12 Jun 2012

I started using LINUX because I didn't want to wait 20 minutes to find out the weather forecast

At the beginning of the century I moved away from my home in Southern England to the North East of Scotland. My job however remained in Southern England. Fortunately I wasn't required to commute a 1400 mile a day round trip. Instead I was able to work from home.
Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, Scotland
image by longfellowelizabeth

As a software developer I was able to work on projects remotely with just the odd visit to England once every two months. However sometimes you need to get the latest source code from the company's servers to update it. Now in the year 2000 we did not have Broadband. To be honest we barely had 56k modems. The upshot of this was that to update all the files on a branch it could take an hour or so to run.

So what does a geek do when his work's laptop is out of commission because it is downloading source code? He reads. He reads a lot. One of the things I read about was LINUX and how it was going to be the beating of Microsoft.

Now personally at the time I didn't realise that I had a problem with Microsoft but because I had a lot of time on my hands waiting for updates I thought hey, why not give it a go.

At the time downloading a distribution was not an option, largely because my internet connection was busy copying source files or because somebody would telephone the house and the download would stop. There were programs at the time that would enable downloads to restart when you connected again but unless you wanted to spend days
downloading software you would have to find a better way. If only buylinuxcds.co.uk was available at the time!!!

So one afternoon I was in my newsagent and there was a LINUX magazine with a copy of Mandrake linux on the front. I bought the magazine and rushed home to try it out. Now trying it out actually meant going through a fairly difficult installation and because I wanted to protect my Windows 98 (oh the irony) I went for a dual boot which wasn't without its own set of difficulties.

My first foray into LINUX was therefore Mandrake LINUX. It actually went quite well in the sense it booted up and was usable. At this period in time I have to admit to having a number of peripherals such as a modem, printer and scanner and even an early Hauppauge TV Card. The first thing to do was to connect to the internet because even in the year 2000 there was a good community to help resolve things. Unfortunately I couldn't get online and none of the peripherals worked.

Moving forward in time a few years and Broadband arrived in Aberdeenshire but despite the obvious advantages such as being able to download my source code quickly from work there were new problems. First of all Windows was now Windows XP and this thing wants to update itself all the time. Anti virus software was also more important as it is a lot easier to catch a virus over a broadband link than over a 56k modem (purely because you download more frequently). You now also needed a firewall.

So between Windows XP taking 5 minutes to boot, then a further amount of time downloading updates and then the antivirus software downloading updates and the firewall software downloading updates, Java required updates, Flash joined the scene and required updates, QuickTime required updates, Adobe required updates. Actually at this point you are probably getting my point that to just read the weather foreacst you could be sat waiting for your PC to boot for 20 minutes. On top of this fact simply reading the weather could leave you with 50 popups on the screen.

In the mid 2000s eBay was still new and incredibly popular and it was whilst browsing eBay that I found someone selling 20 disks with different versions of LINUX on them. It had been a while since I had tried LINUX and the total price of these 20 CDs was just £3. What a
bargain. Oh the 20 disks for £3 was a bargain but the fact that this lead me to the place I am now where I am completely Windowless at home has made this one of my best purchases ever.

When the disks arrived there were a number of distributions that I had read up about but that I had never actually tried. Amongst others there was Debian, OpenSuse, Mandriva, Gentoo and Slackware.

Having read that Mandriva had spawned from Mandrake I figured that this would be the best disk to start with. Unlike my previous attempt I had a dedicated machine to try this out on and the installation was smooth. In addition to this my printer worked straight away as did my scanner and I was able to connect to the internet. Total boot time just 5 minutes and this was on a very old machine I had been given by my father in law.

Knowing that Mandriva had worked so well and could always be relied upon I tried all the other distributions in turn and I ended up settling with OpenSuse. It was the one that looked the best and probably the KDE desktop looked more Windowsy and so made me feel more

I kept OpenSuse for quite a while until I heard of a distribution called Ubuntu. We are now in the late noughties and Ubuntu 8.04 was released. I downloaded a copy and burned it to disk and gave it a go. My internet was now wireless. I was now using a laptop rather than a
desktop and even my printer was wireless.

