You never forget your first love, as the old saying goes, and that appears to apply just as well to Linux as to relationships in real life.
To wit: “What was your first Linux distro?” is the title of a recent “Voice of the Masses” poll over at Linux Voice, and throughout the blogosphere the nostalgic reminiscences have been pouring forth ever since.
Some 100 bloggers used Linux Voice’s comments section to proclaim their first Linuxy loves for all the world to hear. Others got teary-eyed recounting their first tender distro moments down at the Punchy Penguin Cafe.
Luckily, Linux Girl was there to record it all for posterity.
‘It Did a Lot of Things Well’
“Back in the day there was the distro aimed at getting people going for the first time called Mandrake, and that was my first one,” began Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien, for example.
“It did a lot of things well, but ultimately was underfunded,” O’Brien explained.
Nevertheless, “from it I took two lessons: 1) I really like KDE more than any other desktop; and 2) I really don’t like RPMs.
“Fortunately, Kubuntu came along and gave me a good combination of those factors,” he added. “It has other problems, of course, but I have stuck with it as my main distro for years now.”
‘Better Than Win XP’
Similarly, “I actually encountered FreeBSD first, and might have gone that way exclusively had I been able to download it — I was still on dial-up — or if I had been willing to buy the discs,” Google+ blogger Brett Legree recounted.
“However, I happened across a Linux magazine at a local shop that included a TON of distros,” Legree told Linux Girl. “The first one that worked on my hardware of the day was Mandrake. Those were the days…”
SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet also started out on Mandrake, but “the best distro I ever used, the ONLY distro I had ever seen that could do in-place upgrades without trashing its own drivers, was Xandros,” he said.
“Xandros Business was frankly better than Win XP in a lot of ways,” hairyfeet opined. “It hooked to AD domains quicker than XP, had great Exchange support, could even switch between Windows, KDE and OSX layouts with a simple switch flip — truly a great OS.
“It’s sad that nothing today can match up to a decade-old OS, but none of the so-called ‘user-friendly’ distros come even close to the quality of Xandros,” he concluded.
‘It Was All Worth It’
“I started with the August 95 edition of Slackware,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack recalled.
“It took me forever to install, and I had to enter the modelines from my monitor to get X working, followed by it taking me a week to figure out how to write my own ppp chat script to get my dial-up working,” Mack noted.
“It was all worth it,” he said.
Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza started with “Slackware 2.0 on kernel 1.1.47 on a 386DX25 with 8MB RAM and a 120MB disk,” he told Linux Girl.
“That was enough for the A, N and D (base, network and development) sets, and most of the X11 set as well,” he explained. “This was only my third PC, preceded by a PC-1 running DOS with UUPC and a [email protected] with 1MB RAM and a 40MB disk on which I ran Xenix.”
Today, Espinoza is considering “going back to Slack, for the simplicity,” he added.
‘I Kept Coming Back to Red Hat’
“My first distro was Red Hat 6.0, though I tried 5.2 after that,” offered Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.
“I experimented with a bunch of other distros in that time — Caldera, SuSE, Slackware and Debian, among others — but kept coming back to Red Hat,” he said. “At the time, in 1999, I felt like it had one of the best user experiences of the distros.”
Today Travers uses “Fedora for most development work and Debian for most production servers,” he added.
‘It Didn’t Take Long to Fall in Love’
“My first real exposure to Linux was at a friend’s house,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone told Linux Girl. “He was trying to make a Macintosh he owned into a useful computer, so he’d dual-booted it with a version of Linux called MkLinux.
“I was absolutely fascinated by it and the FOSS philosophy, and after using his computer for a week or so, I looked into getting Linux [on] my own,” Stone said. “I started with Red Hat 5.0 on my own computer, and it didn’t take long to fall in love with Linux.”
Meanwhile, Conectiva 8 was Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol’s first Linux back in 2003.
“Eleven years passed, and I still find it was perfect back then,” Ebersol added, noting that he now views PCLinuxOS as its “spiritual successor.”
‘A Great Blessing in My Life’
Last but not least, “my first distro was Caldera eDesktop 2.4,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. “You know, the one acquired by SCO, who tried to sue the world over GNU/Linux.”
At the time, Pogson used it to “pave over Lose ’95 on five donated PCs in my classroom,” he recounted. “That cluster went from being a royal pain to being a reliable asset. I was teaching four grades with multiple levels and I needed reliable IT to be one of several centers in the room.”
Since then, Pogson used “one GNU/Linux distro after another until I found Debian GNU/Linux,” he said.
“I chose Caldera because people told me it was reliable and easy,” he recalled. “Those same people were telling me Debian was reliable and hard. They were wrong.”
Debian is “just as easy as Caldera ever was to install, and APT is superior to RPM for managing systems,” he opined.
In any case, “GNU/Linux was a great blessing in my life,” Pogson concluded. “My only regret is that I wasted several years re-re-rebooting that other OS before I came over to GNU/Linux. Caldera GNU/Linux far exceeded the performance of that other OS, as has every other distro I’ve tried since.”
The first Linux install that I was able to use and love was Caldera 2.4e. I do miss it terribly. I shoe horned GLIBC and Kernel updates into it and compiled apps that came along long after Calder committed suicide by insanity. It was lean mean, had everything one used on a desktop and had the core system components configured the way I like. The installer for Caldera has never been matched by even the big OS vendors. Shear genius. Its a shame they did not carry that installer into the running distro for future hardware changes.
I loved Caldera so much I bought several copies. Yes, I paid for my Linux distros. Good work requires income! I later followed up with Mandrake and then Novell/SuSE after Mandrake went bust the first time. I bought a couple versions of each of those.
I actually started with RedHat but dropped it for a couple of reasons: 1) the installer didn’t take into account everything you told it at install time and typically wouldn’t boot on my hardware. I ended up finding a pre-fab kernel from a SuSE repository to patch it and get it running. 2) I found that building a kernel from stock sources always made it faster.
I’ve settled on Debian at this time as the best of the not quite as good distros. Its probably not the best for the uninitiated. Something like Ubuntu, which takes the choices away, is probably better. But I use it for several reasons:
1. Unparalleled hardware support.
2. The largest precompiled software package library.
3. If you know what you like Debian will make getting it going easier than most other distros. The other’s usually come with a preconceived idea and converting to another setup is typically going to take more work.
My preferred GUI is a combination of wdm, e16 and ROX. These I can "apt-get install" and they pretty much work together out of the box. Normally I do have to tell e16 to launch ROX as a "pinboard", to manage desktop icons.