An open source user evolution

My journey from basic computer user to computer programmer (hopefully)

I feel like I need to clarify a few things so I don't start coming across as some snooty open-source, anti-windows kinda-guy. Don't get me wrong, from now on I will probably always suggest Linux and open source to anyone who comes to me with a computer question, but I still recognize that Windows and Apple and any other proprietary type of Operating System is useful in many cases. I can't speak for the reliability of the Apple products, hardware or software, because it's always been a little out of my price range. And honestly, if it's not in my price range, then it's not for me.

Windows was all I knew until I was exposed to Linux through work, and boy was that an uncomfortable experience. My family uses nothing but these two major systems (aside from myself obviously) and they all seem perfectly happy with them. They also are all very casual users so I think it's understandable to see how they are comfortable and happy with that.

On that same note, I also see the discontent from them, even being simply casual users. My father does nothing but check his email and play solitaire and he still seems to have issues. That and the hardware they run on is aging rapidly; this combination is not optimal for laptops that run Windows. But I digress...

My main objective for this bit of writing was to make the point that I don't fall into the category of someone who thinks proprietary software is evil and should go away. I think it's evil for sure, haha, but it can stay and profit off of those who need nothing more than an OS and fresh looking GUI and are willing to pay for it. I would compare it an artist and a painting. To some people, all they want to do is look at it, and they will pay to do so. For others, they much prefer to get dirty and make their own painting exactly how they want it. And then it's theirs without an obligation to pay anyone. Hell, they can share it with their friends, they can add to the painting and all enjoy it. And that spreads and people are happy. What an Eden. Again I digress...

Moving along now. I have also been wanting to talk about my second love when beginning my journey down into the inner workings of a computer began, which was Virtual Machines. WOWWWWW did I think this was awesome!! To make it even more exciting, and I didn't realize it at the time, I didn't use VirtualBox to build it. That might seem like small potatoes to some but I have come to discover that building a machine on VirtualBox is nearly as simple as turning a basic laptop on. I think I used VMM and I had to follow instructions and create folders. It was fairly involved for a newbie just messing around.

When I got it running I thought it was the coolest thing ever that a computer was running on my computer. To really add some irony to it, I read about a modification you could make to Xubuntu that would make it look exactly like Windows 95! I set it all up, modified the graphical memory so I could make the resolution match my actual computer, and went full screen to take a little step back in time.

I was smitten with this program, and then when continued reading brought constant reference to VirtualBox, I finally downloaded it and was mind-blown at how easy it made things. I was downloading ISO's as fast as I could find them and running them on VMs. I had grandeur plans of building mini networks on my laptop but I quickly realized that wouldn't work so well with the setup I had. I will still entertain a little project like this in the future to learn about networking. For now I am using Virtual Machines to test things out before I do them on my actual computer.

Until next time, Ill be reading Code by Charles Petzold. I HIGHLY recommend this book if you are interested in computer language and the very very basics of computing and how they still apply today. It has dramatically evolved my understanding in several areas. I will also be contributing to the Manjaro forums where I feel I can offer something.

... and so one day I finally decided that I would just rid myself of any other operating system than Linux on my laptop. I had to have a backup plan though so I downloaded an iso of Windows 10 and copied that onto my external backup. If anything ever happened I could always return lol.

I had made the decision to make the leap, but what would I put on my laptop now that I was fully committed to Linux? I searched and read about dozens, probably hundreds of different Linux distributions, and I was smitten with the possibility that I could have several of them at my disposal, all right on my simple little computer.

I had interest in Kali but was quick to note the warnings of installing it on hardware vice running a live version. I wasn't yet familiar enough to feel comfortable trying to operate what sounded to be a fairly complex and potentially destructive operating system. Kali was out, but I still wanted the option, so I made a live USB with persistence so I could always boot it up and play if I wanted but it wasn't living on my laptop.

Ultimately I had a ton of choices and wanted to try them all but I wanted to be sure that I had the OS that I wanted. I also wanted to partition my hard drive with other operating systems as well. I was fascinated with disc partitioning, and still am to a point. I thought it was so cool that I could have all these different options. And then I stumbled into Grub and became fascinated with that and all the options it provided me.

