There was another useless post on Slashdot asking what did you first do with Linux?. I thought it would be interesting to recollect that experience. Sorry for the detail, my memory produces lots of random tidbits.
I was fortunate enough to attend an engineering school with the latest technologies that were available in the market. Which basically means we had Sun Ultra Workstations, running Solaris Operating System using CDE. So for me “Unix = Sun”. That was 1997 and I was incredibly impressed. I never even knew of Linux till 1998, when one incredibly over achieving colleague mentioned he was going to use an old 386 to run Linux. I immediately thought he meant “unix”, so my first question was: “Don’t you need a more powerful computer?”. Keep in mind the Pentium MMX was the state of the art consumer desktop at the time. And that’s when I first heard it on a bus, in the winter, heading to the engineering campus: “Linux can run on anything! Even really old hardware!”. So began my interest.
Later in 1999 when my programming classes got more involved, I was finding that Borland C++ 5.0 on Windows NT 4.0 was not sufficient compared to GCC on Sun. A co-worker of my brother suggested Linux but warned me that I need to be very careful to make sure I check the video card support under the X-server (XFree86 at the time). Ironically that warning still holds true to this day! Luckily my Matrox Mystique 4MB was in the “supported list”!
In the late 1990’s you could find the most popular linux, RedHat, on shelves at your local Best Buy retailer. I had seen version 6.0 on sale, but by the time I got around to purchasing it, sure enough version 6.1 was there. As I recall it was only 1 CD and 1 CD full of source code (I think I still have those CD’s somewhere). By the time I figured out how to repartition my hard-drive and actually get linux to work (I think the 3rd installation I got it right), I was told version 6.2 was available! This (sometimes annoying) trend still persists today as well.
Due to my experience with CDE on Sun, I immediately thought KDE was the same thing. So I just started using Gnome. Everything was foreign, but since it was so much easier than Solaris, I liked it a lot. Not long after I became comfortable with Redhat, I heard that Pogo Linux was giving away free linux CD’s. This was great since finding someone to make me a copy was impossible and copying at school a big pain. I got copies of Caldera, TurboLinux, Mandrake, and maybe others? I don’t really remember all the versions I tried from them. The only one that stood out was Mandrake and I loved it for its cool selection of software and included niceties (especially “color gcc” – which made cryptic C errors fun again!). Unfortunately all those little additions came with their price. I found Mandrake incredibly unstable compared to RedHat (it could have been my inexperience) so I switched back. I stuck with RedHat till Fedora, but that’s another story altogether.
So that’s my brief exposure to Linux from 1999 to 2001. It was all caused by a requirement to use gcc for school work but ended with a lot of random discoveries. I never saw it in day-to-day activities – so instead I went and found it myself.
What was your first linux experience?