My Linux Timeline

From Nick Jenkins
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Let me disclose my interests and background as regards Linux straight off the bat here so that you know where I'm coming from.

I've used Linux on and off for a while now. The distributions I've installed & used in reverse-chronological order are:

  • Debian Lenny 5.0 (used on office VM dev server & prod web server from August 2010 to current)
  • Ubuntu 10.04 (used on laptop from mid May 2010 to current, main desktop from July 2010 to current)
  • Ubuntu 9.10 (used on laptop from mid November 2009 to mid May 2010, main desktop from late December 2009 to July 2010)
  • Ubuntu 9.04 (used on laptop from mid April 2009 to mid November 2009, main desktop from June 2009 to late December 2009)
  • Ubuntu 8.10 (used on main desktop from Dec 2008 to June 2009 + office file server from Nov 2008 to May 2010)
  • Ubuntu 8.04 (used on main desktop from Sept 2008 to Dec 2008 + office file server from May 2008 to Nov 2008)
  • Debian Etch 4.0 (used on office dev server & prod web server from July 2007 to August 2010)
  • Ubuntu 6.06 (used on office file server from Sept 2006 to May 2008)
  • Debian Sarge 3.1 (used on office dev server from 2005 to July 2007)
  • Debian Woody 3.0 (used on office dev server from 2004 to 2005)
  • Mandrake 7.2 GPL
  • Mandrake 7.1 GPL
  • Red Hat 6.2 GPL
  • Mandrake 7.0 GPL (Used on prod web server from May 2000 to July 2007 + office dev server from May 2000 to 2004)
  • Mandrake 6.0 GPL
  • Red Hat 5.2 with bleeding-edge updates GPL
  • Mandrake 5.1 GPL
  • Red Hat 4.1 Official box set
  • Used the Info Magic 4 CD sets for that came out roughly quarterly for yonks
  • Yggdrasil (back in the days of the 0.99 & lower kernels)

Originally, I was interested in Linux because:

  • I'm generally interested in all kinds of software, but especially new and interesting stuff.
  • I was at that time studying computer science in a university, and as you might expect almost all their computers ran some flavour of UNIX. I wanted to avoid all of the bookings, limited hours & general hassle involved in using an institution's facilities, and replicate the software environment at home so that I could get my class work done as & when I wanted, on my own time & hardware.

I like Linux and open source in general, and I'm very glad that they exist. However, I'm not religious about Linux in the way that some people are. The fundamental reason for this is because of a dichotomy: My computer science background has taught me to appreciate and value elegant, open and robust software – but my experiences supporting software to end-users and beliefs about ease-of-use make me passionate about intuitive design and interfaces that a 7 year-old could use.

For the longest time I used both Windows & Linux - Windows more for desktop work (email, word processing, customer databases), and Linux more for the server-side work (web, database, mail & DNS servers) - this played to the core competencies of these two products, so it seemed an obvious way to work. Lately I'm running Linux on the desktop, but am finding that it's a few years away from being suitable for general use, although it's improving rapidly.

My preferred distribution is Debian or Ubuntu for servers, and Ubuntu for desktops. I used to use Mandrake Linux, but switched to Debian / Ubuntu, after Mandrake seemed to lose their focus (e.g. trying to do training) and the supported lifecycle of their products seemed to decrease to around 12 months, which is way too short for me. Debian is a community project, so it is basically devoid of the financial imperatives placed on a commercial company, plus their lifecycle seems to be running >= 2 years support for stable releases, with easy remote upgrades to new releases. The only downside is that their installer is pretty gross, but for an install-once server, they're great. Ubuntu has been described as "debian with a regular release cycle", and so they inherit a lot of the benefits of Debian, but add a few extra benefits (cutting edge features, focus on making a nice desktop) and a few downsides (e.g. things that used to work break more often than they should).