Say what you like about Ubuntu but for people that just want to use their computer and not fiddle it really does work.

Nowadays I try different distributions every few months. Currently I am running MINT 12 on one laptop, Ubuntu 10.04 on another and on my netbook I am running Bodhi.

So what does this have to do with Zorin LINUX you might ask? Well recently I have been distro hopping especially on my netbook. I tried Fedora 16 for a month and I have to admit to liking Gnome Shell 3 but I had issues with Yum.

With a much faster internet connection (7.5mb) I can now download distributions easily and I do, all the time. In the latest batch of downloads I created USB disks using uNetbootin for Bodhi, Zorin and OpenSuse.

I wanted to look at OpenSuse again for nostalgia reasons. I wanted to try Bodhi because I'd heard good things about the speed and the enlightenment desktop that it uses and I wanted to try Zorin because I was told that it was the closest thing to Windows.

OpenSuse is solid. For me it always has been. If I wanted a dependable version of LINUX then this is what I would call old faithful. Bodhi on the other hand is like a formula one car speeding round the tracks but with a few steering issues.

I can't believe it took so much effort to get music playing on my netbook with Bodhi using Rhythmbox and Banshee. I read thread after thread about getting MP3s to play. Nothing seemed to work. Then I was given the suggestion to install an extension that allows long
filenames. Suddenly music started playing. Unbelievable. I can't believe I'm the only person to suffer this problem. Everyone using Bodhi must fall into this trap mustn't they.

When I tried Zorin out I was impressed in the sense that it looks so familiar. If Zorin had been around when I first started looking at LINUX then it would have been must easier for me to transition across. So for me it is a great distribution because for Windows users that
are tempted but aren't quite sure it is an obvious distribution to recommend. Now as a LINUX user of some years this is where of course it also falls down.

The desktop and menu system is much like Vista's which is of course the idea but having to use Vista and Windows 7 for a number of years at work I much prefer the gnome desktop (even with the shell), I have to admit to being a little bit taken with the Enlightenment
desktop used by Bodhi. Now I know there is the alternative view which makes Zorin look like a MAC but again if I wanted a MAC desktop I could just buy a MAC.

So Zorin is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. For tempting users into the world of LINUX it is great but I liken it to a train station pub. With a train station pub you are tempted in by the fact that it looks like a pub and it serves beer like a pub but really it
isn't a pub and only serves to tempt you to go and find a pub that is a pub. I can see Zorin gaining and losing users at a similar rate.

New users will come from Windows (especially if Windows 8 sucks) but will lose other users that are tempted to go for other distributions now that they have dipped their toes in the water.

This is a guest post by Gary Newell, which won the 3rd prize in the joint Zorin OS contest.


  1. Hello.
    Which extension was that you used for long filenames?

    1. Unfortunately not. I can't remember the name of the extension. I take it you are having similar issues. As a workaround deadbeef works straight away.

  2. Great post, thanks!

  3. Great post. I like hearing how people came to Linux, especially when the story is told in such an engaging way.
    I'm curious about distro hopping though, how many people do it, why and whats the time per distro and do they eventually settle down? Despite using Linux for many years I've never been a distro hopper.

  4. Nice article.
    I use Linux at home since 2008. I'm a developer (like most of you) and at work we're still stick to windows.
    Few weeks ago, after another crash of my system due to the antivirus sotware, I've convinced my boss to use Ubuntu instead of Windows, still using VirtualBox for some works (like testing websites on IE).
    1) Collegues are now arguing that Linux is really not that bad.
    2) Yesterday Windows did an upgrade and this morning almost all the PC in out office were stuck for more than an hour (yes! ONE HOUR) trying to configure the update while I was happily working on Linux.

