I guess I ought to write one of these things, eh? I'll tell y'all a story of a Windows veteran turned to the light. That Windows veteran is me.
I grew up in a DOS and Windows world. I started with Windows 95 and its DOS mode as a young kid, and that's what I got used to. I really liked Windows 2000 when it came out, and I was okay with XP - not great, but I figured that Windows was the only thing out there worth looking into. Vista came and went, and I eventually upgraded to Windows 7. I believed that Windows was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But during the time when Windows XP was still bleeding-edge, I read a book entitled C++ for Dummies. In it, I encountered a strange and funny word in that book.
At that time, I didn't think much of it. However, as I ran into repeated issues with Windows having to be reinstalled on what seemed like a semiannual basis, I began to wonder if there was a better way. This "Linux" kept on popping into my head.
That's when I started reading online.
Even when I was looking at Linux distributions, I didn't know a thing about the "open-source movement". All I knew is that the operating systems were (usually) free (as in beer) and that I could run them without installing them.
Run an operating system without having to install it? I thought to myself. And from a CD-ROM? Not an MS-DOS boot floppy? What madness is this?
I started with three distributions to see which would stick: Damn Small Linux, Musix, and Ubuntu. Damn Small Linux appealed to me because it was, well, damn small. Musix appealed because it was music-oriented (and being a musician, that struck me as cool), and Ubuntu seemed to be the really popular one.
Damn Small Linux ended up being one of my initial favorites. With it, I managed to breathe new life into an old Compaq Presario 1210. Where I couldn't get a single version of Windows to install properly without some piece of hardware going wrong, Damn Small Linux worked right out of the box - and with a whole bunch of applications included, to boot.
Applications come free with the operating system? I now asked myself. And everything works out of the box? No hunting for drivers? What madness is this?
But Damn Small Linux didn't like network cards - not a big deal for an ancient laptop with zero network connectivity beyond a serial port and a WinModem, but a bit of a problem on a desktop. So I kept going.
Musix was kind of cool. The application repertoire was phenomenal, and it sure looked pretty. I think it used KDE 3. However, it had the same internet connectivity issues as Damn Small Linux. So I kept going.
Now was Ubuntu. I had read a bit on Ubuntu.org about what it's all about - what the word ubuntu means, and how the concept was applied to the operating system. I knew it was made by some company in South Africa called Canon-something. I didn't care - I just wanted to try it.
The first two distributions I tried didn't have startup sounds on their Live CDs. For that reason, I was caught quite off guard when the sound of jubilant choir singing and African drums blasted through my speakers. My mom yelled at me to turn down that racket. I plugged some headphones in, turned the volume down, and carried on.
GNOME was - for me - quite strange, at least coming from Windows. However, it did remind me - barely - of Mac OS 9 on my elementary school's old iMacs. Sort of. Not really. Regardless, I did find it interesting, and the format was instantly cool. I was amazed that I could open up Synaptic Package Manager and install pretty much any program on there. Within 15 minutes I had figured out much of the operating system - how to install packages, how to play music, how to surf the web on Firefox - with minimal difficulty. All my programs were under "Applications", my files under "Places", and all the fancy system stuff under "System".
As cool as I thought Ubuntu was, I shelved it for a bit. I was still a gamer, and I didn't know about Wine, so I wasn't quite comfortable with making the jump. I kept on using Windows and working through the issues to play my games and do my homework, but that "Linux" was still a nagging thought in my head.
I did have an old desktop that was unsuitable for gaming. Integrated graphics, Athlon XP CPU, nothing special. It was running Windows 2000 at the time, and it was my tinkering machine.
The lightbulb instantly lit up. At this time, Canonical still offered the free Ubuntu install CDs (if you were willing to wait 6 weeks for them to ship all the way from South Africa to California via snail mail). I got both the desktop and server versions just because I could (I didn't figure out that the server edition was for x86_64 until I had already placed the order), and in five weeks (speedy!) I had - in my hands - official Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron installation CD-ROMs. I immediately fired up that machine, stuck the CD in, booted it up, and went straight to that installer.
Then it was done.
Holy cow, I now thought. I finally installed Linux. Wait, did I really install Linux? It was that easy? No antiquated DOS-looking text-mode menus to wade through? Still no having to trawl the web for drivers? What madness is this?
Now I started to really explore. It wasn't about things looking cool now; it was about doing things. I started trying to make sense of the Unix-based filesystem hierarchy; I made it my goal to understand what goes in /bin or /etc or /lib or /home. I started learning the terminal commands - which appealed to me from my DOS days - and figured out how to install packages via apt-get instead of Synaptic.
By now, I still wasn't really aware of what "open-source" was. But it was a recurring theme. "GNU General Public License" became the next buzzword (well, buzzphrase - you get the point) that lingered in my head. So I investigated. And I was shocked.
So people actually *release* the source code to their applications? I thought to myself. What is this GNU General Public License? What is this open-source? What is this "free-as-in-speech"? What madness is this?"
And then it dawned on me.
This "madness" wasn't madness at all.
This "madness" was how it should have been all along.
It's been five years since I first fired up Ubuntu. I still use Windows for the few games that don't like Wine, and at work, where I'm stuck with a Windows-only ecosystem.
However, for everything else, I have Linux. Lubuntu 12.04 LTS on my desktop, Kubuntu 12.04 LTS on my laptop, Debian Squeeze on my Squeezebox server (that was purely coincidental, and I just thought about that as I'm writing this), Fedora 17 on a testing machine, MineOS CRUX running my Minecraft server, and (working on installing) Ubuntu 8.04 on an old eMac (I know it's not supported anymore, but it sounds like it works the best on that old machine). Oh, and don't forget that old Compaq laptop - still humming along happily with Damn Small Linux (though I'm working on getting one of the really old distros - like Yggdrasil or Softlanding - running on it just to see if I can).
Ubuntu, Linux in general, and the open-source movement as a whole has changed how I perceive computing. I'm an Ubuntu user, and I can say that proudly and with no regrets.