Virtual machines were also an option and an obvious answer to my need to try so many different things. Plus they allowed me the opportunity to virtually build different computers. I tried to build servers, and super-secure boxes, and embedded type of stuff, and whatever I could find. I even managed to figure out how to build a Windows 10 VM and clone it onto a USB so I run a live Windows environment to access stuff for school. I thought this was handy because it afforded me the luxury of having what I feared I would lose (Windows programs such as Office Suite), and I wouldn't even have to have it occupy a partition on my hard drive.

So I decided on Zorin and Fedora and I would mount a common /home drive to share files between the two. Zorin was chosen because it had great reviews, was user friendly, and was constantly compared to being similar in nature to Windows. I still was not fully prepared to leave that comfort zone. Fedora was chosen because I thought I would try to operate something that was similar to Red Hat. If I was going to get into this thing as a possible administrator someday, I should get to used to the operating structure and Fedora offered something close.

A plan was developed with a partitioning scheme for my hard drive and everything. I thought I had all my bases covered all the way down to the boot loader I wanted. Boy was I wrong. There were times when I would get the boot sequence I desired and then the next time it wouldn't boot at all. I tried several different things, but nothing ever seemed to the be the certain fix.

I also started to distro hop at this point. I was over Zorin. It's not that it's a bad OS, I just didn't care for it. Can't really say why other than I didn't know about online forums and wiki's at this point. Had I found a community to join, or sought one out, I may have fell in love like I did with Manjaro. I went through probably 6 or 7 different setups with dual-boots between different distro's and everything else and I came to settle with have just one operating system on my computer.

Arch had long been a distro I read about and held in high regard for what constantly read to be an efficient, and technically dependent distribution. I wasn't sure I had the ability or patience to install it just yet, but Manjaro kept popping up in articles I would read. An Arch based distro that was user friendly and fully customizable. I couldn't go wrong!

I'll go more into Manjaro at another time, but let me just say, it's an operating system that I think every Linux user should give a try. The friendly online community is what sucked me shortly after I found the operating system to be far above my expectations. It's my go-to recommendation to anyone looking to switch over with ease.

And here I am now. With my final, personally-optimal, hard drive partitioned for my single distribution of Manjaro running the xfce desktop with an optional i3 window manager for my session. I have learned the power and need of the backup and I utilize that tool often now that I know what it take to completely rebuild a computer several times over.

I have a couple books that I am reading on the basics of computers and their language. I have also enrolled in a master's program for computer science. The Manjaro community is a great learning tool for me and I try to contribute there where I feel I can. And I write on here to try and keep track of it all. I have found that I learn best with a community of like minded people. If I get nothing more than a place to write my thoughts, that's completely fine with me. If I find friends who want to learn and experiment and share just like I do, that would be incredible as well.

I look forward to continuing my writing on this. Computers are becoming more and more exciting to me every day. The more I read, and comprehend, the more I want to know, and the deeper I want to explore!

So now that I have successfully modified my once defunct laptop, I was on a mission to see what else I could do. I started to read blogs and forums and articles and whatever else I could get my hands on. I didn't even know where to begin. At first I thought it would just be cool to get familiar enough with Linux to where I could use it as efficiently as Windows so I could enjoy the best of both worlds on my one computer! This was my intention on first pondering what I would do next. That is, up until I went back to the now secondary operating system on my computer and I was not impressed at in the least.

I didn't expect much because I really hadn't done anything to make Windows run any better than it had previously on there. I guess it was just disappointing to think that I continue to try and find a use for something so powerful yet so frustrating to try and operate without issue. I fiddled around on it for a while. Copied some files I was happy still existed. And promptly rebooted back into Fedora I think it was at the time. Now is when my mind started racing because this was point I was ready to completely wipe this old computer of anything it had previously had on it.

Strangely, this was an anxious moment for me. It's hard to explain the nerves I would have each step I got closer to eradicating Microsoft. I decided on Ubuntu Budgie to occupy the drive and I can't really offer an explanation for it other than I thought the “Budgie” name might imply it was light on resources. Anyway, this decision was the first in my process, and it took some time to make it.

