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Logo by Brian Downing      

Unix/Linux Experience

In the 1990s at IBM I had a very rich and diverse software environment. I was part of a group which provided the IBM Rochester (MN) lab a workstation-based work environment. It made extensive use of Andrew - Andrew User Interface System and the Andrew File System (once provided by Transarc, now part of OpenAFS). We had hundreds of tools from the Internet on our AIX machines.

So imagine my extreme pleasure when I left IBM and discovered the pleasures of Linux. While I don't use a fancy AIX machine anymore, I have a similarly rich and stable software toolset as at IBM. For bragging rights I can claim to have used Linux since the 0.90 kernels.

For the longest time I used Slackware and thought it was great. A few years after I tired of needing to know so much about how things worked and switched to using Redhat 9.0 briefly and then Fedora. FC1 was pretty good, but I've been disappointed with FC2. It's no where nearly good enought IMHO. I used Suse 9.1 and have been very impressed. YAST is way way better than anything else I've seen to that point. Ultimately, I left it behind, because I was unwilling to regularly pay for upgrades. I had hoped my employer would strike up a great deal with Suse and I could upgrade for a few dollars. It didn't happen, so I looked further.

Next I found Debian distribution (at the time, Sarge, stable). I'd tried Debian years before, but was overwhelmed by the installation process where I had to guess which of the N thousand packages I wanted. It'd gotten better so that I can actually get a usable system right off the bat. In fact now that I've learned to use synaptic, I can search for the packages I want. Indeed, I've even learned how to compile my own kernel and this idea of creating your own kernel package is v-e-r-y nice when you have to support more than one machine running Debian. Finally, I'll confess that having access to tens of thousands of packages is addictive. I can try out software with almost no effort and if I don't like it, I can remove it just as reasonably. This looks pretty good to me.

Ubuntu came next. While Debian eventually made the install and maintenance process so easy, Ubuntu took it far further. Installing third party drivers (e.g. video drivers) became easier and easier - to the point of being trivial. Ubuntu got me out of being a full time admin. I could admin when it was convenient for me.

I had NeXT machine for several years and this experience taught me that it is possible to have a graphical interface that works and makes your life better. There was a time when this was not true. My search for a graphical interface I liked and that was easier enough for me to find things led to KDE and Kubuntu. I keep reading why KDE is bad because it's a resource hog and all that. This is not my experience and if I need to dedicate an extra 10% (or more) of my machine to have a pleasurable graphical interface that does what I want, then I'm happy to 'spend' it. After all, my machine is 90% empty all the time anyway.

Most recently I've had access to a large Mac laptop (running OSX 10.3 and now 10.6) and now I understand why so many geeks have been converted over. I put a USB three button mouse on the laptop and continue to use it like I would in Linux or even Windows. The Mac gives me menus for my right clicks - I hardly know I'm not on a Linux laptop.

Initially I used fink or macimports and had a wide range of X11 tools from my Linux world. That worked well enough, but often time was not as smooth as I wanted. Most recently I've tried to only use native-written Mac tools. There aren't as many tools available as I want that are native to Mac, but I'm learning to limit my wants and live with what I can find for very cheap or free. This environment works for me. I still miss some flexibility I had with Linux, but this is good enough, at least for now.