I can’t remember exactly how it started, when I first heard about this thing called “linux”… it was possibly one of the senior engineering team leaders at work who’d mentioned it. It’s all a little hazy as it’s so long ago and I had been using various flavours of UNIX since the mid 1980s at Uni and of course working in engineering jobs UNIX is/was a staple resource that was always around. But, apparently Linux just celebrated a major milestone – 30 years old!
I’m writing this via Linux (Fedora 34 to be precise) right now. For almost all of those past 30 years Linux has played a big part in my computing journey; some device somewhere close by has been running some flavour of Linux since those early days. As far as my own personal devices were concerned it was 1998-ish when Linux on the Psion Series 5 – the “Linux7k” project as it was originally known – came to my attention, using the ARLO bootloader for the ARM-based Cirrus Logic chip in the Psion. At the time of writing in my home office alone I have 2 laptops, 1 server and 7 Raspberry Pis all running Linux.
My initial encounter with installing & running Linux on x86 PCs was probably with Red Hat 6.0 (Hedwig) and later 6.2 (Zoot) sometime in 2000 running on a Dell Latitude CPi laptop. I remember the endless struggle, messing around with drivers (or “kernel modules” 😀 ) to get sound working… endless cycles of config changes, compiling modules & then:
…or possibly around about the same time setting up an e-smith server or a “Smoothwall GPL” firewall – both Linux “appliances”. I recently re-discovered the old PC hardware I used to run Smoothwall on buried in my cellar. Powered it up and it still boots after ~15yrs in storage although the Real Time Clock has lost about 21mins 😉
A few years later (2003/4/5-ish?) another laptop (the Dell Latitude CPx) became my main Linux workhorse for the next few years – WarDriving and the like. This was almost a dual-boot machine – I had the corporate Windows build on one HDD and Linux on another HDD and would swap the appropriate HDD tray into the machine.
I installed Linux on a spare work PC in the office, a Dell OptiPlex GX110 desktop, which became an unofficial departmental intranet web server & wiki (and later a very unofficial Wifi Access Point too 🙂 ).
I saw Linux as a way to free hardware from the curse of proprietary closed software, even a spare Sun Ultra 30 SparcStation was liberated too.
An IBM ThinkPad R51 was by main Linux machine 2006-2009 which was a real dual-booter, “Fedora Core” (later Ubuntu) and WinXP.
Whilst researching this piece and looking through boxes of old floppy disks I came across the classic “Tinfoil Hat Linux” boot floppy 😀
In the early 2000s I changed jobs – enabled partially by my Linux expertise I’d picked up along the way, installing & using Linux on just about anything I could get my hands on 😀
Much like Compact Cassette, Linux has been a welcome friend and companion over many years of my life. The freedom and flexibility are what I like; the possibilities are endless, source code can be modified, improved, expanded… and now it’s everywhere: in billions of Android phones, in embedded/IoT devices, in your car, in your set-top-box/TV, in your broadband router, in your smartwatch…
NOTE: This piece was inspired in a small way by this TechRepublic post…
(the author’s timeline’s a bit wonky, but hey, it’s a good story):
UNIX-like systems’ history: