My Linux Experience

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In the vein of recent posts, I thought I might take a second to explain how I came to use Ubuntu. My first Linux experience was with Red Hat 5 or 6 I believe. I got CD out of the back of one of those Teach your Linux books. I was probably 16 at the time, and I knew a fair bit about computers but nothing serious. But I could whip up a little Turbo Pascal and QBasic :) Anyhow, I was of the mindset that "Hacking" was cool, and Linux popped up a lot in 2600 and Phrack magazines. I remember it took me the better part of a whole weekend to install it to the point where I could finally bring up an X server with the tiled background and big black X. Getting it to use the dial up modem and connect to my ISP took several more hours. I played around with it for about a week I think, concluding "this is neat, but I'm not really sure what to do with it."

From there, I didn't bother with it until about 2003, which would be my sophomore year at MSU. We had to have an ESUS account, and if I recall right we had to use it for my intro to C/C++ class. I also started using Centos 3? a little in the CS 254? lab on campus just to play around. Around that time, I decided I would try and install it on my home PC again. So I went about installing Centos I believe, the install went far smoother than the first experience, and it was actually pretty usable. I got used to compiling, using configure and make, but wasn't really impressed with the tediousness of it. So I tried to use RPMs whenever I could. But it wasn't long before I ran across RPM hell. Package X depends on Y depends on Z which depends on a different version of Y... etc. Horrible. So I ended up giving up on Linux for awhile again.

Somehow a little later, I ended up with a Mepis CD. Once again I installed it and played around for a bit. It was ALMOST there at this point. Mepis just had a few little nitpicks and usability hangups that I couldn't quite get past for everyday use. Then there was another little break. Finally one day my brother shows up talking about this new Ubuntu Linux that was all the rage. Must of been around June of 2006, as I think the first version I actually installed was 6.06. This was the first time I actually got all the hardware working, all the hangups ironed out, and could actually spend almost as much time in Linux as I did in Windows. After dual-booting for what must have been about a year, I was running 7.04. My XP install was doing its windows thing, and kept blue-screening and eventually wouldn't boot up. I said the H@#$ with it and wiped windows, installed Ubuntu and been using it ever since. Another thing that sold me, is I love the control. If I want to kill something, I kill it. If I want to delete my root partition, so be it that's my decision. Windows just feels like a prison now.

I'm now a full time software developer/sys admin for a small company here in Bozeman, and use Linux exclusively. I manage about 15 Ubuntu boxes, running Postgresql, Tomcat, Apache, Samba, and ftp servers. I do dual boot at home because WINE just can't quite cut it for all the games I play at the moment.

Long story short, I use Ubuntu because it was the first distro that actually worked without pulling teeth, and it still works fine for everything I do. I've had a few issues with it, I think they push some changes too soon without ironing bugs out - which incidentally is why I don't use Fedora, I like my stuff to tend towards stability rather than cutting edge. I've tried Debian but it seems TOO slow moving. Ubuntu just works, it does everything I want it to, and I have never really been left wanting.

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thanks for the post

I too like hearing why someone uses what they use. For you, like me, Ubuntu was the distro that finally just worked. As of late I have been leaning a little bit in the direction that I think Scott was going in that Linux "just working" may not be as much a distro fix as a community fix. I do think that Ubuntu and Gnome have brought something to my experience that made Ubuntu just work better than other distro's. But I can see the importance and relevance of what Scott was describing above. Scott's description fits with some of my thinking of late.

For me I have been gaining a level of appreciation for the hard work the kernal developers are doing as well as some gratitude for the companies that are working with Linux developers or at least not fighting them as hard. I am also appreciative of Ubuntu for what they have brought to the table. You indicated the speed difference between Debian and Ubuntu and that alone is a big contribution and has helped push the underlining Debian foundation further into mainstream use. I am not sure I would be using Linux to the degree I am today if it was not for Ubuntu so from that perspective I am glad for the Ubuntu experience.

I have known others who "fell in love" with linux after installing Fedora and I think thats great. I think each distro does bring something to the table that when paired with the right user can help that person enjoy their Linux experience better.

Hey tell me how can I run Yahoo messanger with webcam on linux??

