Linux: A Story

I’m not from the world of Linux. Entering college, I knew with absolute 100% certainty that I didn’t want to do anything science-y or engineering-y or anything in the realm of, you know, a real education. But on a whim, I took a couple college courses in computer science, and lo and behold, the stuff wasn’t quite so bad. In fact, it seemed interesting enough for me to take a few more classes and minor in it.

Interesting, yes, but I freely admit that, some way or another, I’m just not cut out for programming for a living. I’ll have to live vicariously through…uh…how? And then on another whim (I’m quite impulsive), just a few months ago, I decided to give that Linux business a try.

Now, to understand this step, one must understand. I had just bought a brand-new kinda-netbook before starting grad school, and I had every intention of just using that darn preinstalled Windows 7 to get me through classes; I’d never heard of normal people using anything else. II honestly thought that there might be a 50/50 chance that this Linux thing would blow up my computer, set it afire, and most importantly, void my warranty. We SSH’d into the terminals to write programs in college, but I’d never actually used a Linux desktop for anything else.

After some research, I discovered that: A. Gnome, pretty much the only thing I’d heard of, was not, in fact, Linux. B. Linux was about a zillion different “distros.” And C. I’d have to pick one of these distros to try Linux. And D. These distros had quite varying levels of user-friendliness.

After some more googling, I settled on Linux Mint 11; the other option was Ubuntu, but it seemed that people were quite up in arms about what I’d later learn involved its unique Unity desktop. At the time, though, I still didn’t quite understand the difference between a distro and a desktop.

The website recommended that I download a “Live DVD” and burn it to an ISO. A what? Some more googling, upon which I discovered that I could burn their ISO (disk image) to a physical DVD. That explained the DVD part. After burning and popping in the disc, the “Live” part became clear. Another operating system basically ran itself from my optical drive! I had to take out the disc and reboot just to make sure my computer hadn’t actually installed Mint. (Though the speed of running from the disc might have tipped me off.)

The desktop looked completely different from any desktop I’d seen (granted, I’d only seen the various iterations of Windows). Mint 11 had Gnome 2, shielding me from much of the hullaballoo surrounding Gnome 3. The cleanliness and simplicity of it, along with the novelty of not recognizing the names of basic applications, surprised me, and after some poking around, I decided to actually install the thing.

Here I needed to ask someone, more out of my own fear than Mint’s installer’s difficulty. My friend, who’d installed Linux on her own computer, explained partitioning to me and helped ensure that I didn’t erase anything on my hard drive. Mint had a very self-explanatory installer, and I quickly partitioned and installed it.

I decided that, for the next undetermined amount of time, I’d use Mint on a daily basis. I don’t play many games; I don’t do much that truly requires Windows. The capabilities I required of my computer could all be found in Mint’s repositories, which seemed simple enough to navigate with its graphic package manager.

Over the next few days, I learned to work with LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Word. Web browsers Firefox and Chrome remained the same. I found a noticeable speed difference. I discovered that I didn’t even miss Windows. I’d heard that Linux was ugly; on the contrary, it had quite a bit of eye candy to it, and the options for customizability seemed huge. I kept seeing names of various applications floating around on message boards, and I didn’t even have the time to look up some of them.

Then I broke it. I got cute and tried to move some partitions around without looking up anything. Whoops. I had just gotten Mint precisely how I wanted it, too.

But I’d been researching various distros, and that xkcd post came to mind. Gentoo? Debian? Who? I wanted to learn more about Linux. The message board people said Arch. Arch sounded nice and simple. I thought I’d give that a shot.

I’m sure anyone who’s used Arch is laughing. The length of that story makes it viable for another post, especially considering this one’s length.


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