Saturday, March 14, 2009

Celebrating Linux's 15th birthday

The wife and I are celebrating the anniversary of Linux, by watching "RevolutionOS", streaming from Netflix to our TiVo.

I installed Linux for the first time back in 1994.

I installed Slackware release 1.1.2 off of, I believe it was, 24 floppies; the day after I managed to actually get it downloaded (it took me about a week from the release date of February 5th)... and another two weeks to actually make it work.

Early Linux distributions were very much hackerware. The Slackware distro I was using wasn't even on a fully released kernel; Linux was still on beta 0.9.

About a month later, on March 14th, 1994, Linus Torvalds officially released the Linux kernel 1.0.0.

That would be 15 years ago today.

Honestly, I found the first couple Linux distros I tried to be barely usable; so I went back to using a BSD variant.

I needed a UNIX or UNIX like OS at home, because in work, and college, I was using a half dozen different commercial UNIX plaforms, and I REALLY needed the compatible tools, and the power of a UNIX like OS.

At the time, I had different software I was using running on SunOS, HP-UX, AIX, Digital UNIX/Tru-64 (or whatever they were calling it that day... I think it was OSF/1 at the time... or it may still have been Ultrix. In remember we made a big change around that time, but I cant remember from what to what), and Irix (yes, at the time I was using all those different variants. Yes, it was a pain in the ass).

Then RedHat 2 came out in 1995, along with the Apache web server, the MySQL database, the PHP scripting language and Perl 5 (which actually hit at the end of '94).

That combination, now conventionally referred to as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) completely changed the world. From RedHat 2 on, the adoption curve and software tools availability of Linux just went through the roof.

Pretty soon, although the tools werent necessarily of the same quality as I could get on the commercial distributions of UNIX; I could get all the tools I needed to do what I needed to do, and I could get almost all of them for free.

Since that time (14 years ago), I have never been without a computer running linux (even if it was just a dualboot or virtual machine).

The first thing I do with any new machine I buy, is find some way to install Linux on it; whether it be natively solo, native with dual boot, or through virtual machine. I simply will not have a computer without linux tools available to me.

Even on locked down work machines, if they don't have them already, I make sure I have a live VM available that I can run my linux tools on; because I simply cannot do my job without real UNIX tools.

Hell, even my wife uses Linux. She's not even a geek (in the conventional sense), and she much prefers Linux to windows.

I'm typing this post right now on a machine running the Ubuntu 8.10 Linux distribution, which is a perfect example of how the Linux open source model works.

Ubuntu, is a distribution built on the foundation of another distribution, Debian. My installation is currently running on Linux Kernel 2.6.27-13, which was released last month; but kernel 2.6 has been in stable release since Devember 2005.

Literally tens of thousands of developers have worked on this system, basically for free (though often their employers were paying them to do so); and all of it was shared between these companies and groups, to make it work on my laptop today.

When I first tried to install this revision of this distribution a few months ago, I had problems with the sound and video drivers, and the wireless networking drivers (a not uncommon issue with laptops).

Just in that few months, dozens or hundreds of developers worked on those drivers and applications supporting my sound, video, and networking hardware; and once I finished installing and patching three days ago, all those problems were simply solved.

It just WORKED.

I installed it three days ago, replacing the windows 7 install I had on this computer (which I discovered has major bugs relating to network file transfers) entirely for free. The hundreds of programs I have installed on this system to support me, also all entirely free.

How did computer people live without these tools before Linux and GNU?

I don't really know; because from the very first fully networked comptuer I was ever on (in the early 80s, actually connected to MIT. I'm not counting my C64 on compuserve) I've had access to these indispensible GNU (and other free software) tools.

I have never had to do any serious computing work, without having access to serious, quality, free software tools (except in some secured environments). I have Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds to thank for that.

Oh and remember I said up above I was watching RevolutionOS on my Tivo? Well, I was very specific about that, because my TiVo runs on linux too.

So does the router it's getting it's network feed from, and the firewall in front of that... and probably the servers they are streaming the video FROM back at Netflixes datacenters...

...though paradoxically, because of microsoft pushed DRM, they won't let me stream that same video directly to my laptop running Linux; though I can to my Mac media server, my apple tv with boxee, and my windows boxes.

It's an amazing world we live in.