Hey tell me how can I run Yahoo messanger with webcam on linux??

This is not possible in any flavour of linux.

Scott Dowdle's picture

Ask Yahoo

There are some working video chat apps for Linux. From your post I assume Yahoo Messenger isn't one of them. In that case, contact Yahoo and ask them since you are talking about their software.

Scott Dowdle's picture

A big "just works" helper

Thanks for sharing your experience. It is fun to read about how everyone got into Linux. Your job sounds fun too!

I just wanted to mention what I think is the biggest change in the Linux world that has helped us all get to a somewhat comfortable "just works" level with Linux. I'm sure many folks already know this stuff but it doesn't hurt repeating.

The previous kernel development model

About 5 years ago the mainline kernel developers decided to change how they go about developing our beloved kernel. They used to maintain a stable branch and a devel branch. The stable branch ended in an even number and the devel branch ended in an odd number. Of course they would periodically update the stable branch with fixes... but as development progressed the stability of the devel branch varied wildly with each release... so much so, very few Linux distributions would dare to use the devel branch.

During this period of even / odd kernel releases distro makers would use the stable releases but they would also back-port a lot of stuff from the devel release. Often times there were dozens if not hundreds of patches that distros would have to maintain for the stuff they back-ported. Why did distros do all of this back-porting? Because the time it was taking a devel kernel to become a stable kernel was years... and the devel kernels had many more drivers for newer hardware (that users really needed) as well as a lot of newer features.

A new development model

I no longer recall what precipitated the change in development model but the kernel developers eventually changed how they do things and switched to a new model that produces a new stable kernel release about every 3 months. I think a lot of it had to do with them noticing all of the work they were putting on the distro makers with their back-porting... and they were basically ashamed at how long the process of devel-to-stable was taking. They really wanted a way to get new drivers and features into users hands faster.

The model that exists now is that there is a 3 month devel cycle. For the first couple of weeks Mr. Torvalds takes disruptive patches and they shake out what features and drivers they want. Sometimes things that get added during the patch window will get dropped because it is decided that the design is flawed in some way and/or that more work is needed to stabilize the feature so it is deferred to a future devel branch.

After the patch window closes the rest of the development cycle is spent with "release candidate" releases... where the bugs are shaken out, regressions are found and hopefully fixed, etc. Mr. Torvalds produces as many "rc" releases as are needed until a consensus is reached that the kernel is stable enough to become a stable release. If some feature or driver that hadn't previously gotten dropped still has problems, they will sometimes decide to drop it and defer it to the next devel kernel.

For five years now the new model has been working out well with a steady stream of stable kernels coming out about every 3 months.

How distros use kernels

The most aggressive development cycle used by mainstream Linux distributions is 6 months. Both Ubuntu and Fedora try their best to keep a 6 month release cycle. Even with that rapid of a release cycle it is obvious that with an even shorter kernel release cycle... that not every kernel release is going to be used by mainstream distros. There are often kernels that don't get used in any mainstream distro.

There are also a number of staging kernel branches maintained by a number of very high profile kernel developers. Each branch has a different reason for being. One is a staging area for new drivers and features that aren't quite mature enough for mainline.

Sometimes there are drivers that haven't made mainline yet that distros want to include. Chances are that most of those drivers will be in an upcoming mainline release but they aren't quite ready yet. Distros will still patch their kernels with out-of-mainline drivers but it is still nowhere near as bad as it was before the kernel switched to the 3 month release cycle... and the distros do not have to maintain those drivers for as long as they used to because they get added to stable kernels faster.


All in all the change has been good for everyone. New features and drivers get to distributions faster... which in turn... get to users faster. This has greatly enhanced the "just works" factor that Linux users have been enjoying much of the last 5 years.

Could it be even better? Yes. Most hardware makers work directly with Microsoft and Apple so they have a working driver when a new piece of hardware is released. A few hardware makers actually work with Linux developers too. The only way to improve the situation would be for most hardware makers to give Linux equal status with Windows and Mac. Will that ever happen? Probably not... or at least not until Linux has a significant market-share of the desktop.

For some server related hardware one could actually make the argument that Linux is the one getting the preferred treatment. The reason is because Linux has such a high server market-share.

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