How Linux got to be Linux: Test driving 1993-2003 distros

Enjoy a trip down Linux memory lane as we take early distros for a spin.
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How Linux got to be Linux: Test driving 1993-2003 distros

Internet Archive Book Images. Modified by CC BY-SA 4.0

A unique trait of open source is that it's never truly EOL (End of Life). The disc images mostly remain online, and their licenses don't expire, so going back and installing an old version of Linux in a virtual machine and getting a precise picture of what progress Linux has made over the years is relatively simple.

We begin our journey with Slackware 1.01, posted to the comp.os.linux.announce newsgroup well over 20 years ago.

Slackware 1.01 (1993)

slackware 1.0 screenshot

Slackware 1.01

The best part about trying Slackware 1.01 is that there's a pre-made image in Qemu's 2014 series of free images, so you don't have to perform the install manually (don't get used to this luxury).

 $ qemu-kvm -m 16M -drive if=ide,format=qcow2,file=slackware.qcow2 \
 -netdev user,id=slirp -device ne2k_isa,netdev=slirp \
 -serial stdio -redir tcp:22122::22

Many things in 1993's version of Linux works just as you'd expect. All the basic commands, such as ls and cd work, all the basic tools (gawk, cut, diff, perl, and of course Volkerding's favorite elvis) are present and accounted for, but some of the little things surprised me. BASH courteously asks for confirmation when you try to tab-complete hundreds of files, and tools to inspect compressed files (such as zless and zmore and zcat) already existed. In more ways than I'd expected, the system feels surprisingly modern.

What's missing is any notion of package management. All installs and uninstalls are entirely manual, with no tracking.

Over all, Slackware 1.01 feels a lot like a fairly modern UNIX—or more appropriately, it feels like modern UNIX might feel to a Linux user. Most everything is familiar, but there are differences here and there. Not nearly as much a difference as you might expect from an operating system released in 1993!

Debian 0.91 (1994)

To try Debian 0.91, I used the floppy disk images available on the Ibiblio digital archive, originally posted in 1994. The commands to boot:

 $ gunzip bootdsk.gz basedsk1.gz basedsk2.gz
 $ qemu-system-i386 -M pc -m 64 -boot order=ac,menu=on \
   -drive file=bootdisk,if=floppy,format=raw \
   -drive file=debian.raw,if=ide,format=raw \
   -device ne2k_isa,netdev=slirp \
   -serial msmouse -vga std \
   -redir tcp:22122::22 \
   -netdev user,id=slirp

The bootdisk for Debian 0.91 boots to a simple shell, with clear instructions on the steps you're meant to take next.

The install process is surprisingly smooth. It works off of a menu system with seven steps—from partitioning a hard drive and writing the ext2 filesystem to it, all the way through to copying the basedsk images. This provided a minimal Debian install with many of the familiar conventions any modern Linux user would expect from their OS.

Debian is now famous for its package management system, but there are mere hints of that in this early release. The dpkg command exists, but it's an interactive menu-based system—a sort of clunky aptitude, with several layers of menu selections and, unsurprisingly, a fraction of available packages.

Even so, you can sense the convenience factor in the design concept. You download three floppy images and end up with a bootable system, and then use a simple text menu to install more goodies. I sincerely see why Debian made a splash.

Jurix/S.u.S.E. (1996)

Jurix install screen

Jurix installation

A pre-cursor to SUSE, Jurix shipped with binary .tgz packages organized into directories resembling the structure of Slackware's install packages. The installer itself is also similar to Slackware's installer.

 $ qemu-system-i386 -M pc -m 1024 \
   -boot order=ac,menu=on \
   -drive \
    file=jurix/install,if=floppy,format=raw \
   -drive file=jurix.img,if=ide \
   -drive file=pkg.raw,if=ide,format=raw \
   -device ne2k_isa,netdev=slirp \
   -serial msmouse -vga std \
   -redir tcp:22122::22 \
   -netdev user,id=slirp

Because I wasn't specifically looking for the earliest instance, Jurix was the first Linux distribution I found that really "felt" like it intended the user to use a GUI environment. XFree86 is installed by default, so if you didn't intend to use it, you had to opt out.

