[UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

Larry Garfield lgarfiel@students.depaul.edu
Mon, 28 Jan 2002 16:42:37 -0600

Well, based on the responses to date, I probably have the least benign
reasons so far, but I guess I'll live with that. :-)

Originally, my interest in "this Linux thing" was because I was sick and
tired of Windows crapping out on me.  I had already developed a healthy
dislike for the behemoth of Redmond.  (Having tech support tell you to
take your business elsewhere because your MS mouse doesn't work tends to
have that effect.  True story.)  The supposed additional power and
flexibility was an added bonus, and at the time I was almost completely
unfamiliar with the whole "Free Software / Open Source" jihad.  I'd
already used Unix a little in various extra curriculars in high school,
as my school's science program had a small DEC Alpha running Unix (its
primary use was Bomberman) and I'd taken a course at Northwestern in
Fortran and we'd used the Unix system there.  (Dumb terminals, just long
enough for me to learn that I utterly hated vi. <g>)  

My first attempt to install Linux was Red Hat 5.2, which my parents
bought me for Christmas, which I tried to install the day before Winter
quarter started my freshman year.  I managed to totally hose three of
the four partitions on my disk at the time, ironically everything except
Windows itself.  (I'd been using a very Linux-like partition scheme for
Windows, I still do.)  It was at this point that I went looking for this
strange "Nate" person on the first floor of University Hall that someone
had suggested was "a good person to get to know about computers".  That
would be Nate Riffe, who we all know and love. :-)

After much finagling and hand waiving, we still couldn't get everything
to work properly.  The problem turned out to be that there was no
support for my Intel i740-based video card yet, because Intel wasn't
releasing information to authors.  So I never did get that system
running properly, and in fact didn't end up with a fully functional
Linux box until almost a year later, Red Hat 6.0 I believe.  I soon
moved on to Mandrake 7.0 on a newly built box that I eventually
dedicated to Linux and is still my main Linux box, now running Mandrake

My main source of information has been Nate, since I find most man pages
and HowTos completely and totally useless.  Their general style is "So
here's a big mess of code, see how simple it is?", and are aimed at
people who already know what they're talking about far more than I do.  

I suppose it's heresy to confess this on this list, but I am writing
this email from a Windows box.  I have one machine with each (one
Mandrake, one Win2k/Win98 dual boot), but spend the bulk of my time in
Windows.  I am not, honestly, a Free Software fanatic.  I am much more
an Open Source person, a pragmatist.  Frankly having closed source
programs and using them does not cause me moral consternation, closed
FORMATS and proprietary DATA do.  If a program is closed but the format
is open, I can use another program, free, Free, or commercial.  I can
mix and match as I want.  If the file format is closed, then I'm scrod. 
THAT gets my goat (or camel) more than the executable code itself does. 
(Hence my involvement with anti-DMCA and pro-Sklyarov activities.)

My Linux uses these days consist mostly of those things that it does
better than Windows.  My Palm syncs to my Windows box.  I do my PHP
development and most of my web development on Linux.  I run a DNS server
off my Linux box.  I do my email and web browsing from Windows.  I do my
Java development on Linux, with the IBM JDK.  I do my Palm development
with CodeWarrior for Windows, because I've never gotten around to
learning gcc and I really like real time graphical debuggers.  And of
course games get run on Windows.

I'd love to switch over to full time Linux, but that first requires
being able to duplicate my work environment on Linux properly.  Email
and web browsing are the two biggest stumbling blocks, but I'm working
on the email one when I have time.  (Which isn't often, and the lack of
decent HowTos rather slows that process down, as stated previously.) 
Eventually it will probably happen, because I REALLY want to stay away
from Windows XP.

So if I'm such a simple pragmatist, why do I want to move over to Linux
full time when Windows is working for me now?  Well, there is the
anti-MS factor, I will confess.  I do agree with most of the FSF's
philosophical ideals, I simply do not believe that they have any
pragmatic sense of reality in the consumer space.  When it works,
Linux-based tools and FS/OS tools can be far more useful than Windows
based applications.  

The caveat there, however, is when it works.  And as an HCI person
rather than a core CS person, I define "works" as "I don't have to screw
with it to make it function properly."  That's the biggest drawback of
Linux today, if something doesn't come with the distribution most of the
time it's difficult to install and configure.  (I hear people screaming
"apt-get!" in the background already.  If something isn't packaged,
though, you're back to tarballs, which is DOS-days functionality.)  Even
then, the assumption is that you know what you're doing and are
comfortable with a compiler.  The word "compile" doesn't scare me, but
it does annoy me when I have to relearn a different archaic syntax for
each new deamon I want to run.

So, I'm getting there, slowly. :-)  As for why I hang out with the UFO
people?  Meetings make for good food and good arguments, and good places
to pick up new information.  Oh yeah, and the people are nice, too. :-)

John Kilbourne wrote:
> I'm curious why people are drawn to go through the trouble of
> learning and using linux. (assuming that others share some sense that
> it is challenging.)

Larry Garfield

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-- "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving isn't for you." :-)