It must have been around 1996 when I became very curious about that Linux thingy. Back then, computers at home where still quite uncommon, and Linux not as popular as it is today. I read some Linux magazines, and finally bought a Slackware Linux on (many) CDs and installed it.
I was quite experienced with using and installing Windows and even DOS, because I had my first computer when I was very young and Windows didn't even exist, neither did Linux. But all my experiences with DOS and Windows were useless while installing and using Slackware Linux. Some things didn't really work (my fault), and I was examining and messing around with everything without really knowing what I did, so I installed and destroyed it many times. But at that time it was just out of curiosity. I never used it productively or worked on it.
In 1997 I met Ray, and we rented a nice office together with two other friends, and we created custom-taylored software solutions for different companies. By the way, Ray is also the one who made me learn Perl. I'm thankful for all eternities he made me learn it, and thus becomming a very advanced perl guru. He also introduced me to SuSE Linux which we were using on all our computers at the office.
Then I bought my first laptop computer. It was a used one and it had Windows95 pre-installed when I got it. But at the office the first thing I did was installing a SuSE Linux as the sole operating system on it. It must have been version 5.2. Back then there was no OpenSUSE, and I bought some releases and spent some money on it. You know, back then there was no high speed internet at home, downloading a Linux CD would have lasted many hours or even days. You had to buy CDs. It was not that I used Linux because it doesn't cost anything like it does nowadays, I used it because I was curious and knew it is more powerful, and I was willing to spend some hundred dollars on SuSE releases and books. But my private desktop PC at home was still mainly running Windows.
Then I went to university and got a ReadHat release as a gift at a RedHat event. I installed it at home, but not really liked it. At the same time somewhere at the end of 1999 I got hold of a Debian GNU/Linux, and it was just amazing. Setting it up was more difficult than with SuSE or RedHat, but its structure was clearer, its package management is superior to all others, and the Debian community was really free. There wasn't a company in the backround that pulled the strings and wanted to earn some money out of it like with SuSE or RedHat. I also tried many other distributions since then (Mandrake, Caldera, Turbolinux, Gentoo, ...), but Debian was just the bestest (sic!).
During college on a side job as administrator at a boat cruise vacation company, I had the task to test if the 50 workstations in the office can be switched to GNU/Linux because it is free (as in free beer). For me there was no doubt, it has to be Debian, but I just found a brand new distribution called Ubuntu. I tried its current release, which was also the first Ubuntu ever released. I couldn't see a big difference to Debian, so I rather sticked to Debian and tested that. But my boss decided to stick with Windows and throwing his money down the drain.
However, I still had my old Laptop which only had GNU/Linux on it, and a dual boot PC at my desk at home which didn't boot into GNU/Linux often after I saw Windows XP, which I liked at that time. For all the years I had a dual boot with Debian, but hardly used it. All work was done on Windows, and in 2005 I removed the Debian partition to get more space. I was a Windows guy all over again. Well, not to mention the MacBook I also own that runs OS X.
But then there came Windows Vista (which I really hate(d), by the way), and a new job with a Ubuntu workstation. And Ubuntu is just great. Beeing an offspring of Debian, it has all the features that I loved in Debian, but doesn't have the issues I had with Debian (quite outdated software versions in the stable release).
September 2007 after bravely using Vista for 6 weeks on a new computer, which really sucked big time (Vista sucks, not the new computer), I decided to replace Vista with Kubuntu GNU/Linux and use it exclusively. It was easy to set up, actually much easier and faster than setting up windows. And also MUCH easier than setting up other Distros (believe me, I've been through many GNU/Linux installations before, but no other was remotely as smooth and painless as this). But it was the first time in my life where I really used GNU/Linux for everything, not having a Windows as a backup.
So, now it's been about 16 months with only GNU/Linux, both on my desktop PC and my new laptop PC (and even on my cell phone). The first few days after the cut were hard, I had to learn many things from scratch. And learning a lot about new applications for different tasks. But here's my resume for the last 16 months with GNU/Linux:
- The first few days were difficult. I was on cold turkey. But I didn't regret switching to GNU/Linux for a single second. The only thing I'm regretting quite often is that it took me 10 years from my first contact with GNU/Linux to using it exclusively. I always knew it's the better thing, but I always found a fake reason for not switching.
- If you're in the same situation like I was: Just do it. Switch to GNU/Linux. And never look back.
- There are many people who want to make you believe that you have to be an computer expert to use GNU/Linux. Well, it might have been true a while ago, but currently any noob can install and use it. In fact, if I needed to set up a computer for granny who has never used a computer before, I would use GNU/Linux and tweak it for her. Yes, I can do it, I can make it suitable for retired old people. I can do it because GNU/Linux gives me the freedom and the opportunities, not because I'm uber-smart. And I would know it would be a loyal and indestructable companion for her. She couldn't destroy it by clicking on a wrong button, and I know she wouldn't catch a virus, a trojan horse, a dialer, or whatever. And I know it would just work.
- When I sit at a Windows Computer now (at friends), I get angry very fast. I'm not used on to the restrictions and uncomplete functionality anymore. During everything I do I think "this task would be SOOO easy on a Linux box". I can't believe I was able to endure this immature and lame Windows for so many years. I can't believe anybody else can. Well, maybe every Windows user endures it because he doesn't know how easy it could be done otherwise...
- GNU/Linux does many things different. And you need to learn a little bit about it before you can benefit from its advantages. But its worth the effort. Totally.
- I like that everything just works without installing additional drivers. Since I use Kubuntu I have real plug'n'play. Printer, webcam, SLR, mass storage devices, cell phone, bluetooth sticks, ISDN fax, UMTS networking, whathaveyou. I stick it in and it just works. Period. I don't need the driver CDs anymore that come with every product. I know, not every hardware works with GNU/Linux. But I've been lucky so far--and I tried many different devices. They all just worked. Many of those didn't work on vista though. Not even after installing their drivers manually.
- I love the package manager (apt). Installing and removing software has never been easier. And no matter what software I need, it's always the same way to install it and to remove it again. Couldn't be simpler. I love that my system keeps itself up to date with the package manager. It fixes all vulnerabilities automatically and usually just a very short little while after they become known. And by upgrading the software automatically I can be sure to have a recent system with all components working together without any problems. And all this for the operating system itself, and also for all applications that I've installed. I love it, love it, love it.
- Don't expect GNU/Linux to be a substitute for Windows. GNU/Linux is another philosophy. GNU/Linux is all about freedom and choice. Many can't imagine or understand what this means. I didn't either. But now I know, I've seen the light. And I see restrictions and contraints in proprietary products everywhere. And I can't any longer understand how they're getting away with it. I can't understand why a company should decide what I can or can't do. Shouldn't this be my descision?