An example /usr/lib/X11/XF86Config (this later became Xorg.conf) file was provided, and that got me 90% of the way to a GUI, but fine-tuning vsync, hsync, and ramdac colormap overrides took me an entire weekend until I finally gave up.

Installing new packages on Jurix was simple; find a .tgz on your sources drive, and run a routine tar command: $ su -c 'tar xzvf foo.tgz -C /' The package gets unzipped and unarchived to the root partition, and ready to use. I did this with several packages I hadn't installed to begin with, and found it easy, fast, and reliable.

SUSE 5.1 (1998)

suse install

FVWM running on SuSE 5.1

I installed SUSE 5.1 from a InfoMagic CD-ROM purchased from a software store in Maryland in 1998.

 $ qemu-system-i386 -M pc-0.10 -m 64 \
   -boot order=ad,menu=on \
   -drive file=floppy.raw,if=floppy,format=raw \
   -cdrom /dev/sr0 \
   -drive file=suse5.raw,if=ide,format=raw \
   -vga cirrus -serial msmouse

The install process was convoluted compared to those that came before. YaST volleyed configuration files and settings between a floppy disk and the boot CD-ROM, requiring several reboots and a few restarts as I tried to understand the sequence expected from me. Once I'd failed the process twice, I got used to the way YaST worked, and the third time was smooth and very much a hint at the Linux user experience to come in later years.

A GUI environment was my main goal for SUSE 5.1. The configuration process was familiar, with a few nice graphical tools (including a good XF86Setup frontend) to help test and debug mouse and monitor problems. It took less than an hour to get a GUI up and running, and most of the delay was caused by my own research on what resolutions and color depths Qemu's virtualized video card could handle.

Included desktops were fvwm, fvwm2, and ctwm. I used fvwm, and it worked as expected. I even discovered tkDesk, a dock and file manager combo pack that is surprisingly similar to Ubuntu's Unity launcher bar.

The experience was, over all, very pleasant, and in terms of getting a successful desktop up and running, SUSE 5.1 was a rousing success.

Red Hat 6.0 (1999)

Red Hat 1999

Red Hat 6 running GIMP 1.x

The next install disc I happened to have lying around was Red Hat 6.0. That's not RHEL 6.0—just Red Hat 6.0. This was a desktop distribution sold in stores, before RHEL or Fedora existed. The disc I used was purchased in June 1999.

 $ qemu-system-i386 -M pc-0.10 -m 512 \
   -boot order=ad,menu=on \
   -drive file=redhat6.raw,if=ide,format=raw \
   -serial msmouse -netdev user,id=slirp \
   -vga cirrus -cdrom /dev/sr0

The installation was fully guided and remarkably fast. You never have to leave the safety of the install process, whether choosing what packages to install (grouped together in Workstation, Server, and Custom groups), partitioning a drive, or kicking off the install.

Red Hat 6 included an xf86config application to step you through X configuration, although it strangely allowed some mouse emulation options that X later claimed were invalid. It beat editing the Xf86Config file, but getting X correct was still clearly not a simple task.

The desktop bundled with Red Hat 6 was, as it still is, GNOME, but the window manager was an early Enlightenment, which also provided the main sound daemon. Xdm and gdm were both provided as login managers so that normal users could log in without having the permission to start or kill X itself, which is particularly important on multi-user systems.

Certain staple applications are missing; gedit didn't exist yet, there's no grand unified office application, and there was no package manager to speak of. GnoRPM, a GUI interface for RPM installation, review, and removal, was the closest to a yum or PackageKit experience it had, and gnotepad+ is the GUI text editor (Emacs notwithstanding, obviously).

