My Linux journey

I guess it started at some point in the late '80s (or maybe early '90s) with painstakingly typing in lines of BASIC on a ZX Spectrum +3 [1], for the dubious reward of a simple Pong style game. I was a curious child, always wanting to know things. Typing all that code didn't lead me to a lifetime at the command line or a shadowy teenage life as a hacker but it was my first experience of looking beyond the standard Graphic User Interface (GUI) kindly presented to the world by mainstream computing.

Next came BBC Micros [2] in school. The Amstrad PCWs [3] that my Dad used and my brothers and I did our homework on. Windows when I got to my #undergrad in the late '90s. With all these I was content to use the GUI, until a second year course required more. Once again, the command line didn't grab me beyond using it for the programming task at hand but what did was the UNIX workstation. This was different from the lines of Windows PCs set-up in the different computer labs around the university. I liked the feeling of being one-step out of rhythm from the masses but I quickly left it behind when I graduated.

Fast-forward again to my postdoc years. My research led me into producing data where the only convenient way of analysing it was with some command line driven code written by other scientists. First on a Mac but eventually Linux. I gloried in a multi-boot set-up with orange-tinged Ubuntu and green tinged Linux Mint (I really liked their application menu!) alongside Windows.

As well as getting work done, I also encountered my first experiences with the frustration of Linux. It required more work and more choices! The extra effort did not always lead to extra reward. The hours spent fiddling to set-up the perfect looking desktop, find the right programme, work around the Linux-Windows divide sometimes felt wasted, leaving me with a sense of disquiet. Economists would call this opportunity cost. Or a trade-off. Or even, "the price of doing business".

Work took me to a life in the San Francisco Bay Area for 5 years but moved me away from needing Linux. I bought a MacBook and had fun with it for awhile instead. As you might imagine, being that close to Silicon Valley there were a lot of Macs being used in coffee shops everywhere I went!

Fast forward once more to the last year or so. For some reason, my thoughts brought me back to Linux. I started checking out what was happening with different distros again, made some bootable USBs and played around a bit. Finally, lockdown came along and proved the catalyst I needed to install one. I remembered the time spent fiddling with Linux and thought it could be a way to occupy my mind. I also wanted a separate computing space to express myself that wasn't the Windows on my work laptop, or even the Windows on my wife's personal laptop that has now largely become our household device. After turning that laptop into a dual-boot with Kubuntu for a bit, I bought a dedicated Linux laptop (more on that in a later blog) and here I am.

So, with no further fanfare, that's my history with Linux! Right now I'm enjoying it, and the extra freedom it gives me to define my own unique computing space. Which flavour of Linux do I want? How should I configure my desktop? What do I want to do with it? All of these questions take time to answer but are also triggering questions about myself and it is this process of self-reflection that I find rewarding, frustrating and occasionally disquieting in a way that the comparatively painless ease of using Windows or MacOS is not.

[1] ZX Spectrum +3
[2] BBC Micros
[3] Amstrad PCWs

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Originally published on my Write.as blog
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