My Linux experience

I have met and tamed many operating systems, ranging from the computers with no operating systems (primitive stand-alone systems or embedded systems) up to the mainframe operating systems (for example the CDC-6600 NOS back in 1979-84). I regard the operating system as a tool for me to work efficiently - not as the endgoal itself. But I realize too that I need to know the OS as good as any craftsman can know his hammer or power tool in order to get the most out of it. So I have often become the expert on the various OS's that I worked with, such as CP/M, DOS, TOPS-10, VMS and - in particular - OS/2.

In 1987 Andrew Tannenbaum released the book named Operating Systems - Design and Implementation (ISBN: 0-13-637331-3). In this book he describe the principles of operating systems with a bias to Unix-like systems. As Unix of that time was copyrighted, he could not clip samples from that OS - thus he chose to make a micro-clone of it, with the name MINIX. We all now know that the Finnish guy Linus Torvalds around 1990 started a further development of the system, and it became known to the world as Linux.

I want to state the fact that there was a much, much more powerfull operating system around the time when Linux was released - a system that was cheap and did not require the most powerfull computers to run, yet it provided so many features that only these years, Windows XP can match it. The system was OS/2 and you may say that I am biased towards it, but fact is: OS/2 was easy to install and released all the power in the computer that you could ask for. See my OS/2 page for more...

Around 2000-2001 the company that I was eployeed to at that time was starting to use the Internet more intelligently and I was in charge of security issues and web development. "Hmm" I thought, "we need a firewall now" - so I got hold of Linux Red Hat version 7, some books and an old computer and began implementing a firewall. I tried for 3-4 weeks before I called it quit! The problem was that I could not quarrantee that crackers could not bypass my rules because the rules was not understandable. And the reason why they was not understandable was because Linux was in development, not fixed, not stable, still open source and no documentation was accurate.

Several times during the period from 2000 to 2004 I have tried to install Linux Red Hat 7 onto old equipment

In 2004, I got hold of an old Toshiba Tecra 730 CDT laptop. It have a harddisk of 2 GB and some 32 MB of RAM. I have tried several times to find an operating system other than Windows 98 to run on this thing, and I was also interrested in testing the Linux environment, because of all the good stories about it. One of the myths of Linux is that it is able to run on all hardware, even down to some 4 MB of RAM. This year (2006) it should work, and I grabbed the newest version of quite some Linux distributions. Hmm....

... In short, trying FreeBSD gave the best result, but Red Hat, Ubuntu and Debian didn't even wanted to install, due to the fact that I have only 32 MB of RAM. The FreeBSD could be installed, if I gave up a lot of options, but I ended up with using a lot of hours for basically nothing more than a command prompt operating system. If I wanted that, I would have installed MS-DOS! I laid the laptop aside, waiting for better days.

The "new" computer

This week (today is 25/6-2006) I have got myself another old computer. A Pentium 133 MHz with some 114 MB (!) available RAM, RealTek RTL8139 PCI FastEtherNet, Audigy SB0160 soundcard, an extra PCI USB slot, a DVD-drive and a harddisk of 1.6GB. I have tried to upgrade the harddisk to 4GB, but the BIOS (IBM BIOS from 1996) could not see the disk. Never mind, all the stories of Linux is that minor computers can run it!...

Ubuntu revisited

... This is almost true! I installed Ubuntu - yes! it actually wanted to install - but somewhere in the installation process Ubuntu started to download packets uppon packets from the net, obviously not giving me any options of selecting what I wanted and worse: It completely filled up my harddisk, breaking the installation in the process. This is bad in so many ways: Ubuntu was permitted to reformat my harddisk, and an operating system must know the size of the disk - but did it use this information at any time before download took place? No, of course not! It may be that the Ubuntu pages can inform me that I need about 4 GB harddisk to install the system, but even so, the system should tell me - even Windows can do that!

My goals are actually simple:

I think theese goals to be reasonable... But you see, this is not a nice story! This is a story that tells you that Linux is eating time and enthusiasm from professional programmers. Better stick to Windows or Solaris or Mac-OS for professional purposes will be my conclusion here, wait and see!

Oh, and before any Linux-guru's are going to snirk and flame me, I will point out the simple truth: Linux is now not a new operating system. It has more than 14 years on its back and it is still a pain to install. I will judge the OS by my experience in installing / maintaining other OS's. I do not give a damn that Linux is "open source" - what I care about is how easy it is to find correct information, be it proprietary or not.


So Ubuntu was dropped again, and I have now installed Mandrake version 10.1. This was easier, because I could actually (with some errors in screen updates!) see how much room the installation would use, given the misc. options I selected. Not that the options was explained clearly - what is for example an "Internet computer"? I wouldn't know either, but such was one of the options.

The installation took some 2 hours, mostly automatic. But help is not clear and options are vaguely explained!

Danish Keyboard

Now to the first pain of Mandrake: I was not allowed to change my keyboard layout to Danish within the installation! I could try to, and the markers would definitely change, but the net result was still the US-keyboard. OK, we can live with it for a time, but how to change it back? Looking at the net I found references to the XF86Config file for the X-environment (and that worked), but the console prompt was still not in Danish. I found a good reference to help me out, except that the keytables-file was not found. Realizing that something was different I looked in the /etc/rc.d/rc.system file and after some time I spotted that there was a command named Keyboarddrake in the folder /usr/sbin . Not giving a damn I started the command (as root - we are not afraid :-)) and lo and behold: This command can actually change the keyboard mapping correctly!

This part of maintenance took 3 hours before a solution was found. But why give commands names different from the agreed "standard"?