Over all, though, the desktop is intuitive. Unlike later implementations of GNOME, this early version featured a panel at the bottom of the screen, with an application menu and launcher icons and virtual desktop control in a central location. I can't imagine a user of another operating system at the time finding this environment foreign.

Red Hat 6 was a strong entry for Linux, which was obviously moving seriously toward being a proper desktop OS.

Mandrake 8.0 (2001)

Mandrake 8.0 installer

Mandrake: A turning point in Linux

Mandrake 8.0 was released in 2001, so it would have been compared to, for instance, Apple OS 9.2 and Windows ME.

I fell back on fairly old emulated tech to be safe.

 $ qemu-system-i386 \
   -M pc-0.10 -m 2048 \
   -boot order=ad,menu=on \
   -drive file=mandrake8.qcow2 \
   -usb -net nic,model=rtl8139 \
   -netdev user,id=slirp \
   -vga cirrus \
   -cdrom mandrake-8.0-i386.iso

I'd thought the Red Hat installation process had been nice, but Mandrake's was amazing. It was friendly, it gave the user a chance to test configurations before continuing, it was easy and fast, and it worked almost like magic. I didn't even have to import my XF86Config file, because Mandrake's installer got it right.

Mandrake install

Mandrake 8.0 installer

Using the Mandrake desktop is a lot like using any given desktop of the time, actually. I was a little surprised at how similar the experience was. I feel certain that if I'd somehow stumbled into Mandrake Linux at this time, it actually wouldn't have been beyond my ability, even as a young and not very technical user. The interfaces are intuitive, the documentation helpful, and the package management quite natural, for a time when it still wasn't yet the mental default for people to just go to a website and download an installer for whatever software they wanted.

Fedora 1 (2003)

Fedora Core install

Blue Fedora, Red Hat

In 2003, the new Fedora Core distribution was released. Fedora Core was based on Red Hat, and was meant to carry on the banner of desktop Linux once Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) became the flagship product of the company.

Nothing particularly special is required to boot the old Fedora Core 1 disc:

 $ qemu-system-i386 -M pc \
   -m 2048 -boot order=ac,menu=on \
   -drive file=fedora1.qcow2 -usb \
   -net nic,model='rtl8139' -netdev user \
   -vga cirrus -cdrom fedora-1-i386-cd1.iso

Installing Fedora Core is simple and familiar; it uses the same installer as Fedora and Red Hat for the next 9 years. It's a graphical interface that's easy to use and easy to understand.

Fedora Anaconda Anaconda GUI

The Fedora Core experience is largely indistinguishable from Red Hat 6 or 7. The GNOME desktop is polished, there are all the signature configuration helper applications, and the presentation is clean and professional.

A Start Here icon on the desktop guides the user toward three locations: an Applications folder, the Preferences panel, and System Settings. A red hat icon marks the applications menu, and the lower GNOME panel holds all the latest Linux application launchers, including the OpenOffice office suite and the Mozilla browser.

The future

By the early 2000s, it's clear that Linux has well and truly hit its stride. The desktop is more polished than ever, the applications available want for nothing, the installation is easier and more efficient than other operating systems. In fact, from the early 2000s onward, the relationship between the user and the system is firmly established and remains basically unchanged even today. There are some changes, and of course several updates and improvements and a staggering amount of innovation.

Project names come and go:

  • Mandrake became Mandriva and then Mageia;
  • Fedora Core became just Fedora;
  • Ubuntu popped up from Debian and helped make "Linux" a household term;
  • Valve has made SteamOS the official basis for its gaming platform; and
  • Slackware quietly continues to this day.

Whether you're new to Linux, or whether you're such an old hand that most of these screenshots have been more biographical than historical, it's good to be able to look back at how one of the largest open source projects in the world has developed. More importantly, it's exciting to think of where Linux is headed and how we can all be a part of that, starting now, and for years to come.

Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek, free culture advocate, independent multimedia artist, and D&D nerd. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time.


I used Mandrake exclusively back then. We even used it in the classes we taught. Countless students that cut their teeth on Mandrake in my classes have gone on to bigger & better things. I've since moved on to Debian/Ubuntu and haven't tried Mageia, but if it weren't for Mandrake, I probably wouldn't be where I am today.

Mageia is quite nice. I ran it on a laptop recently whilst waiting for Slackware 14.2 to be final'ed. Definitely a solid distro with some really nice added features (like its centralised control panel, and urpm).I'd run it more often if I weren't already comfy in my Slackware and Fedora worlds.

In reply to by BC

Great article Seth. It's like a trip to the Smithsonian of Linux. Red Hat 6.0 was my first successful GUI on Linux. It gave me hope and a vision of a new OS. Little did I realize how much that would change the course of history and my life in particular. I loved Mandrake and it was Mandrake that offered a free e-course that taught me the basics of using Linux. Fedora Core was a steady friend too. Thanks for bringing back many memories.

Sounds familiar. I thought installing Slackware 12 was just going to be a little side project; a challenge to myself to see if I could learn more about unix. 10 years later and Linux is both my hobby and my career :-)

In reply to by Don Watkins

Don't forget that there were paid for Linux distros as well,I used the free versions of Xandros 3 and then paid £60.00 for the then New Xandros 4,in it's time it was something like Linux Mint because it came with all the codecs and apps that you might want,shame it is no more !

R.I.P Xandros

Several of the distros discussed in this article were either paid for, in a computer store (the ones listed without a download link were installed from CD ROMs during the writing of this article), or had subscriptions of some kind available; Mandrake offered paid support, Slackware continues to offer subscriptions (I know; I'm a paid subscriber), and of course Red Hat still offers subscriptions via RHN.

I never tried Xandros; the one computer I owned that shipped with Xandros on it, the legendary eeePC, got Mandriva "Mini Me" installed onto it.

In reply to by Nick (not verified)

I loved xandros and would still be using it if it was still around. I still have the install disks from 3 and 4. Both bought at CompUSA

In reply to by Nick (not verified)

You should install into a Qemu VM, just for old-times' sake.

In reply to by waltff (not verified)

I was using Linux (Slackware, I think) for one specific ham radio application when I discovered KDE 1.0 and thought "Hmmm... this could be a regular desktop". I pretty have much stayed with Red Hat Linux, then Fedora ever since, although I'm comfortable with Debian/Ubuntu.

Twenty years later I'm still using KDE/Plasma. Haven't had a Microsoft OS in my house since Windows 98 :-)

OK, a confession: this article was mostly written as a way to deal with my extreme jealousy over people like you, who were savvy enough to discover Linux way earlier than I did!

In reply to by Orv

Great article. I appreciate that you ran each distro on period-appropriate emulated hardware instead of modern hardware. Your approach showcases that, at the time, these various Linux distros were quite advanced and exciting. I recall attempting to configure my XFree86 settings based on a Slackware book, and ultimately failing. Everything was difficult then. Your comments about the various installation procedures show that some distros made significant improvements in that area. Early Ubuntu releases made all that much easier and can explain their early success (their free CD-ROMs helped as well). Interestingly, you also stated that a 20-year old system was very familiar (Emacs, Bash, etc. worked just fine). I'm not sure what that says about the state of Unix-based technologies, but I personally don't mind working with the same great tools for such a long time. Thanks for the great read :)

Agreed. Stability and consistency is not a bug, but an all-too rare feature. Sure, there have been updates and changes, but the core has remained the same, and there's a certain guiding principle to much of the design. I think this is easily one of my favourite features of posix/unix/linux.

In reply to by Josh (not verified)

My first Linux was RedHat 5.1, and trying to install it on a Gateway laptop. Back then the issues were all about drivers, especially if you were installing on newish hardware. Then you had to configure X by hand also. I think it took me about 2 weeks to finally get X to work, and what a joy that was. It's still astonishing to me now how the hardware all gets recognized, the drivers are already there...

