How I moved from Windows to Linux

A personal experience

Quick Background

My first contact with computers was an Apple II at school and an Epson portable computer that my dad used at work. A little later there were a friend's Commodore 64 and the first IBM clone XT PC's at school. The PC's ran MS DOS and we programmed in TruBasic. Some years later I discovered Norton Commander and QBasic. At that stage everything was still wonderful and the PC was a wonderful toy. It rarely crashed and I enjoyed myself.

Then Windows 3.1 became available, but I did not like it. I held out on MS DOS 6.2 until I bought a 486 PC that came with Windows 3.11 pre-installed. I still ran my Turbo Pascal 7 without starting Windows. Things was still fine and I gradually became used to Windows and started using MS Word and Excel at work.

I bought the 486 a few months before Windows 95 was released. I held out on Windows 3.11 for about 2 years while everybody was hyping about Windows 95. Something just did not smell right to me, but I could not put my finger on it. I started looking at alternatives. Apple was too expensive but OS/2 looked good, but I never got to buying it, as the support for it did not look too good for a home user.

Then in 1998 I changed job and my new employer used Windows 95 & NT 4.0. They also had a few Sun workstations and a small HP 9000 server. My first few projects was on Windows NT and our email and Office stuff ran on Windows 95. So I finally switched to Windows 95 at home too. I also started to re-install Windows at least every 6 months.
That was depressing, but working everyday on Windows at work, I became accustomed to the constant crashes and I assumed that this is how PC's are supposed to work these days. I have totally forgot of the days working with the stable little Epson or DOS 3.x

The Awakening

At the beginning of 1999 I started working full time on a project based on HP 9000 servers. I administered and programmed using a HP 9000 K260, a HP 9000 D210, two HP 9000 J210 and a HP Envisex X-Term. I used the HP-VUE desktop. At first it was horrible to work in VUE, but I also had a Windows NT PC for the Office Automation stuff. As I worked more on UNIX and started to learn UNIX and the VUE interface, I discovered that these machines seldom crashed. When a machine did crash it was always due to our custom software.
We used these machines for development and tests and they were still stable. We were 2 to 4 programmers working at the same time on these machines (I was in Cape Town with the machines and the rest was in Pretoria) and they still had up times of more than a month (most of the times much more) Most of the reboots was due to kernel patches, kernel configuration or hardware changes.

I was also amazed that you could install or un-install software while the machine is busy with other tasks. You did not need to reboot it or stop any other software running. This was just amazing!
I got used to the multiple desktops in VUE and the fact that I could work on 4 machines at the same time from one user interface. In Windows I could not do it.

First Contact

At the beginning of 1999, a friend gave me a RedHat 6.0 CD. I did not touch it until about June/July, when I decided to Install Linux on a spare 500MB Hard drive and a small partition of the primary 4 GB HDD. At first I was a little disappointed, because there was no good driver for my graphics card and all I could get was 600x400 resolution.
So, I started to search the Internet and I was amazed at the amount of help that was available. It was not long before I had a decent 1024x768 GNOME Desktop running. At that stage I still had Windows installed and I configured the Windows boot loader to dual boot Linux.

At first I only occasionally fiddled around in Linux, learning how things worked and discovering the available software. Then RedHat 6.2 was released and I downloaded the Installation CD and the Power Tools. I removed another Windows partition and installed RedHat 6.2 after removing the RedHat 6.0 installation.
I started to spend more and more time on Linux and I started to search the Internet for applications and help. The next thing I did was to get my HP CD-Writer to work. My first attempt was a disaster, as I used a very old HOWTO, that still required you to compile ide-scsi support into the kernel. The 2.2.14 kernel I had, used modules, and I did not know about modules. Needless to say, my new kernel rendered the machine practically useless for me. I also did not think to backup the existing modules, as the HOWTO did not mention any modules, so my machine was broken. The original kernel did boot up, but most things did not work
After a little thinking, reading and fiddling with the installation CD, I managed get the modules re-installed and the system was fine again. I thought to myself, that if something similar should happen on a Windows system, then you need to re-install everything. This is when I realized how stable and robust Linux is.
After finding the correct, up-to-date HOWTO, I managed to get my CD-Writer working, using the existing ide-scsi module. I was amazed at how easy it actually was.