And then I used the amazing tool “dd” in the command line. I prepared the USB stick like an executioner sharpening his blade. Booting into the live environment on the USB and selecting install was throttling my emotions. It sounds ridiculous but I felt like I was burning custom leather seats because I could now get free, more suitable seats for my car for free. Windows to me is like the Lincoln Navigator I just recently had to get rid of. That thing was sweet on every level. But it was built for the masses and if used too often would become unreliable. Fixing it required a professional if its anything beyond normal maintenance. How much sweeter would it be to have a custom built ride that I build myself?!?! I digress...

Once the install was complete I felt liberated. And thrilled that the only thing occupying that computer was a Linux OS. I messed around with this for a few days figuring out how to install programs or reading about the Linux file structure. I stumbled across a distro that sounded so cool that I eventually convinced myself that cutting my 1 TB HDD in half would be ok to do on my new computer. So I dual-booted my brand new shiny ASUS Q405U with Ubuntu Studio. And I loved it.

Cosmetically, that distro might be one of the cleanest I have seen out of the box, and it certainly sold me. I quickly forgot about ever logging back into Windows unless absolutely necessary. “I would still need Word or something at some point I'm sure.” So I left it, and it was fine. But I never seemed to ever “need” to boot into anything other than my Linux boxes...

Continuing on with my early trials in figuring out where I wanted to go with computers, Linux had piqued my interest enough to the point I was strongly considering making the jump. But I had to be sure! I turned to the one thing I knew I could sacrifice without really giving a shit if I bricked it. “Bricking”, for those how are reading this and may not know, is a term given to things that are rendered useless through means of tinkering and attempts at repairing. And so I started to look around my house for my old laptop I discarded months ago, never intending to return.

Finding the computer was the easy part. Finding the charger for it might pose an entirely new adventure. I had to dig through many boxes given the fact we had just recently moved, but I found it, and I was ready to see just how this might work. So I fired up the Asus R510C, got the required USB drive, and downloaded a program called Rufus to make the stick bootable with the ISO I had also downloaded earlier.

It was go time! I glanced over the installation instructions and started to it. Nothing I tried seemed to work, though, and I was becoming frustrated. So I went back and read a little more comprehensibly, noted a few things I had completely overlooked, made the changes, and held my breath once more to see if this time I had actually figured it out.

I considered it a success when Rufus decided to actually continue past my final confirmation with the GUI. It sounded like it was working!! But now I had to wait. And I wasn't sure how long it would be. So I checked, constantly, for about the next 5 minutes until finally I saw the screen display it had finished. My excitement at this point was at the crest of blowing out my ears. But I was so hesitant to see if it had actually worked. So I shut down the laptop, plugged in the USB, and crossed my fingers.

I powered up the dusty, bulky Asus and rapidly hit esc until the boot menu appeared. I carefully read over my options as this was my first time going into this menu with an intention of something other than simply exiting without saving changes. This was a whole new world to me and I was terrified of making a mistake that would render my computer useless. And this was a laptop I hadn't used in months and likely never would again. Yet I was nervous; probably in the hopes it work.

I selected my option for the USB drive and hit enter to continue. I saw the splash screen pop up and it was beautiful! Something new and exciting! I had done it! But what was next? And how exactly do I get this thing on here while leaving the other OS untouched? Luckily for me, the instructions provided through the installation tool were nearly as easy as putting my pants on in the morning.

The entire process was driven entirely by the GUI. All I selected was the option to have my brand new OS installed next to the current one. Once complete, I rebooted and saw my first Grub screen with option for either OS I now had on my useless old laptop. Useless no more! What a fun little toy this now was!

I found myself rebooting just to see the glory that was the grub screen. I had done something I never thought I'd be able to do and all it took was a bit of reading and the availability of an old computer I didn't need anymore. I was proud of myself! This fueled my thirst for more. I wanted to learn, but now I also wanted to play. I had Linux on a computer and I could now do what I wanted with it. So I played, and tinkered, and came to realize two things; the first was that this operating system seems limitless in options and customization, and the second was that I needed to learn how to use the command line if I ever wanted to be more than a casual user.