Yes, modern Linux has accomplished amazing things. Its ability to install onto pretty much any computer you throw at it, often with at least 90% of its drivers loaded and configured sensibly, should impress far more people than it does. People don't understand how cool that is!

In reply to by Greg P

Libranet Linux was awesome. Sad day when the founder died :'(

I have to admit I'd not heard of that one. So sad to lose a member of the community.

In reply to by Mr CT (not verified)

When I first installed Linux, circa January 1994, it was Slackware from floppies. The various types of apps you needed were on disk sets denoted by a letter. IIRC, S was for development tools, N for network-related stuff, etc. Setting up X was hellish, and the config files referenced the danger of frying your monitor if you used the wrong settings. Add in the need to compile your kernel (before menuconfig, even) and that still being the days of IRQ jumpers and "do I need a 16550 UART to drive the serial-attached modem?"... well, it was... a learning experience.

You don't have to go that far in time to see Slackware's package categories :)

Index of /slackware/slackware-14.2/slackware/

a/ 29-Jun-2016 19:39 -
ap/ 29-Jun-2016 19:39 -
d/ 24-Jun-2016 23:43 -
e/ 21-Aug-2015 21:22 -
f/ 01-Apr-2016 21:26 -
k/ 24-Jun-2016 23:43 -
kde/ 23-Jun-2016 22:59 -
kdei/ 10-Mar-2016 02:55 -
l/ 24-Jun-2016 23:43 -
n/ 24-Jun-2016 23:43 -
t/ 21-Apr-2015 23:53 -
tcl/ 21-Mar-2016 02:52 -
x/ 13-Jun-2016 07:17 -
xap/ 17-Jun-2016 22:43 -
xfce/ 26-Jun-2016 01:28 -
y/ 14-Mar-2012 09:08 -
CHECKSUMS.md5 29-Jun-2016 19:42 270K
CHECKSUMS.md5.asc 29-Jun-2016 19:42 181
FILE_LIST 29-Jun-2016 19:39 339K
MANIFEST.bz2 29-Jun-2016 19:41 3M
PACKAGES.TXT 29-Jun-2016 19:42 686K
README.TXT 13-Jun-2002 03:46 242

In reply to by sethkenlon

Yes, but the original comment was specifically about the historical sets, so it's nice to be able to reference the sets as they appeared then rather than as they are now. That's the nice thing about Slackware, though; it truly has not changed drastically since its 1.x series. Amazing that it combine such consistency with constant growth.

In reply to by Ricardo J. Barberis (not verified)

You're using David Revoy's cat generator. That's the first instance I've seen of it in the wild. Nice!

In reply to by Ricardo J. Barberis

My first Linux version was redhat 6.0, followed by Fedora. I stumbled upon some original SUSE (9 or 10) Linux CDs and set up Linux on a couple of PCs in our campus computer lab as the new desktop OS after a Microsoft licence compliance raid. This is quite a nice montage.

Wonderful article. Brings back memories of the good/old days and an appreciation of much things change and how much they didn't. I think any student should go through this experience once. Even with other OS of the same period,to put things in perspective.

I'm inclined to agree with you. I did these installs initially for laughs, but I ended up accidentally learning a lot about modern Linux. This, of course, would be harder to do with non-open source operating systems, unless you just happen to have all the install discs lying around (and some people do), but even then, some closed OS's restrict what hardware they can be installed on. But I guess that's why there are places like computer museums.

It's well worth doing, however, with your favourite open source OS. It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun,

In reply to by Ainal Saidin (not verified)

Thank you for this, brought back many wonderful memories sitting in my room as a young kid compiling and fiddling with Slackware ca 99-00. Will never forget the happiness when I managed to save up and buy myself SUSE 6.1 or if it was 6.2 CD box in the early 2000s.

