Archive for October 2012

My Linux history

My friend in college (2000) introduced me to Linux. Windows 98 was having a lot of trouble on my laptop, so, in my days of dial-up Internet, I drove an hour to a computer store to buy a boxes copy of Mandrake for (I think) $30.

When that laptop died I decided to buy a Fujitsu Lifebook (I cannot tell you how much I loved that laptop). Unfortunately, there was a bug in the Linux kernel at the time which prevented it from booting correctly on a Transmeta Crusoe processor. I found an tutorial describing how to patch and compile my own Linux kernel for the Crusoe using Slackware, and I began using that.

At that point point in time, Slackware had no package manager. Instead, when new software came out (and I love trying new software!) I would download and compile it myself, including all of it’s newly required libraries (GTK2, Pango, Atk…). I had heard about the popularity of Debian and gave it a try. The feeling of using a package manager again to automatically install and update everything felt so incredibly wonderful.

I became tired of the cycle of Debian stable being fresh and new and being tired and old, so I tried Ubuntu. I didn’t want to like it because it was “too easy”, but my gosh, it was just so easy. My favorite version is still 8.04 Hardy Heron, which I still consider the pinnacle of Ubuntu development.

At this point I began to really learn about the Free Software Foundation, and decided that I agree with many of their beliefs. So, I installed a new FSF approved version of Hardy Heron called gNewSense and used only free and open source software on my computer for almost a year. You might be surprised how much Linux software is “open source” but not FSF “free”. ;) Anyway, it was a great experience.

gNewSense became old, and I didn’t like the direction the distribution was going. I wanted the latest versions of software, but I was tired of always formatting and installing new operating systems. I then discovered Arch Linux and the concept of a rolling release distribution. In addition to that, I was really getting into contributing to the Linux community, and the Arch Linux community provides outstanding outlets for that: a strong forum, a highly regarded wiki, and the AUR (allowing anyone to contribute new software packages to the distribution), all of which can be contributed to almost instantly by anyone.

In summary:

I was introduced to Linux using Mandrake.

I learned Linux using Slackware.

I discovered package management using Debian.

I took a break and used the user friendly Ubuntu.

I became passionate about software freedom using gNewSense.

I keep current and in control using Arch Linux.

I used each of those distributions for at least about a year. I’ve been using the same 64-bit Arch Linux installation for three years now and am very happy with it. I dual boot the Haiku operating system. And I still consider myself a freetard. :D

More information:

The monster update

I recently did some major software updates on my computer.

Arch Linux has changed a lot in recent months. These are not small updates. These are updates that, if I mess up, may result in my computer not booting, losing personal data files, or me not being able to watch Doctor Who. Spoiler: Everything went perfectly smoothly, my computer runs much better now, and I’m in the middle of watching episodes of the fifth Doctor.

Configuration Files

The first thing I did was update the Arch Linux configuration files. In the past, configuration was done almost entirely in /etc/rc.conf. Now it’s done in separate files. For example, the hostname is now set in the /etc/hostname file (SUCH AN EASY OPERATING SYSTEM).

I really enjoyed updating the configuration files. Everything is documented very simply in the man page for “archlinux”. And the best part is, now my computer runs so much more smoothly, especially the Firefox startup time.


A couple days later, I replaced my init system, sysvinit, with systemd. After learning more about each, I find systemd to be quite simple and easy to use. The upgrade process is very clearly documented on the Arch Linux wiki. I haven’t done any formal tests, but it seems like my computer now boots much more quickly.


Next, I decided it was time to change the file system on my two Linux partitions from Ext3 to Ext4. Why? Because Ext4 is newer! I don’t really understand the technical reasons why Ext4 is better, but whatever. It takes a lot less time now to run fsck, so that’s nice.

My other two partitions still have the Be File System on them. ;)


Finally, I updated my bootloader from GRUB legacy to GRUB2. Doing this one made my palms sweat. Once again I used the information in the Arch Linux wiki. Unfortunately, it was a little confusing, and required me to make some choices about how to install it. I decided to go with a very simple traditional BIOS installation to the MBR. So now I use GRUB2, which works fine, instead of GRUB legacy, which worked fine. But now my Arch Linux installation is little more future proof.

…And that’s it! My computer is running quite well. My next goal is to cleanup any files scattered around the operating system. I’ll do this by running the script that tells me about any files that aren’t owned by the package manager. The ones that are unused I’ll delete, and the ones that are used I’ll add documentation for. You know, things like what the file does and which application uses it.

I also need to do some things to cleanup my webserver. My iptables configuration works, but I don’t really understand why, and that scares me. I also need to clean up my webserver software.

It’s been three years since I installed Arch Linux, and it’s been a great experience. Going through the occasional big Arch Linux updates sure beats my old method of updating Linux, by reinstalling the entire operating system every few months. :P