My Journey with Linux

Starting from Windows, spanning a decade

After months of envying my friends’ personal computers, I got my first one in my first year of college. The first operating system I learnt to use was MS DOS (and I had gotten really good at it compared to my peers). Of course, my personal computer had the brilliant-looking Windows XP on it, which I borked in no time. I got myself a CD with Windows XP on it from a local shop and learnt to reinstall the operating system. While I got comfortable using the disk to reimage my PC, I learnt that you actually had to pay for XP in thousands of rupees (I’d not even paid a hundred).

Ubuntu? What the fudge is that?

One day, a friend of mine from the Hindi class told me that there was this OS called Ubuntu, which was actually free. He’d said, ‘Ubuntu looks awesome, and it can be shared with others! No need to pay!’ I didn’t know then that there were operating systems other than MS DOS and Windows (I thought Windows was written on top of MS DOS)! When I asked the “Shop Guy” to burn me an Ubuntu disk, he simply refused. And said, ‘It’s not like Windows. You’ll not know how to use it.’

I dropped the pursuit, taking the Guy’s word. I started to learn to meddle with Windows, spent hours trying to fix what was broken, learnt to run Adobe Photoshop CS2 on a 600 MHz Pentium III processor with 256 MB RAM. Yes, I learnt patience, too.

The company that hired me through “campus recruitment” required that we get trained in a “bunch of things” before we joined. We travelled some 130 km across the state every weekend. During one of these travels, I saw a guy sitting at the back of the bus, typing away on his laptop. It had fire-like graphics all over. It had a whole different look. I asked him what he was running. That was the first time I saw what Ubuntu looked like. However, I still had no idea that it was Linux. I had learnt what UNIX was, though. We were to start classes on RedHat Enterprise Linux the next week. Even after the class, I had no idea that Ubuntu was also Linux. How would I, nobody spoke about it at all!

One year after I had started working, I joined our company’s CSR wing to teach children to use computers. We were asked to bring our laptops for the orientation meeting. We did. We were given a copy of Ubuntu each. That is when I was told it was Linux. (No, I hadn’t bothered to google it because I was immensely happy about my Windows 7 Home Premium on my new laptop.) When those at the meeting spoke so high of Ubuntu and Linux, I was intrigued. I decided to dual-boot (that meeting is when I was told something like that existed). When dual boot did not work for me, I single-booted into Ubuntu. It looked colourful. Young. Although I was not a fan of the entire palette, there was no doubt the UI caught one’s attention.

Ditching Linux

Soon I realised that Bluetooth wouldn’t work. That was an absolute deal-breaker; the only way I could connect to the Internet was use my Nokia 5233 ‘smartphone’, connect it via Bluetooth to my Vaio, and then, establish an Internet connection. It was dead slow (EDGE over Bluetooth—slugs were faster); but still. I reinstalled Windows.

When I visited my cousin in the November of 2012, and she saw me installing Windows 8, she said, ‘Windows? So old school…’ I laughed at her face so hard, she quit. That evening, when roaming around a local mall, I asked her, ‘So what do you guys use anyway?’ She looked at me (as though saying, uh-huh, now you wanna know) and said, ‘Ubuntu. We were using 12.04, now 12.10 has released. I hear it is much better.’ I didn’t install it, though. Bluetooth was not the only thing that Ubuntu broke, but also the touchpad.

The reintroduction

The next time I tried Linux was 16.04. By then, I had almost mastered Windows 10 (I was among those few who had adopted it in its early days of Insider Preview).

It started when I bought myself a domain and put up a status on Facebook with a link to my WordPress blog post; I had a custom domain. It was late 2016. A friend suggested that I try Jekyll instead, if I wanted more control (wordpress.com does not allow much freedom of customisation, apart from the hundreds of themes). I quickly learnt that running Jekyll on Windows was not among the best of experiences. Accidentally, I came across Linux Subsystem for Windows. When I learnt to use it, things changed forever. Jekyll and LSW introduced me to the world of open source software. It was a whole new world.

In May of 2017, I decided to switch to Linux for good, having gotten tired of the disk thrashing and other issues that had started to plague Windows 10 (I regretted switching away from Windows 8.1). However, my laptop had a 14" 1920x1080 screen, and content looked tiny. I had to come back to Windows, because it allowed better scaling. I tried the fractional scaling, but, as Cassidy James Blaede points out under Half pixels are a lie in What is HiDPI and why does it matter, my experience with fractional scaling on my 14" FHD screen was bad (especially because I easily notice blurry icons and text, and they get on my nerves).

The switch

Finally in March 2018, I ditched my laptop and went for a Galago Pro. With hardware that is built for Linux and even the little details really taken care of, I haven’t looked back since. Today, I run Pop_OS by System 76 as well as CentOS on my Galago Pro, Ubuntu 18.04 on an old ThinkPad I got myself, Solus on my old Vaio and Arch Linux ARM on my Raspberry Pi; I use Windows only at work. Of course, Windows also sits in a corner on the second SSD I added to my Galago Pro. Why? I still need Windows for a few very specific things. Those 15 minutes a month are my only real need-based connection to Windows.

Sure, I may never be able to leave Windows for good (and not that I am desperate to), but the amount of freedom that I’ve discovered with Linux is something I have never experienced with Windows. The cleanliness, the efficiency, the openness… these are perhaps the strengths of Linux apart from the community. I read, I write, I typeset, I code, I blog, I watch, I record, I edit… Linux serves all of these purposes well.

Now about the “Free as in Speech” part. The free there, as many have pointed out, stands for freedom, not for “no cost”. It’s about being a community. It’s about giving back. Now I’m not someone who knows to code applications for Linux. What I can do is contribute to documentation. My first such contribution is the book I’m writing on PowerShell for Linux. I plan to contribute to some how-tos on Linux on Raspberry Pi and such things as well. I’d really like to see where this journey takes me.