Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sounds like another fanboy rant to me

I found this comment while I was browsing through an MS-Windows oriented site where a blogger said something nasty about Microsoft. It isn't even worth to refer to the link, because it has nothing to do with this story. It's about the name-calling these Microsoft fans do. I heard 'zealots', 'bigots', 'advocates', the whole lot. Words I never knew before, because English is not my native tongue. I don't mind to be called a fanboy, because that is what I am. What may be not too clear to these Microsoft zealots is why I am a fanboy. It's not because I really dig this "free the software, free the world" ideology. That came much later. It's because I like this "gimme the source" idea.

My computing career started at the teletype of a PDP-11. I was studying biology and every now and then I was allowed to work for 20 minutes at a stretch on this ancient beast. I typed in commands I never understood until much later, edited and ran my BASIC programs and stored them on a 8" floppy disk.

When I had finished college, I bought myself a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. My own computer! That was a thing. I may have been one of the very first people in my village who had his own computing power at the time, because nobody understood why you would need a thing like that. After a few years, the thing had grown into a relatively sophisticated beast with two 5.25" floppy drives, a color screen and a matrix printer. I did all the things that I still do today with exception of data communication. Yes, games, word processing, development, databases, you name it. An IBM compatible was much more expensive and could not do much more.

However, when I changed my job my employer could not offer a computer. Working without a computer was unimaginable to me, so I bought a Toshiba portable with two 3.5" floppy drives. Well, it actually had one, the other one was external. Still, I could do all the essential things. My father came up with a pirated copy of the Turbo C compiler and I learned C on the beast. Compilation was really something. The drives started revving and whirring and after some time you had an executable on one of the disks. At home I hooked the thing up to an old green monitor and I could work fairly comfortably with it.

After a while I got tired of being a disk jockey and wanted to add a harddrive. That search was fruitless, so I bought a brand new Vobis 386sx - very cheap! - that I smuggled from Cologne to Delft. There were still border checks at the time and I didn't want to pay taxes. I finally had a hard drive. Of course, it ran MS-DOS. What else? MS-DOS was quite reliable and when it crashed it only required a quick reboot. No harm done. It was not too different from my Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Sometimes the Spec went into this "let's do some modern art" or "black screen" mode - people who had one know what I'm talking about - and you had to pull the plug, since it didn't feature a power switch.

After that, my Vobis 486 came. I had to learn Unix for work, so I bought Coherent. It was a neat little Unix system, requiring only 40 megs to run. I wasn't able to port my C programs, because for one reason or another, the C compiler didn't take my code. An expensive call to the American servicedesk learned me that it only took K&R C. An ANSI-C compiler was extra. Rewriting my C programs was cheaper. I also began to make some money with the machine making highly specialized utilities, like a Betadisk-to-Spectrum-emulator converter. Shareware was becoming quite popular by then. I didn't gain too much from that hobby, but it was enough to pay for my cigarettes.

Then MS-Windows came. At first it was just a nice toy, but the moment it took off it quickly became a horror on its own. Sometimes the thing froze and you had to reboot. Sometimes I had a BSOD and I had to reboot. Sometimes it refused to start for no apparent reason and I had to restore my previous copy. I still remember the day I went to visit my parents and was afraid I couldn't get the thing working again. Needless to say I wasn't very talkative during that visit. My mother began to think something was very wrong. But I just couldn't wait to get home and repair the $%#* thing.

When they wanted to introduce MS-Windows at work, I told them it wasn't ready for production. I had said the same about MS-LAN manager. We had taken Novell instead. I still consider that a very reliable system. Hey, a fanboy! No, I had judged both on their merits, because I didn't even run Linux then. That came much later.

My good old Pentium wasn't up to the task anymore and I wanted a new computer. But what to install. MS-Windows NT had just been introduced - I had escaped MS-Windows95, because I didn't want to combine the disadvantages of both MS-Windows 3.11 and MS-Windows NT - and I thought it might be time to switch. Coherent wouldn't install on the newer computer, so maybe I could use Linux as my toy-Unix. Dual boot was possible. Then one day I picked up a copy of the German PC-Praxis magazine and learned Linux could really be used for serious tasks. It featured a GUI, word processing, development systems, everything I needed. It could even reside beside my old MS-DOS. Cool! I decided to give it a go.

I took a day off and that morning I inserted the installation CD. February 2000, I still remember it very well. At the end of the day, Linux had taken over about 80% of the functionality of MS-DOS. I had installed a lot off stuff I'd taken from the Internet and to my surprise it never went down. A few months later, I upgraded the system with a CD I'd gotten free with a German magazine. The sound system broke, but was quickly fixed. I bought a VCD software player - yes, closed source commercial software - and played my VCDs more reliable than ever before. When I ran them on my MS-Windows machine I was always worried I would miss the end of the movie and was in for another restore. I hardly ever booted to MS-DOS. Only to do an occasional scan or play an old game. And the reasons for keeping MS-DOS diminished with the day.