The Total move to Linux

During that time I discovered the StarOffice suite and VMWare. I bought VMWare and removed the remaining Windows partition, converting it to ext2fs. I installed Windows under VMWare as I still needed it for some development work I did with Borland C++ Builder. From then on, all my personal machines only got Linux installed on them. I converted one of the office desktops to Linux (to replace the HP Envisex X-Term) and when I got a laptop at work, I asked the IT people to install Windows NT on only 25% of the disk. The rest I used for my Linux installation.
From then on things just got better. I discovered Linux User's Groups and joined CLUG (Cape Town Linux Users Group) and after moving to Pretoria, I joined GLUG (Gauteng Linux Users Group). The Users Groups has mailing lists where people can ask help. I discovered that you can get your solution there, most of the time. I also joined some other lists, like Ximian, RedHat, SuSE and some software-specific lists like Galeon (Web browser), Evolution (mail client) and VDKBuilder (C++ IDE).
Finding software or solutions are also easy. I use the Google search engine and 90% of the time it will give me a link to what I want in the first 5 search results. There are lots of Open Source software available for Linux, much more that you would expect. The SourceForge and Freshmeat web sites are normally the best place to find software.

Systems that I currently use

Workstation - Obelix:
Obelix is an AMD Athlon 1.1 GHz system with 500MB RAM, running SuSE Linux 9.1
I use it for development projects, e-mail, Internet communications, web browsing, CD writing, making labels for the CD's, ripping mp3's, general word processing, simple graphic processing (scanning images, cut 'n paste and print) experimenting with different operating systems using VMWare, personal finances, some gaming and generally trying out new stuff I find.
I use the ULB GNOME desktop system by James Ogley. This is a specially compiled GNOME for SuSE, based on Ximian GNOME. I normally have 10 virtual desktops. Normally each desktop of have an average of 2 windows open, but most of the time some will have 5 or more windows open. As each window represents a running application, the machine is constantly running about 24 desktop applications. Then there are still the numerous applications running in the background. Try doing that on Windows!

Server - Getafix
Getafix is an AMD Duron 1.3 GHz system with 256 MB RAM, running SuSE Linux 9.0
I use Getafix as a NFS server, local web server and database server. I store my CD images, downloaded stuff and documents on Getafix and then I use NFS to access the data from my Workstation and notebook. I have Apache installed and I use it to access local documentation, like the HOWTO's, Oracle Documentation and other application documentation. I do this, so that I don't have to be on-line to access documentation and so that I don't need to use my bandwidth when I am on-line to read documentation. I just update my copies of the documentation from time to time.
I also have PostgreSQL and MySQL database engines installed for development and testing.
THe server also run Request Tracker and SQL-Ledger instances for testing porposes.

Internet Gateway - Geriatrix
Geriatrix is an Intel P1 150 MHz system with 32 MB RAM, running SuSE Linux 9.0. (Try running the latest MS OS on that hardware!)
This machine has the ISDN card and small 5-port hub installed. Geriatrix handles the connection to the Internet so that the other machines can access the Internet via Geriatrix. Geriatrix also runs a DHCP server, caching DNS and firewall. Who said a P1 is useless. The machine is even idle most of the time!.
Geriatrix only gets rebooted if there were a power failure or if I see that it has done a kernel upgrade. It will normally run for months without being rebooted

Laptop computer - Asterix
Asterix is an HP nx5000 laptop computer with a 1.7 GHz Centrino CPU and 500MB RAM, running SuSE Linux 9.1
This is my main work computer that I use for my day-to-day work. The machine runs ULB Gnome 2.8 with Evolution for email and Mozilla Firefox as browser.
I also have Apache, MySQL and PostgreSQL installed for on-site development and testing.

