My personal Linux Origins story

My current laptop running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

The family computer

When I was still quite young, my family had one computer with Windows 98 installed which my father occasionally used for work and sometimes used for managing some important parts of a local club he was a member of. My mother never touched the computer as she once accidentally deleted some important documents, and ever since decided (or my father decided for her) that the computer was taboo.

At that time, my elder brother and I knew that it was possible to play games on that computer. We had a few simple games, but we barely managed to start those games, not to speak about installing them or tweaking them so they would run smoothly.

As my father's attitude towards computer was that they should be used for work only, he never really approved of letting us play with the computer. (I never understood why he actually installed a few games.)

My first notebook

Fast forward about 7 years, I finished primary school and the computer started to become relevant for homework and school assignments. My mother thought, it might be better for me to have my own computer so I could my work even when my father was using the family computer. Another reason was that I could not mess with my father's documents and delete any important stuff. As my brother received a laptop a few years earlier, my mother me to a store and we bought a 200€ notebook (we split the price 50/50). This amount was not little money, but it seemed a good bargain and the idea of having my own laptop was attractive. Unfortunately, I got what I paid: a 200€ notebook.

The notebook was running Windows XP (nothing against that) and had barely enough storage to have the operating system installed. Somehow, I was not able to get the WiFi drivers installed and I needed to choose either MS Works or a printer driver as there was not enough storage for both. I managed to do some homework, mainly offline as I had no WiFi and my room had no LAN cable. In some very few occasions, I played solitude. Very quickly, the laptop was more cumbersome to work with than actually helping to do the work.

My first desktop PC

When I progressed in school, the need for a computer grew to make text documents for language classes, make spreadsheets for physics classes and design presentation slides that I needed to print out for history class. In a discounter store, they had an offer of a desktop PC for 500€ and I decided this was probably a better choice that that previous purchase. It turned out, it really was. I could happily do homework and now worry about printer drivers and WiFi not working as all this was working fine pretty much out of the box.

This computer was running Windows 7 and everything went smooth with it. Well… Until I one day installed a corrupted piece of software which broke the system and the only way I new of rescuing the PC was to re-install Windows 7 and wipe the hard drive. Of course, as a young man, I had not thought of backups or the importance of it. Luckily, the damage was limited to some old assignments that I never needed again and unfortunately all my photographs that I took with friends and family. With this computer, I also tried PC gaming after long hesitation as my mind still carried the mindset of "computers are for work only". It turned out, this particular computer was really meant for work only as it did not have a powerful processor not did it have a dedicated GPU.

My first powerful laptop

When I approached the end of secondary school, it got clear that I wanted to study at a university. This also made clear that a desktop PC would not meet my needs wen I needed to have a portable solution. So I went to an electronics store and asked for advice. At that time, I already made some research of what a "good" computer needed to have to meet my expectations. I wanted a high end laptop, but of course I had a limited budget and the shop assistant then suggested me a mid-to-low-range laptop that features a 17 inch screen and a small dedicated graphics card and an i5 processor. I was fascinated about how much faster it was compared to my desktop PC which I then barely used.

My first encounter with Linux

So I had that new fancy laptop and my old desktop PC. I quickly focused on using the laptop as it was faster and when I left for the university, I did not take my desktop PC with me. The second time when I came back for the summer break, I started that old PC of mine and of course it had to do a couple of updates. After a few hours of updates, it was ready for use and I realized, it was slow. Also, as my laptop shipped with Windows 8 and quickly offered the update to Windows 10, the PC with Windows 7 also felt ugly in my eyes. As I did not use it for anything particular, I decided to change the appearance. I installed a software that made the wallpaper rotate like a cube. This was really funny to mess around with, but it was quite slow given the age and low specs of my machine. I looked for alternative backgrounds and found something called Linux Mint" which definitely looked different than what I had before. The installation process was much more cumbersome that that desktop cube widget but I managed. Shortly after, I left again for my second year of university, not really knowing what I actually did with my old PC: installing a different operating system.

My real start with Linux

In my third year of my Bachelor studies, I needed to choose a Minor program, which is a full semester where I could choose my subjects. As I did not study in a normal university, but a university of applied sciences, all my courses were fixed from the beginning and I had not a single subject where I could choose between two or more alternatives. This means that this Minor semester was a big thing. I wanted to do something with robotics as I studies mechatronical engineering and for me, robotics is the perfect mechatronics system.

When I started with this robotics Minor, I needed to install some software called ROS which stands for Robot Operating System. Despite its name, it is not a real operating system, but a meta-operating system which is installed on top of an OS. The usual approach is to install it with Ubuntu. The teacher instructed us not to install Ubuntu 16.04 as a virtual machine but do a proper dualboot installation. For those who felt uncomfortable doing that, they could lend a laptop from school. For me, this was not attractive as I prefer keeping my stuff with me and those using a laptop from school needed to keep it inside the school locker when they left in the evening.

