Secure Garden

Journey With Linux

This short post was written a while ago but never posted. I’ve gone through it to make some clerical edits and improvements, but it mostly remains the original.

I would best classify myself as an enthusiast. Of what? Many things, but one of those things is Linux. Like most Linux users, I’ve had quite a journey with Linux over the years, and Linux has taught me many things about computing, so here’s a fairly non-technical post outlining my Linux journey.

Early Days with Linux

My journey with Linux started years ago when a friend had mentioned it to me. At the time, our discovery of the open source world fascinated us. The idea that someone could patch the Linux kernel to work with their hardware, and the push it upstream1 blew our minds. Each one of us began to start messing around with Linux after that. We were so new to the world, I still remember having to look up what a “distribution” was because I didn’t realize “Linux” was just a kernel.

I clearly remember pulling out old laptop computers to see if I could get Linux running on them. One of the early computers I tested was an old Compaq laptop, which was shipped with Windows XP. The early days was mostly filled with me failing to get things working, and tools like Wubi2 really didn’t help. Later down the road, I attempted to install Linux on some bare metal and pulled out old laptops, only to find that the hard drives had totally crapped out. Of course this took me quite a while to figure out.

Once I had a functioning Linux machine, I was excited to see what it came with with it, which of course lead to one of the worst diseases for a Linux user: Distro Hopping3. Ultimately, I used Linux Mint for most of my early Linux days. It was simple, easy to install, fast on old hardware, and surprisingly stable at the time.

The Discovery of Ubuntu

After playing with Linux Mint for a while, I started to notice… oddities… with Mint. My biggest complaint was that it always seemed out of date. When I was reading up on cool Linux tricks, I seemed to always run into a problem with the Mint packages being a few versions behind. I started to search for a better solution, which of course included a bit of distro hopping. My eventual logic went something that follows:

“Ubuntu is very popular”
“Linux Mint is based off Ubuntu”
“If Mint is based off Ubuntu, the Ubuntu packages are sure to be more up to date”

This seemed like solid reasoning at the time, so I started to look into Ubuntu. At this point in time, I had officially moved off old hardware and on too my personal laptop. Ubuntu seemed to have most of what I wanted out of the box. It was easy to use. It looked different enough from Windows to be “cool4”. Ubuntu was surprisingly short-lived compared to Linux Mint. Sure it looked cool, and it was popular, but something about it never made me love it.

The Ascension to Arch Linux5

My usage of Linux Mint and Ubuntu had taught me quite a bit about the basics of UNIX systems, and how they operate. Because of this, I decided it was time for me to evolve as a Linux user, so I installed Arch! At this point, I had myself a shiny new desktop to (mostly) replace my old crusty HP laptop, so I figured the laptop would be a perfect test subject for the process of installing Arch. I knew that it wasn’t Arch if you didn’t install it the ‘vanilla’ way. That’s what the internet was telling me after all. I had read through the installation wiki and compiled my very own installation guide with what I needed. At the time, I was quite proud of this… Google Doc, I had put together. As expected my first install took quite a while, especially since I had to reboot into the Arch ISO and chroot into the system multiple times. Damn those wireless network packages I didn’t know I had to install.

Despite the memes floating around the internet about the elitist culture around Arch Linux, I found their wiki and forms to be incredibly educational. More often than not, I was able to find the solution to my problem by simply reading through the Arch Wiki.

I found Arch so powerful, and so well supported, that it is still my favorite desktop distribution. Again despite the haters, I’ve also found it to be more stable than both Mint and Ubuntu. I’ve really only ever had my Arch Linux installation break once, and it was a simple fix using the Arch ISO; however, in the past I’ve had Ubuntu lock up and crash several times.

The Deep Dive into Configuration

Roughly along the same time as my Arch Linux adventures, I started to care about how my system was configured, and it’s only ever gotten worse. Recently I was looking through my configuration repository and noticed the oldest commit I had for my window manager6 was over 4 years old. Over these 4 years, I started to track my configuration where I could. This whole configuration process could be quite lengthy, and might be better saved for another post. It’s still important to mention however, because the configuration process of one’s own system is a tremendously powerful learning experience; one I’ve certainly benefited from.

  1. Pushing something upstream is the concept of giving your personal changes back to the original project for them to reincorporate ↩︎

  2. Wubi is a Ubuntu tool that claims to allow you to install Linux from within a booted Windows environment. ↩︎

  3. Distro hopping is a slang term for the activity of switching between different Linux distributions very frequently. ↩︎

  4. This was also back when Ubuntu was using the Unity ↩︎

  5. BTW… I use Arch. ↩︎

  6. I use the i3 window manager. It’s lightweight, powerful, and very configurable. ↩︎