A Tale of Many Distros

by Wayne Whitman

First came Red Hat. If I remember correctly, it was release 3.1. It was archaic by today's standards, but that was back in '96 or so and times have certainly changed. You've come a long way, Penguin! Come to think of it, there wasn't even the Penguin back then.

My reason for loading Linux on my first notebook machine was to learn Unix. I was working on a computer project as a database consultant. The host system was running HPUX and I had never used Unix before. To make matters worse, the network gurus wouldn't let an "outside" PC connect to their network. Ouch! I was stuck with an unfamiliar operating system and vi on a VT50 terminal. What's a newbie to do? Setting up a dual boot on my brand new Windows 95 machine looked like a good opportunity to learn a new OS. Red Hat to the rescue! It was a great learning experience: no X windows, just the command line and vi. It made a wonderful sandbox. I have to admit the experience was painful, but it was also a bit of fun and a good introduction to Linux.

In the years following that project I worked on many different Unix systems. But I had been bitten by the Linux bug. Experimenting with different Linux distributions became an addictive hobby. A few years later I had a used IBM Intellistation purchased online at a cheap price and loaded up with extra disks. Aha! The perfect Linux testbed.

The first guinea pig was Red Hat 6. It was OK, but not everything worked. I was still such a newbie that I even had trouble getting the sound to work. Then it was on to Mandrake, Debian, Xandros, Linspire, SUSE, Progeny, Libranet, Gentoo (never could get it installed), Fedora, Damn Small Linux, and Slackware. I even tried Solaris. By then, I was such an addict, that I had 6 distributions running on one machine. My biggest problem was which one to boot each day. I have to admit, out of all of those, Slackware was my favorite because of its clean file layout and simple approach to things. But all of them seemed to have one problem or another, or there was something I just could not figure out how to get working.

Enter Ubuntu. I really thought this was going to be the one. It looked good. It felt good. But man, did I get tired of sudo. Sometimes I just like to log in as root and do some maintenance. Then there was the bloat and the wireless hassle.

As a true addict, I recently put in yet another order for CDs with OSDisc.com. More new distro releases to try out! Then my order turned up a few dollars short of free shipping. What else to choose? What is this thing called PCLinuxOS on their list? OK, throw it in and get free shipping.

The CD with PCLinuxOS 0.93 Big Daddy sat in the pile on my desk for weeks while I loaded and reloaded new releases of other stuff. I downloaded SLED, and it was interesting, but I had some application install issues that were show-stoppers.

Out of sheer boredom one afternoon, I dug through the pile of CDs and there was PCLinuxOS. Why not give it a try? I had tried almost everything else. Surprised, I discovered everything just worked. Even the wireless configured itself and came up working. I plugged in the USB printer, and ... wow, I did not even have to configure it with CUPS. I downloaded and installed Firefox 2 and gvim, then added them to the menu. Boy, it is really fun when things just work right. Simplicity and ease of configuration are wonderful things.

I have to admit, I am not a big "more is better" applications fan, so I replaced Big Daddy with MiniMe and just added what I wanted. What a great distribution philosophy: a distro tailored for everyone.

Is this a distribution that could replace Windows for me? Yes, except for one requirement. I need the Oracle development tools for my project work. Unfortunately, Oracle only supports their tools on Windows, Red Hat, and SUSE. My PCLinuxOS now has Vmware installed, and soon I will install the dreaded "W" in a virtual machine just so I can have those tools. But it's a workable solution for me, and it gives me a Linux distribution that works and is a joy to use.

Congratulations to Texstar and the crew for an outstanding piece of work. I can not wait to try out 0.94 with Gnome. Simplicity for me. Donate if you can, send thank you emails or volunteer if you can't.

A happy PCLinuxOS user.
Wayne Whitman