Re: Series: Linux vs Windows
When I was little I was encouraged to experiment and my dad even helped me with some projects. He had a pretty decent collection of electronic parts and test equipment.
The high school I attended had a good electronics program, right alongside the traditional wood shop and metal shop. I completed a two-year electronics program and then another two-year computer electronics program for my last two years of high school.
I was occasionally able to try some BASIC programming because a friend of mine had a timeshare account at the University of Miami where he attended. I also was helping IBM develop some projects for vocational electronics contests since I belonged to the vocational club VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America). One of the guys at IBM let me come in for a day and just play with the IBM 5100 desktop computer running APL.
During my last year of high school I really wanted an 8080 system but they were too expensive. MODCOMP had donated a minicomputer to the vocational school and it was mostly just sitting around. So, I wrote a little assembly language loader, disassembler and editor for it. They had the OS but no documentation for the OS, so I never did learn about that.
I worked for MODCOMP for about a year (my last year of high school) as a manufacturing test technician. Then I was hired by MILGO Electronics (designer of the first 9600BPS modems). They had an 8080 based modem diagnostic and control system. I got to playing around with that after work and eventually made some changes to the software that made it work faster. Those ended up in the product, though I was still a "Technical Support Speicalist" helping solve problems that field engineers encountered. I was assigned the job of supporting software for the diagnostic systems that included the 8080 and some DEC PDP-11 minicomputers running RT-11. One of the programmers asked for me to work with him on a project designing an IBM protocol emulator language (similar to BASIC) to train field engineers. MILGO also sold IBM terminal "clones" that cost less and worked better than the real IBM terminals.
Eventually I was able to attend some DEC programming seminars and I got involved with the new systems MILGO designed around RSX-11M (another DEC OS). That was when I really got into operating systems and read everything that I could find about RSX-11M. I was 21 at the time.
By 1983 (age 23) I was getting a bit tired of all the travelling and stupid large company politics at MILGO. I wanted to do software engineering but it was obvious that they wouldn't offer me an engineering position. Luckily a friend of mine who I had worked with at MILGO gave my name to a very small process control company struggling to get a Motorola 68000 assembly language project done. They interviewed me and hired me with the provision that I had to successfully complete the project. I had never seen a Motorola 68000 before but furtunately the instruction set was very similar to a PDP-11 (DEC computer). After that I just slowly built a reputation at that company where I still work today.
The little company where I work designed hardware to work with just about every minicomputer available during the 80's and 90's. I worked with DEC VAX/VMS, Gould SEL, Sun, SGI, and lots of others. I used all sorts of operating systems including the Unix variants. Eventually things migrated to the IBM PC compatibles and I got back involved in embedded software and network communication (sort of where I started).
I suppose getting into software was partly good fortune and partly because I was so interested in programming. I did a lot of studying on my own and spent extra time outside of work learning more. My only real regret was not getting a college degree, but financially it wasn't an option. I was also willing to attempt just about any job and do the extra work to be successfull and learn what I needed.
Why I'm using Slackware is because of the documentation (the SlackBook). The first place that I tried to install Linux was on my computer with a Promise RAID controller. To do that I had to use a proprietary Linux driver from Promise. I couldn't find any information about how to build and load a third-party driver for other distros. Even the SlackBook didn't exactly explain that but at least I could see how to load the driver and install Linux if I could build it. I just kept on using Slackware on all my computers.
Distros are just a starting point anyway. You can add or remove things and do the same things with just about any distro. It boils down to how close the distro is to what you want and how much you have to change it. Of all the distros that I tried, Fedora seems to be the best "off-the-shelf" Linux. Ubuntu is good too. Slackware is better if you want or need to do special things, or learn more about Linux.
The only distro that I really couldn't handle was GENTOO. It almost isn't a distro. It's more like a collection of Linux source. The documentation is out of date and confusing.You have to use the documentation because everything is built from sources. It just seems to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. I don't think it's a question of being "smart" so much as knowing a bunch of "Linux lore" to figure out how to find everything and what versions work together.
I'm not a "distro snob". I think what matters the most is what you learn, not which distro you use in order to learn it. Use the one that works the best for your hardware and applications. Then read the documentation, look at the configuration files and do some experimenting. Even if you don't use Slackware, reading the "SlackBook" is helpful. Keep in mind that the details of each distro are slightly different but the concepts are the same. Mostly what changes are the names of configuration files and where they happen to be located.
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