  5. I also got my first linux-distro as a cd with a computer-magazine! And that was Mandrake too. 9.1 or 9.2 from what i remember.
    Luckily I had broadboand at that time, so I stuck with it. Used Mandrake/Mandriva until I installed ubuntu 7.10.

    You reminded me that I need a test-device to play with different distributions and so on.

    Thank you!

  6. Thanks for the nice comments everyone. Whilst I'm here I think I should apologise for my original statements about Zorin. I have it installed now on the laptop I am using. This laptop was running Mint 12 previously but because it lacks the 3d graphics required it can't run cinnamon which left gnome classic or mate. The mate was good but a little bit buggy in that the panels would suddenly disappear and then never reappear. This convinced me to try Zorin again and I have to say for this laptop it is perfect. It is easy to use, slick with effects. (I Love the compiz effects).

    1. Gary, first of all - thank you for the article you wrote!

  7. DarkDuck, you summed up a similar experience I had with Linux. I also tried to dualboot in order to protect my Windows XP LOL (which became sluggish and full of bugs). My first Linux I tried was Red Hat that I got from PC World Magazine. From there I erased completely Windows from my PC and tried some other distros. I finally stayed with Ubuntu. It just works with almost any peripheral or device. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Nice blog!

    1. You must say "thank you" to Gary Newell, not to me. He wrote the article, and I only published it. 8-)

  8. DarkDuck, thank you for publishing Gary's work, and thank you, Gary, for writing it.

    My own story goes back to the nineties. My entire reason for finally purchasing my own personal home computer was to experiment with multiple boot scenarios, at first, dual booting with Windows 3.11 and Slackware, and later with Windows 95 and Slackware.

    Two or three years later, I got a version of Mandrake 6.5 and Red Hat 5, shortly after they were released, but it was still about a year before I got broadband at home, and therefore I wasn't really able to use them for all that much. What I would do, however, is use tip, Minicom, Kermit, or some other connection tool, dial in to my UNIX workstation, and often download software I was working on to my PC at home, work on the programs, then upload them back to the UNIX workstation or the group UNIX server.

    That was fine, but it wasn't enough. Linux was really fast in that configuration, but once I got a broadband network, then I started thinking about what I could do to make Linux my every day system, at least at home, because I liked it so much.

    By 2001, I was finally able to turn that desire into reality. That year, I bought another computer with a bit of extra memory and also with an extra hard drive. My aim at first was to test Linux, BSD, Sun Solaris for Intel, and the fairly new Windows XP. But things changed, and I ended up testing almost entirely Linux distributions, with a few BSD systems thrown in, and even the real time QNX at one stage.

    Within a year, Linux was the only thing I used, except on rare occasions also using Windows XP, mostly to keep up with it for business reasons.

    More than a decade later, I use Linux software almost exclusively at home, using Windows only to "keep my hand in it" and to update my home copy of Windows 7, and to use it at work (when I can't find a job where I can use Linux or UNIX all the time).

    I did a lot of work early in the decade with Mandrake and Red Hat, but in the 2001-2002 time frame, I became interested in Debian-based systems. By 2003, they were my primary every day systems, which remains the case today.

    I still like to test all kinds of different systems on many platforms, but given a choice, I'll pick Debian-based Linux distributions as my favorite.

    1. Brian, very interesting story. Do you want me to re-publish it as a guest post on my blog, rather than a comment to another article? With a link to your other blog, of course! 8-)

  9. I have been with Linux since 2009 and although I have done some testing of different distributions I have gotten familiar with certain ones that I've installed on my "main machines":

    Desktop #1 - Linux Mint 10 (Updated to 12)

    Desktop #2 - Ubuntu Linux 12.0

    Laptop - Fedora 15 (I WANT to upgrade but I keep reading all this stuff about things not working right for people after upgrading to F17...I might just wait until F18 is released and upgrade then!) I admit that checking out all the other distros is fun, and I keep an eye on them regularly, but I'm in love with the three I've chosen for different reasons of course! and I will stick with them in whatever versions they come out with! And thanks for the great article!!

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