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Recently I had the pleasant opportunity of reading my friend chanux’s blog post titled 10 Reasons why You should migrate your system to Gnu/Linux. His reasons are true to the last word, and the post is an interesting read. So I thought I should write a post regarding that topic in a “Me Too” manner.Although his post is more like persuasive, mine is purely for the purpose of boasting how I fell in love with Linux.

I came across Linux around 2002 when visiting my father’s friend at Jaffna University computer Science Department. He had a huge book on Linux which had everything from downloading/compiling Linux kernel to systems administration on a RedHat distribution. Me and my friend who accompanied me were instantly attracted to it because for us ( for me at least) there was no world outside Windows 98, ME and XP which just arrived. I didn’t really understand the difference between Software and Hardware back then. For me it was just the computer, I switch it on, and things just pop up on the screen and that’s all I ever cared.

But seeing the screenshots on the Linux book, I was thrilled to know that I can actually change my computer to run entirely new stuff other than Windows which I often had to reinstall because of unknown and incomprehensible problems. It had drastically different appearance, different names for programs and altogether nothing like I ever used to imagine a computer to be. The thrill of knowing the unknown was the initial motivation behind my decision to try Linux on my machine. I didn’t think twice, it was decided then and there that I should give it a try. My friend bought a RedHat installation disc from Jaffna town and all was set.

My friend I mentioned earlier happened to be a Computer Engineering undergraduate from the University of Waterloo, Canada. So he had better understanding of things than I did, but Linux was completely new, even for him. We started off with the RedHat Graphical installer and had the Linux book ready at our side. The installation was a complete disaster. It wiped the entire hard drive and it never booted up. Linux kernel back then didn’t have much support for hardware devices. The problem was that kernel couldn’t automatically gauge the frequency range and resolution of my monitor. So every time we booted it up, it will load LILO and then right when the graphical login prompted, X will die and fall back to command line. So there I learned my first ever CLI command from the Linux book, startx to restart the X-Server. This command pretty much remained the only Linux command I knew for a long time.

Problem was that you had to manually specify resolution and refresh rate right at the end of the installation since kernel couldn’t recognise my VGA adapter. If we specified a wrong combination, the OS will not boot and all we knew to solve this was to reinstall from the start. My friend gave up on Linux on this point because he had some other stuff to finish up. The installation was a tedious task, it took about 3 hours to complete and I ended up installing it many times until I figured the correct resolution and refresh rate that didn’t kill the X.

RedHat 7.2 Enigma was the distro I had and it came in a 3 CD set. It had both GNOME and KDE but for some reason GNOME login almost always failed. So I was left with KDE to experience Linux. It was a different experience altogether, everything was Freakish back then, even the names. KDE had a strong naming convention, every program had a K in the wrong place which made pronouncing them difficult and funny.I particularly liked the idea of having 4 desktops at my disposal. I had no real use for it, there was not much I could do with the installation, but nonetheless it occurred to me that 4 desktops is a good idea.

KDE had an about page which opened in a browser (Netscape Navigator I guess) which explained how and why KDE is made. It explained that KDE is a Free(dom) software and that it is made by volunteers who work on it without getting paid a cent and do it just for the fun of doing it. It also explained that commercial software are like wearing shackles even though you pay to get them. I neither paid any money to Windows nor I understood the terms and conditions of Microsoft’s License, but I was convinced, without any doubt,  that licensed software was not just wrong, it was evil.

On one hand KDE convinced me software licensing is against my free will and on the other I fell in love with the idea of people all over the world getting together to build a software just for the fun of doing it and distributing it free of any restrictions. All of a sudden the Operating system I thought was freaky, had funny names and hideously unusable started to look respectful and proper.

But my usage with Linux was not meant to last because it could not detect my dial-up modem thus I couldn’t connect to Internet. It also could not play any music because the mp3 decoder did not ship with the installation CD. I could live without music, but I was just getting the hang of Internet and no Internet was a huge deal breaker for me. Also, Linux back then was not for the faint-hearted. You had to be a command line Ninja just to get by daily stuff with it. I was neither CLI guy nor did I have the guts to switch to Linux completely. Thus ended my adventures in the Linux land.

Even though I could not use Linux, it forever changed the way I looked at software. Thereafter, every time I bought a pirated software CD, I felt proud that I am raising my middle finger against the big time software companies. I felt that’s the least I could do for them who steal other people’s freedom and make a fool out of every customer who pays for them. I was glad I wasn’t one of them and I was glad that there really are alternatives out there.

I almost never heard about Linux for a while until I came across Ubuntu 6.10 in Colombo around 2007 September which brought back good old memories. I started using 7.04 in a virtual Machine and was so glad to know that Linux has grown so much. everything I ever wanted was there and I could easily find more. Nothing was there this time to make the big switch and I went for it happily. I dual-booted Linux and Windows XP, almost exclusively using Ubuntu and switching to Windows to do some University work. Then I got a laptop of my own and made the big jump, ditched Windows for good, switched to Kubuntu permanently and never been more happier with my computer. As of now, I use Kubuntu and Debian CrunchBang. CrunchBang is a really sweet distro, but my love for KDE is so strong that I’m unable to make the next switch from KDE to OpenBox/Xfce.

I’m forever thankful for the KDE about page that changed my world for good. KDE community, I owe you my freedom and career. If not for you, I wouldn’t have understood the bliss of Freedom software and I wouldn’t have come to respect the free (as in freedom) software community so much. I am trying my best to get into KDE development so that I can pay back the debt. Let’s hope and pray I get there soon.

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