Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Journey of my Tux - Introduction

Regular readers, don't get the wrong idea. This post is not about a Tuxedo. This is the journey of a different kind of Tux - Tux the penguin on my desktop. In a rare departure from non-technical topics, the software guy in me has woken up on a weekend and prompted me to type a slightly techie topic.

Ever since I started using computers, MS Windows based desktops have been around. The nerdy command line was fast losing favor among the fast increasing computer user base. Thus as I was familiarizing myself with computers I found myself at the beginning of a war of words between the command line nerds and the newbie mouse button mashers. A little over a decade later, GUI based OSes have taken over the world.

Over the years I have started to see MS Windows as an OS that is designed to suck out any ounce of available performance from your computer and make the snail proud of its speed. No matter how good the hardware is, every new version seems to require better hardware to deliver about the same apparent performance as its previous version. Of course my claim is debatable and MS loyalists will be quick to point out several arguments and baseline test results against my argument. This argument and then the additional costs of security with Windows have led me to look at other options for my home PC.

Thus over the years I always have had a dual boot on my home desktop with some or other flavor of Linux as the other OS. Unix and Linux are favorites among the aforementioned command line nerds. They will point out quotes like "Unix is simple. It just takes a genius to understand its simplicity". Its this kind of trash talk during college days that prompted the wannabe nerd in me to install my first Linux OS, even as I was still figuring out the difference between DEL and SHIFT+DEL on Windows.

The first install of Red Hat Linux (RHL) was full of problems. My video card wasn't really supported and my 17 inch monitor considered too large. After several reboots, and hours of browsing through hardware manuals and manually entering settings such has supported video modes, horizontal sync frequency etc... I finally got it working. To my disappointment after installing Linux and login I couldn't do much more than say playing Tetris or learning shell programming. Doing anything useful such as checking mail, browsing internet, editing documents took a lot of work. Most configuration was not obvious. Open source applications were there but they left a lot desired as compared to the Windows counterparts. Besides most popular PC games (with exception of Quake II) only worked on Windows. So with computer games as my prime hobby most of computer time was spent gaming on the Windows machine.

An interesting thing about Linux is that a lot of software is built to not just work via command line, but be even efficient about it. The most famous is perhaps the cryptic but quite efficient vi. Of course after all these years I still haven't figured out vi and still end up spending more time if I edit using vi then any other GUI based editor. The one command line tool, I liked though was a media player  (sorry guys can't remember the name) that could be started via command line and run completely in the background with a nice playlist of file locations and shuffle mode (long before iPod shuffle popularized that way of playing music). In a time when the popular Windows media player or Winamp tended to hog the minuscule 32 Mb ram, a command line player that didn't slow down the computer was a pleasant surprise.

Over the next few years I tried a few other flavors of Linux as well. The noteworthy one was SUSE because of a much user friendly install than RHL. Of course RHL also improved a lot and became a lot  more user friendly with every version and I had gotten comfortable with the apps packaged with RHL. So RHL continued to be the favored Linux. Win 98 the dominant OS then was full of crashes, the famous  blue screen and very vulnerable to viruses and trojans. Linux on the other hand almost never crashed. There number of known viruses was almost ZERO. So basically I felt quite secure as I worked with the Tux.

College ended and I joined my first big job. I moved out of my home town and bid good bye to my dearest PC. For the next few years I didn't really have my own PC to screw with and thus came a long break in my journey with the Tux. A journey where I did learn to find my way around a Linux command shell. I had learned the value of patience when trouble shooting seemingly silliest of issues. I hadn't turned into a command line nerd, but had certainly gained some comfort with the keyboard. These linux /unix skills worked as a pretty neat side effect later in my job as a software engineer. Guess the journey with Tux had its benefits after all.

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