Software that I currently use

Software Type Description Used Office Suite is very similar to MS Office and it can read and write MS Office formats. OpenOffice 1.1.x only have some problems with formatting of complicated MS Office documents that contain VB script, etc. I have been using OpenOffice for a long time as my only Office suite and I have not encountered my documents that I cannot open and edit. The only documents that I recently had problems with are password-protected spreadsheets. Asterix, Obelix
Gnumeric Spreadsheet Gnumeric is a Gtk based spreadsheet application that can read and write MS excel spreadsheets. The nice thing about Gnumeric is that is is lighter and faster than OpenOffice, so I use it for personal spreadsheets and to quickly view MS Excel spreadsheets. To edit a MS spreadsheet that needs to be distributed into a MS dominated environment, OpenOffice 1.1.x is better. Asterix, Obelix
Ximian Evolution Office automation and communication Evolution is an work-group e-mail client with calender, tasks and address book. It looks very much like MS Outlook and it has similar functionality, but it is standards compliant, modular and free. It also have some additional functionality like virtual folders, mailing list support, decent filtering rules and it is not susceptable to viruses. You can actually schedule a meeting in evolution and invite Outlook users. The Outlook users are able to accept your invitation and the meeting will be added to the user's calendar and you will receive the response and Evolution's Calendar will also be updated. If Outlook or the Exchange server is set up to use the standards compliant iCalendar format, then an Evolution user can also accept Outlook meeting requests.
I use Evolution at work to read my Exchange mail through the Ximain Connector and at home I use Evolution to read my POP3 mail. Ximian Connecttor is an Exchange plug-in for Evolution that enable Evolution users to utilize the Exchange server functions same as the Outlook client. I can view my Exchange Addressbooks, Calendar and Tasks. I have the same functionality than the Outlook users, but with the added functionality of Evolution.
Asterix, Obelix
NEdit Advanced Text editor NEdit (Nirvana Editor) is a multi-purpose text editor for the X Window System. This editor is available on most platforms and it is easy to use. I use it for development, as it supports syntax highlighting and macros for development languages. It is also very easy to write your own macros and syntax highlighting or add short-cut keys and special menu items to suit your needs. Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, Geriatrix
Mozilla Firefox Web Browser FireFox is a web browser that is based on Mozilla's gecko rendering engine. This is one of the fastest and most standards compliant rendering engines around. The Opera web browser also have a fast, standards compliant rendering engine. Firefox is fast and effective, as it only focus on web browsing. It does not include email or HTML editing like Mozilla does. Firefox also have a lot of very useful features and it is very customizable to suit individual needs. It also features many plugins to extend the functionality Asterix, Obelix
gFTP Graphical FTP utility gFTP is a graphical, multi-threaded ftp client for Linux and UNIX. This application makes downloading very easy. You can save you favorite ftp sites and logins and you can browse local and remote files while transferring files. You can even edit remote files if you have the permissions. Asterix, Obelix
Downloader for X Download manager The Downloader for X is very useful download manager. It supports drag and drop and clipboard capture. You can also schedule your downloads and do multiple downloads at the same time. It will resume downloads if the connection was lost and you can set the number of times it will retry. You can also configure a username and password for a specific download if that is needed. Obelix
Xchat IRC Client Xchat is an IRC client for Linux and UNIX. It has all the functionality of the normal IRC clients like mIRC. It also supports Perl plug-ins and custom scripts. Asterix, Obelix
Pan News Reader Pan is a news reader for GNOME that are easy to use. I don't use news readers very often, but Pan works very well. Asterix, Obelix
GAIM Messaging client GAIM is a modular messaging client for GNOME, capable or using AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, ICQ, SILC, Novell Groupwize, Napster, Zephyr and Gadu-Gadu all at once. This enables you to only use one tool for all your messaging needs. GAIM also integrates into the notification area of the GNOME desktop. Asterix, Obelix
GnomeSword Bible Study application GnomeSword is a Bible study package that use the SWORD libraries. This tool helps you to cross-reference with dictionaries, commentaries and Strong's numbers. Obelix
X-CD-Roast CD Writing Tool X-CD-Roast is a Tkl front end for the different CD writing tools that does the actual work. (cdrecord, mkisofs, etc.) X-CD-Roast allows you to master images from files on your hard drive, or make a copy of a cd. Data and sound cd's are supported. Sound tracks can also be played back with X-CD-Roast. Asterix, Obelix
The GIMP Graphics Editor The GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. This is probably one of the most powerful and most complete graphics editors around. You can create images, animations and manipulate or touch up photos. The GIMP has a huge plug in repository that allows you to do virtually anything imaginable with a picture or photo. You can develop you own plug-ins if you need to. Asterix, Obelix, Getafix
Anjuta C++ IDE Anjuta is a versatile IDE for C++ that has been written for GTK/GNOME. This IDE includes project management tools, application wizards, interactive debugger and a source editor with syntax highlighting and many more. This is a very clean design with a lot of potential. It is still in an early stage of development. It makes use of the GTK Glade GUI builder. At this stage it is not yet fully integrated into the Anjuta IDE, but they are working on it. Asterix, Obelix
Borland BuilderX RAD tool BuilderX is Borland's multi-compiler, multi-platform IDE for Linux, Windows and Solaris. BuilderX is based on the JBuilder IDE and is written in Java. The IDE can be configured to use almost any compiler. It comes standard with support for gcc, bcc32, and MinGW compilers. Asterix, Obelix
Bluefish HTML editor Bluefish is a GTK HTML editor for web designing or programming. This page has been written with Bluefish. It supports syntax highlighting, project management, wizards, spell checking and a tool bar that includes most tags. It is not a WYSIWYG editor, so you still need to know what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing, this is a great way to learn. (Like I am doing right now. :-) ) Asterix, Obelix
XMMS Multimedia player XMMS is a multimedia player modeled on the look of WinAmp, but XMMS has more functionality and support more formats. XMMS also makes use of plug-ins that adds additional functionality. Asterix, Obelix
Xine Video player Xine is a free video player that supports formats like mpeg, avi, mov, asf, VCD, DVD and others. Asterix, Obelix
MPlayer Video Player MPlayer is also a free video player that supports the same and more formats than Xine. (The developers are also a bit more arrogant than the Xine developers) :-) MPlayer works very good Asterix, Obelix

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