August 28, 2003

Low down O/S blues

Well, I guess some things are simply not meant to be. I bought a book with the Publisher's Edition of Red Hat Linux 9.0, went through all the preparation steps, and installed Linux. Everything seemed to go fine, until the installer started installing packages to my hard drive. Suddenly, I was faced with "This version of Red Hat Linux is not compatible with your system" and then the installer exited. Thinking that maybe my 2.1 Gigabytes of free space was too small, I ran the installer again and this time let Red Hat have the entire 4 Gigabyte hard drive. No go. Same error message, same unexpected end to a flawless installation procedure.

On the plus side, by following the instructions in the book to the letter and reading the installation README files and other documentation, everything right up to the last moment went flawlessly. Because I attempted to let Red Hat have the entire disk, I was left with an empty hard drive, but fortunately I had backed up all my critical data files, so I didn't lose anything important. Also, the Hewlett Packard O/S recovery disks are the simplest things in the world to use. Basically, you drop the disk in the drive fire up the computer and answer "yes" a few times. It completely erases anything currently existing, of course, but since there was nothing on the hard disk this was not a problem.

So now I'm back to sloughing my way through Windows' merciless dialog boxes within dialog boxes in order to accomplish the simplest tasks. I was really looking forward to finally being able to jump from virtual console to virtual console firing off obscure acronyms from the command line whenever I needed to get something done. Theoretically I could do something similar by opening a DOS window, but the modern DOS commands are not documented at all, so there is no way to find out which commands still work and which ones have vanished into the mists of O/S obsolesence. I could attempt some trial and error, but I've fogotten half the commands I used to use instinctively. I did discover they still have the DOS text editor "Edit", which is a far better tool than the "vim" text editor that comes with Linux. "Edit" lacks the power and flexibility of "Emacs" and it's built-in LISP programming language, but everything in life is a trade off.

All is not lost, however. I installed the Java 2 SDK, and I am looking forward to spending the next few months studying Java while I save up my nickels and dimes until I have enough to either buy a computer that comes with Linux pre-installed, or buy one that is certain to be Linux compatible. I have also installed Quincy 99, a C++ IDE based on the Intel compatible version of the GNU Gcc compiler, so if I get bored with Java I can study C++ and have two programming languages under my belt when I finally get a chance to work with Linux.

I know, I seem a bit obssessed. I guess I am. Perhaps a little history is in order.

My first computer was an 80286 with an EGA monitor and a whopping 20 megabyte hard disk. It came with DOS 3.0 and I quickly learned to love it! Then, just when I finally got comfortable with DOS and installed my very first C compiler, my world turned upside down. Next thing I know I'm staring at a screen full of blue windows every time I try to do something more difficult than save a file. Under Windows 3.1 I discovered that half the commands I'd been using every day no longer functioned reliably. My C compiler refused to compile, my lovely batch files that greeted me and responded to my every whim no longer worked at all, and on top of everything else, SimLife refused to run. My second computer was a 486DX2-66 and I hated it!

It's been all downhill ever since. When I first heard about Linux in 1990 or so I felt saved, but Linux did not support my hardware. Worst of all, the installation routines of the day were cryptic and for my limited intellect, completely undecipherable. Red Hat Linux 7.3 finally started looking like something I could at least install, but at the time my hardware was inadequate. Finally, just this past summer, it appeared my hardware capacity and Red Hat's new installation package has reached a point of new-age equinamity. Alas, it was close but not close enough.

Still, things are finally at the point where I might one day realistically have the opportunity to return to my first love: command lines and batch files. I am completely sold on the philosophy of Open Source software and I long for the day when I can upload my very own software creations for the world's perusal. No, they will not be great nor will they be memorable, but that's okay; they will be the best I can build, and that's got to count for something.