!) and there were other nice, polished, touches. A previous stint using Red Hat Linux 7.3 and Ximian Gnome had me yearning for that Gnome/Nautilus look. It's purely personal but I've always felt that Gnome has the edge aesthetically and KDE has the edge with functionality (Konqueror is awesome). Since I spend a lot of time staring at my computer desktop it should be as easy on the eye as possible. I could never get KDE to look 'arty' but I could never get Gnome to do what I wanted - it always seemed like things were half implemented (example - when setting file permissions with Nautilus it cannot be done recursively). My opinions had changed by the time Red Hat Linux 9 arrived.

Table of contents
  1. "Linux Just Works, Part I"
  2. "Linux Just Works, Part II"
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