Happy holidays from Sweden!

Sounds great. I wish Linux CDs were still available in stores. Um, edit: I wish there were still computer stores. My intro to Linux was mostly through books and magazines that included the OS disc in the back. I remember when I found out there were books about computers that included a free OS in the back cover. Mind -> blown.

In reply to by Marcus

Xandros was also my first Linux OS. Xandros tried to be a home and commercial distribution. (founded 2001) Though now defunct, Xandros was a leader at one time. It also kept me from using Linux for quite some time as the LILO boot manager kept refusing to boot to my Windows XP OS in my dual boot installation. I was constantly re-installing XP, and to new to go Linux alone. I no longer run Windoze, just Linux Debian or Ubuntu, both Mate desktops. Also Grub seems to me a much better boot loader than LILO, though I think LILO is still around.

LILO (and eLILO for [U]EFI) are most definitely still around! It's the default boot loader for Slackware, and therefore the bootloader on my desktop and personal laptop.

I know it's really useful and all, but I kinda feel like dual booting is often more problematic than it's worth. I think, especially now that computers are pretty well spec'd, if I had to run two OS's (I do not, but if I had to...) I would just use qemu-kvm.

In reply to by Jymm (not verified)

Great article. Reminded me of my own journey with Linux. I first used Linux in November 1997 as part of a class "Intro to Current Operating Systems" (we also looked at Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98 and Novell Netwear. My instructor made no secret of the fact that he preferred Linux (I think it was Red Hat 5 and it was running FVWM95 with xroach running by default) over the proprietary alternatives due to its price, stability and security. This stuck with me. In 2002, I succeeded in loading Red Hat 7.3 onto my computer. With Red Hat 9.0, I emigrated to Slackware as I wanted to try something different. In 2009, I emigrated to Ubuntu and am now using Xubuntu. I love the packaging system, the security, the stability and open source in general.

// Obligatory admonishment that open source is not inherently more secure
// than anything else, and that active pen testing and code audits
// are always necessary.

I love that so many open source projects focus on security and security best-practices.

Very cool. After discovering Linux on my own, I took a weekend course on Linux at a community college, taught by a literal mountainman (lived on a farm in Yellowstone, raised llamas, had a UNIX beard), and it was the most amazing two days of my life. I keep wishing I could offer a course locally so I could be that guy for someone else, but then I'd have to raise llamas.

In reply to by whitshade

Thanks for the reminder that open source is not necessarily more secure than proprietary technologies and that such securities require constant maintenance. Thanks even more for sharing your first Linux learning experience. As you stated, regarding my comment above, very cool. What a fantastic way to learn Linux and your instructor clearly made a positive impact on you. Thanks again for writing this article.

In reply to by sethkenlon

My first was Slackware. I remember installing from floppy and wikipedia says 2.1 was 73, and 1 was 24. I recall somewhere around 30 so it must have been around 2.0.
I got away from Linux for a while then tried RedHat and a couple others and came back to Slack around version 9 or 10 and have been Slacking since.

My first Linux was Slackware 12, but I updated quickly to 12.1, which was released shortly after my first install. 12.1 solved a wifi driver issue I was having, during which time I learnt to compile kernels because I didn't know about modprobe.

Prior to that, I'd been running...let's call it a "proprietary UNIX" in earnest for about a year, so compiling stuff on Linux from source was actually *easy* by comparison.

In reply to by Eugene Nine (not verified)

Excellent article. My first Linux experience was with Red Hat 6.0, where I setup a telnet server.
In the interest of posterity, I wish the images for these old Linux distros could be made available as cloud compute instances in AWS, GCP or any other cloud service providers. A virtual Linux museum for historical archiving purposes, spawn one and indulge in nostalgia.

Great idea! I don't have resources like that right now, but all the commands needed for installation have been included in the article, so replicating the experience isn't difficult. The only thing I didn't post was the XF6Config file, which I really ought to do, come to think of it....