This time, I knew what I was doing: installing a new operating system on my laptop. I used my laptop and Ubuntu a lot and I tried to use it as much as I could. I only booted into Windows when I needed to use a CAD program to design some parts for the 3D printer. I fell in love with Ubuntu and quickly learned there was much more than only Ubuntu. I played around a lot with different distros in virtual machines. At the end of the semester, when I went back home, I finally realized what I had done with my old PC. So I had installed Linux before, unknowingly what it was, but I had never used it. Only with Ubuntu and in the context of robotics, I was fully aware of what I did and I used it to do real stuff.

My migration to Linux

To go back in time again, during my Minor in robotics, I still occasionally used Windows. For once, my house mate re-introduced me into PC gaming as he explained to me whit my laptop, I should be able to play a range of mid-range to some high-end games and he helped my installing Steam and setting up the Nvidia drivers and explained to me how it worked. So when I went to my accommodation in the evenings, I sometimes played some video games on my laptop (not very often as I often was in school from 9 AM to 9 PM during that time). So when I started my laptop for gaming, Windows did what it does: installing updates. One day, in April, when I wanted to start my laptop in school… nothing worked. I only saw a bunch of error codes, but I could not start the computer. It tuned out that there was an issue with the latest Windows update and many systems broke down. In my case, it was probably because of the anti-virus software which prohibited the installation of the update and the update relied upon being installed. I still could use Ubuntu, I also could access my files I had on the Windows partition through Ubuntu, but Windows was broken and I did not want to re-install it. At a repair-shop, I was told that they needed to re-install everything and they had little to no experience with Ubuntu so I was better of taking care of it by myself.

I ended up buying a new laptop, one which was much thinner and lightweight and also I chose a 15 inch laptop this time. I realized that I used my old laptop not only on a daily basis, but beyond that. I used it easily for 12 hours a day, working on my robotics projects, giving presentations, writing reports, making 3D CAD drawings and compiling code. When I went to my accommodation, I continued with homework, research, playing video games or watching movies and TV shows on it. For the new laptop, I deserved a high-end system as I knew what I needed it for. I installed Ubuntu on my new machine alongside Windows 10 as I did with my old laptop and migrated all my files to the new laptop.

My distro-hopper journey

As I did not need to preserve any data on the old laptop, I wiped it and installed Kubuntu on it, allowing me to discover more Linux awesomeness while still being able to do my robotics stuff on it. Shorty after that, I became a distro-hopper. Compared to the new laptop, the old laptop felt slow, but it was okay. It was very comfortable to have a computer on my desk when I returned from the university. I could keep my new laptop in my backpack and I did not need to worry about messing um my system. My old laptop became my tinkering machine. I first tried all the Ubuntu based flavors such as Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu Mate and then the derivatives such as Linux Mint (it somehow looked familiar) and then I even looked into other grounds like OpenSUSE and finally Arch Linux after which I returned to my safe heaven, Ubuntu. I also played with different versions such as Ubuntu 18.04 and Ubuntu 18.10 as I was not able to use anything different from Ubuntu 16.04 for school due to compatibility. ROS is targeted towards a specific Ubuntu LTS release and newer versions are often only used (at least by the people I worked and still work with) once the latest version has been out for a year or two to avoid compatibility issues or missing packages that are not ported to the latest version yet.

My settling down

After having used Ubuntu during my Minor with robotics and later having done a project during my sevenths semester based on robotics and therefore Linux again and also having used Linux during my entire Bachelor thesis, I became a huge fan of Linux. When I finished my Bachelor's, I went back home and started a Master's in my home country. As a treat, I bought myself a new Desktop PC which I wanted to set up for PC gaming and to do homework with it at home, similarly to how I used my old laptop in my accommodation. I decided to install Manjaro as they provide nice looks, good defaults and being based on Arch, I never have to worry about major version updates ever again. So no need to upgrade from Ubuntu 16.04 to 18.04 and then wonder if I should also install minor version updates like 18.10 or not.

I was well aware that Manjaro is based on Arch and Arch has the reputation of breaking very often, I set up a solid backup routine for the OS and for my files. Until now, I only had two major cases where the system broke and I could easily recover it within an hour. I managed to successfully install and run a big variety of Windows games on my system. I have switched the Desktop Environment a bunch of times and am now stuck with GNOME. In general, I am happy, though, Garuda Linux makes it very attractive to have a look at other systems again. Unfortunately, I am not able to install ROS on my Manjaro install even though it should be possible through the AUR, but it always fails at the building of some dependencies but I still have my laptop with Ubuntu which works perfectly fine with ROS. I also have Windows installed on my laptop which I still need to use quite regularly because of some software that simply doesn't run on Linux.

I am looking forward to new improvements of the Linux desktop and more compatible software.

I am a master student specializing in robotics. I am a Linux enthusiast and I love helping people with my knowledge. I also have a website: davesroboshack.com

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