Note: If you do not agree, then great! Go ahead and try something else; this is on of the great aspects of Linux. Please do not flame me for expressing my opinions; thoughtful retorts are most definitely welcome. I do not provide screenshots – each product has their own screenshots so I will not waste bandwidth here.
In the Beginning
In 1995, I purchased my first Linux book, 'Linux Unleashed', complete with a Linux CD that just happened to include Slackware 1.0x. I had a 486 system that, at the time, was a decent machine. I had become disillusioned with Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 was again delayed. I dabbled in OS/2 for a short time but always ended up back with Windows. Seeking an alternative, I ventured into the world of Linux.
I was impressed with Linux but at the same time very confused; this was not anything at all like DOS or Windows and my entire computing paradigm had just been shattered right before my eyes. Installation was long and difficult on my 2X CD-ROM drive. I struggled with using Slackware for a while but I was never really able to switch my mindset over to Linux, and I could not play any good games or get on the internet. Having only one computer and one wife (who wanted to play games and get on the internet), it was back to Windows once again where I could play games and surf the 'net. I really enjoyed my short time with Slackware but it was time to move on.
Fast forward to 2003. I upgraded to a blazing fast 2.4GHz hyperthreaded P4 system with an Intel 865PE chipset-based motherboard and a Radeon 9700 Pro; I had hopes of using Linux on this system and finally dumping Microsoft for good. No such luck.
Slackware 9.1 was hot off the presses so I decided to give it a go. I downloaded the Slackware ISOs from LinuxISO.org and burned them. Unfortunately, the kernel in Slackware 9.1 was too old and my new hardware was not detected properly – notably my onboard ICH6 LAN and AC'97 audio. The final nail in the coffin, though, was the lack of drivers for my Radeon 9700 Pro - ATi was VERY slow in getting Linux drivers out for Xfree86 4.3.0 (and I had given up before they finally released drivers – which they only released as an RPM, and I did not yet know about rpm2tgz). I put Windows XP back on the system so I could fire up Battlefield 1942, Unreal Tournament 2003, and Medal of Honor. I cannot tell a lie: I'm a gaming junkie and I need my fix. Slackware, however, impressed me quite a bit, despite not finding my new hardware (and I did not realistically expect it to find my new hardware, an issue that has plagued Linux in general for a long time).
I had an old PIII/800 system laying around and decided to experiment with Linux again. I tried Red Hat 9.0 (which I actually have running on another system that is my web server), Debian (which was way too much work), Mandrake, Knoppix, Slax, Yoper, and even Lindows (see DistroWatch if you are unfamiliar with any of these). None of them quite met my needs for one reason or another; it is worth noting that I was absolutely underwhelmed by Mandrake after all that I had heard about it (please, no flames, just accept the fact that not everybody likes Mandrake). I was going to try Gentoo but I was worried that it would take a dreadfully long time to install on an 800MHz machine. Also, I always get confused as to exactly which CDs to use to install the operating system.
I kept looking at those Slackware 9.1 CDs that I had burned, sitting on my desk, taunting me. "What the heck," I thought, "let's give it a go." Slackware installed quickly on my PIII; I told it to install the full 2GB, or "everything." To my surprise, the installation went perfectly and all my hardware was found. Using Slackware is a vastly different experience than my many years with Red Hat (7.0 -> 9.0), as it does not have the fancy GUI utilities to administer the system. Having played with all those other distributions left me "broken" in that I had become totally dependent upon graphical management tools. For shame! Head hanging low, I resolved to get up to speed on managing a Linux system properly. More on that later.
A quick jump to my old buddy, Google, and I was finding out that the Slackware community was alive and thriving. I learned about installpkg, xwmconfig, Linuxpackages.net, swaret, and more. Wow, Slackware is nothing like my experience back in 1995! Immediately impressed, I tried my hand at upgrading: kernel 2.6.0-testx and KDE 3.2 beta..
The upgrades were easy and went well, but I had a few issues that I was unable to resolve (like getting the mouse wheel to work, despite properly adding 'ZAxisMapping' and 'Buttons' options to XF86Config). Wine never worked quite right, so I could not play games on this system. I tried getting into better games like Unreal Tournament 2003 (this system has a GeForce2 Ti200 in it) but it unexpectedly failed (OpenGL errors) after playing a few times and I could never get the game to work again (or any 3D other than the Mesa3D applications/games) I never quite figured it out. The nVidia message boards were quite unresponsive to anything but the easy questions; I never received any replies to my posts. OpenOffice.org will not do the "CTRL-SHIFT-ENTER" equations that I need for some custom Excel files I created. I never did get MySQL working. Slowly, sadly, the system faded into disuse, and the PIII system was converted into my MP3 server, running Windows XP, because I had a need to do it NOW, and not mess with it for hours on end trying to figure it out in Linux. Which brings up a point – Linux needs to be easy to use without treating advanced users like idiots. Microsoft failed here, please don't let Linux follow suit.