Edit: As I am reading through this entry, I am realizing that there are some fairly important items I miss in the actual steps to preparing and installing a dual boot as a completely unaware rookie user like myself. My intent is not to provide complete documentation on the process, although at some point I feel like I may want to. My intent with this blog is to simply provide a narrative timeline to document my journey. Some may find it interesting to read which is why I publish my thoughts.

Before I get into my ramblings on why I am writing this, I wanted to first lay out my reasons for doing so. I feel I owe whoever reads this the advantage of knowing the possible boredom that could overcome them with each word. My goal is to publish my journey with computers. If you are interested in learning along with me, please feel free to follow, contribute, or discuss anything you want! By no means do I think I can learn everything myself. I'm doing this more for a place to put my thoughts, document what I learn, and maybe establish a little community to grow with.

I have what I would consider a slightly above-average knowledge of computers and networking and up until about 4 months ago I was completely comfortable with that. I have owned several desktops and laptops over the past 20 years and all ran some version of Windows. With one laptop reaching the end of it's useful life I needed another. Since I am now working in the IT industry I figured I would spoil myself and get something a little more capable than the (cheap) computers I have previously purchased. My needs have never extended beyond that of a web browser and word processor. I do not play games or music, I don't edit videos or pictures, and I don't program (yet).

So I made a minor leap and bought a nicer laptop with decent memory and more storage than I think I will ever need. I even bought a 2-in-1 so it folds into a tablet. I was excited to bring it home and plug it in and have it WORK!! Running Windows 10 on my previous laptop was really starting to become a labor intensive task and I had more than likely downloaded several malicious programs over the course of it's lifetime.

So I brought it home, ripped it out of the box, plugged it in and booted it up. I was so anxious to see this thing have lightning speed and awesome graphics. But it was slow to start and continuously sounded like it was working harder than it should. Trying not to overreact, I looked up anything I could think that might account for the instant lag I saw in my brand new, shiny laptop.

The only answer I found was that this thing was doing installation updates. I get it. Build the computer, install the software, and then it sits on a shelf somewhere for a while before finally making it to the store where I purchased it. So I waited it out...

A week into my brand new laptop I was still seeing the same issues. The lack of expected performance wasn't a deal breaker for me because it still outperformed my other machines. It ate at me that I still felt something wasn't quite right. There was still an absolute distrust with my laptop and it finally came to a head when, in the middle of a project for school, I got the dreaded blue screen of death.

As angry as I was, and annoyed at redoing the small fraction of work that wasn't auto saved, I stuck with it. “I'll rebuild the operating system if the newest updates don't provide better performance” I thought. Well, I was wrong. Performance continued to decline slowly and the BSD became a rather common occurrence. I stuck it out until I graduated school which was only a few months, but after that the laptop was turned off and sat on my desk collecting dust. The frustration of running that computer was more of a burden than the convenience it was supposed to provide. So I figured I would just use it as needed and deal with having a crappy computer. Or so I thought.

Just a couple of months ago I started becoming “restless” about my laptop. I wanted it to work and it annoyed me that it didn't. My options were limited to that of a basic user. I wasn't quite sure how to rebuild my computer and start fresh hoping that fixes the issue. Paying someone to fix it was out of the question as was a new laptop. I became determined to figure something out to save my sanity. I couldn't let a thousand dollar item just sit and collect dust. I knew there had to be potential in there and I had to figure out how to get to it.

So I started to read about an operating system a friend of mine told me about nearly 10 years ago called Ubuntu. I had heard of Linux and knew that Ubuntu was similar (remember, I am totally new at this point) and started to become more and more interested in it.

My excitement started to grow the more I read. I wanted to try it and learn about it but I was scared. How can I get it without deleting Windows? What do I do if I don't like it? What happens if I lose everything!?!?!? I didn't know how to proceed but I did know that I couldn't stop reading more and more into it. And so I continued my obsession with finding a solution and that solution began with something I stumbled upon which became, what I consider, my first real lesson for myself with computers; dual-boot.