I reckon if someone donated heaps of space, some .qcow2 images could be created and posted someplace... but then again, part of the full experience is the install!

In reply to by Daniel T.

I started using Mandrake 5.3 Festen, and used Mandrake all the way till Mageia 5, all the while installing and playing with every other distro that looked intersting, From Ark Linux created by Bernhard Rosenkränzer, Corel Linux, Conectiva linux, Mepis, PClinuxOS, Lycoris etc...
Now I'm running Ubuntu-Mate for a while, it's amazing how much has changed....

I can remember the first time I got a computer. It was in 1995, a Packard-Bell. It had some weird setup on it that was extremely difficult to use and I still don't have any idea what it was or even if it was an OS, but I got so frustrated with it in just a few months that I got W95 from a store and installed it.

Remember, I'd had no training with computers, had never even seen one before this one, so I was on my own learning *everything*.

Unfortunately I didn't know there were such things as other OS's, and only ever saw things 'M$' in stores. I was so sick of W95 that it almost seemed a relief to hear that W98 was out when it finally got out there. I installed that faster than I could get the money out of my wallet, just hoping for a better experience.

Didn't happen. There's no telling how many countless times I had to uninstall and re-install that pig of an OS. This time it only took a little less than two years for me to get so sick of Windows that I started an internet search for something different. I still don't think I knew what an 'OS' was, but eventually did find out during all the searching (literally several months of it) that there was something called Linux. (During this time of searching for a different OS from Windows, I happened to see my first Apple/Mac. It was being displayed in a mall near home and they were letting people try it out first hand. Took all of two minutes to know I hated it and forgot about it, heh)

So, I found Linux. It was now late in 1999 IIRR and the first distro I found was Redhat. I don't remember the version, but it gave me fits and was too difficult for me to get working very well so I went searching again (remember too, that no stores in my area carried anything Linux so I couldn't just drive to one and buy the disks...I had to wait two or three days for the download of the iso on my dial-up!).

I then found Mandrake. I believe it was 6.1 but it's possible it was 7.0. Anyway, I sort of was able to get that working on my system (by this time I was way ahead of the curve about building my own, so my system(s) were never things I worried about). Mandrake was klunky but it worked and I was slightly happier with it than W98SE, but I still wanted better.

Then I found SuSE 7.3. For some reason it seemed to work pretty good and I even kind of liked YaST. So, I ended my search and stuck it out with SuSE for several years.

One day I very suddenly just stopped everything I was doing at the computer and like a giant lightbulb shining in my room, I realized that I wasn't constantly agitated or worried or frustrated or anticipating bad things to happen while doing anything on my computer! I was actually *enjoying* being on the computer! It was so...foreign a concept compared to when I used M$ that it just blew me away at that moment. I didn't worry about BSOD's, or lock-ups or any of the constant problems Windows always had. But good things sometimes do have to end and I began to hate that eventually SuSE (I was now up to version 10.3) started to collaborate with M$ and some other BS going on, and again started my search for a different distro.

I finally came upon Slackware, version 13 I think. It was a little harder to get my head into as it isn't a hand-holding distro, but I stuck it out and I've been with it since then, now at version 14.2. The only downside I've had in the years using Slackware is now at 14.2 PV decided to use pulse audio instead of staying with alsa. Now my system is darn near useless as my sound-system for the house. As an audiophile, the sound output of pulse audio is bland, under powered, almost muffled and gives no way to make adjustments as one could with treble, bass, surround, etc, etc like I could with alsa. IMO, pulse audio is an abortion gone bad, but it was used instead of alsa because it works better with bluetooth supposedly (which I use nothing of nor need personally). Other than that, it's the best distro yet, imho.

Cool story! You should write an article about how you found Linux. Oh wait, you just didi ;-)

About Pulse: the bluetooth stack requires it, so if a distro wants bluetooth then pulse is required, unless someone patches it out and maintains functionality. There's pretty detailed explanation about this on Alien Bob's website…

The addition of Pulse to Slackware actually doesn't change the sound system at all; Pulse sits on top of ALSA, it does not displace it. You can use Pulse or ALSA, it just depends on what you tell an application to use (or what the application has been hardcoded to use, in some cases).

There's pretty good documentation on this (if I do say so myself...) on Slackermedia:

The main three points to remember are

0. remove any .asoundrc hacks that might be lying around from previous installs

1. learn how to use Pulse Audio Volume Control (pavucontrol), and use it to route sound

2. don't panic.

EDIT: next month's Multimedia Makers column will be about using Pulse Audio :-) Month thereafter, I'll cover JACK.

In reply to by Yonny B (not verified)

Interesting article. I'm one of the ones you're jealous of.

I started in '92 with SLS and Linux 0.93pl3 on my 486 after 386BSD wouldn't boot. When SLS would not fix things like wrong permissions on /etc, Slackware was created and I switched to that. Yes, I had X11 running and it was painful.

Sometime later I went to Red Hat. I think 3.x. I continued with it and went to another RPM based system with Mandrake. I think that was 5.x. I switched back & forth as device drivers appeared. The pinnacle was when WiFi came out and I needed support for the PCMCIA card on my laptop.

I had a dual monitor Red Hat 9.0 system with 384MB RAM and a P133 at work. I'd build up 100 windows (xterm, browser, email, emacs, etc == 1 window) over a week. We used OpenBSD for firewalls and they were rebooted weekly so all the xterms got disconnected.

I had 6 workspaces on each monitor and a different window manager on each. I couldn't drag windows between monitors, but I could have the workspaces separate. That feature disappeared when someone decided Xinerama was the only way for multiple monitors.

I miss that setup.

Since then I've done Fedora, CentOS, RHEL 5/6/7, Ubuntu, OpenSolaris, NetBSD in various aspects. X11 got easy. Yum finally came for dependencies on RPM like apt is for deb.

Now I'm doing OpenStack clouds which is a whole 'nother explosion of tech.

I used free-type software (tex, gnu/emacs, etc) way back in the late 1980s. When gnu/linux came along in the mid 1990s, I naturally and immediately deleted my mid-1990s Windows hard disk and installed linux without absolutely any hesitation. I bought one of the distro's (can't remember which one), but it came with a book in a box. It wasn't easy, but I noticed that it did (and continues to be) become about ten times easier to install with every passing year.

Nice article. In order to contribute, I remind you of Knoppix (2000). Extracted from
Knoppix was one of the first Live CD Linux distributions to gain popularity. There are several factors that contribute to the popularity of Knoppix:
- Knoppix was one of the first Live CDs available, and is known as the "original" Debian-based Live CD
- Its extensive hardware detection allows most systems to start Knoppix without any configuration
- Its ability to automatically connect to most kinds of networks[citation needed]
- Its utilities for system repair and troubleshooting.

I say that was amazing at that time installing (or running live from CD) an OS which detected all your hardware without configuration!

I still run BasicLinux, a two diskettes Slakware Linux in a 80386 with 5 MBy memory with a yellow Hercules monitor. It also runs MC and MUTT.
BasicLinux running LINKS browser:

Thanks for an awesome post, it was really a trip down the memory lane. A friend introduced me to the world of Linux in 2000, and I started using Red Hat. Over the years, I have tried several distros, and as I was reading your post, I kept nodding and smiling! LInux has indeed come a long way, as I type this, I am running Open Mandriva + Manjaro on a Macbook pro (typing from the former, the latter, is the one I love.)

I'm happy to see, from your comment, that Open Mandriva is indeed active. I've kept up with Mageia and keep meaning to look in on Open Mandriva but so far have neglected it.

Thanks for reading, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

In reply to by Amar (not verified)

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