I had always heard burning CDs was hazardous. The software was difficult to install and when you were burning a CD you'd better leave the machine alone. Don't touch a key! I had installed XCD-Roast, it asked for my drives, I selected to copy a CD-ROM and a few minutes later I had burned my first CD. Nothing to it! Later I got a little more reckless and maybe clicked a window during the burn. Then I quickly ran a program. A few months later I was writing an article while burning a CD. It never missed a bit. That was quite different from the coasters my MS-Windows colleagues were telling me about at work.

In the meantime I was starting to feel guilty. I was having all this for free and I didn't pay anything back. That was the moment I decided to stop writing shareware and adopt the LGPL. For me, this was a way to return something to the community that was giving me all this wonderful software. No more pirated copies, I downloaded my RPMs from the net and - voila - I had a new package. All perfectly legal - and very comfortable as well!

Sometimes I had to look for ages to find someone who was in the possession of this highly wanted, but far too expensive program. You needed to have something to trade as well. Sometimes you needed a serial number and in some cases you even had to buy the beast in order to get it. Partition Magic comes to mind. A program you sometimes desperately needed, but rarely used. Very expensive..

All that was past tense. An enormous repository was at my disposal. And I used it whenever I needed it. Strangely enough, my MS-Windows colleagues hadn't moved on. They were still trading disks and serial numbers. When they came to me, offering me this cool program I just shrug my shoulders and continued drinking my coffee. I understood I wasn't part of that community anymore. When people attacked my favorite Operating System, I wrote angry comments and ended up writing a blog myself, because I was determined to tell the world the truth. I had become a fan.

Fans are not fans, because they are part of some malicious conspiracy. No, they have become fans, because they like what they see. "A fan, aficionado, or supporter is someone who has an intense, occasionally overwhelming liking of a (..) company, product, work of art, idea, or trend", according to Wikipedia. But this liking is not disconnected from the experience. I would probably never have started to blog when I wouldn't have gotten tired with the FUD. As you can tell from this story, I'm quite pragmatic. If Microsoft had delivered a decent product for a reasonable price, I would not have switched, I think.

As a matter of fact, I think that Microsoft itself has created the "Linux fanboys" they are complaining about, just like all the legal trouble they have found themselves in the last few decades. In Dutch there is a saying "wie goed doet, goed ontmoet", which means that all good things come to those who make them happen. I think the reverse is true as well. So next time you call me a "Linux fanboy", remember why I became one. To all those "Windows fanboys" I'd like to say, I've become a Linux fanboy because I have used Linux for a long time. Have you? I know first hand what MS-Windows is all about..

Nowadays I consider fanboy a "geuzennaam". Geuzen (French: Les Gueux), or "the beggars", was a name assumed by the confederacy of nobles and other malcontents, who in 1566 opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands. The leaders of the nobles signed a league by which they bound themselves to assist in defending the rights and liberties of the Netherlands against the despotism of Philip II of Spain. Finally, permission was obtained for the confederates to present a petition of grievances to the regent. The regent was at first alarmed at the appearance of so large a body, but one of her counselors was heard to exclaim, "What, madam, is your highness afraid of these beggars (ces gueux)?" The appellation was not forgotten. At a great feast three days later, one of the nobles declared that if need be they were all ready to become beggars in their country's cause. Since then every insult that is turned into a party appellation is called a "geuzennaam" in the Netherlands.

I am a fanboy. ;-)


Alan Moore said...

Thanks for this great post. I totally sympathize. I was a Microsoft customer for 10 years, had an MCP in windows 2000 administration, and was working on my MCSE when I discovered Linux in 2003. Since then I have dumped Windows from all my machines and installed various flavors of Linux.

It's sad how windows users snub our comments as "fanboyism" and "zealotry" when we have such intimate experience with Windows, and yet we choose Linux. I wonder how many of them have even booted up a liveCD. People fear what they can't understand, and hate what they fear. Sad how many turn down great free software because of fear. I wonder, what has Microsoft done for such people that they deserve such loyalty?

Anonymous said...

leuk verhaal!

Anonymous said...

Greetings from another fanboy..;)

Anonymous said...

Not to stir the pot, but... It's always been annoying to me that any time someone says anything good about Linux or anything bad about windows then that person is automatically labeled a Linux fanboy. Well apparently the people doing the labeling and name calling are just as much a window's fanboy or they wouldn't get so upset. Especially if all was being said to begin with was "just the facts". Hey people face the facts.

Anonymous said...

that is pretty scary how identical our experiences were. my first was a ZX Spectrum also - note that I don't live in the UK. Remember playing 'Harrier Attack' after loading it from audio cassette tape. i think they also had micro-drives of some sort. I didn't have one tho and the cassette tapes were a pain in the ass compared to the USB drives of today. I did use a BBC computer of some sort after that but don't remember what it was called.

Then, onto MS-DOS on a 386DX. For me, it was the turbo C++ compiler instead of the C compiler you were onto. Then, onto win3.1. I didn't get into the workgroup stuff as I hadn't started working then.

Then win95, then linux in '95 and haven't looked back since.

I have used (almost) every version of MS OS that has been released all the way from DOS 4.x to Vista. Yet, like you, I like the fact that I can inspect the source of the programs that I use. Has come handy in my professional career more than once.

like you said, I, too, am a fanboy.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Mirrors my experiences, 8 inch floppies and all. I was in an isolated community in the Arctic when my '95 machines crashed repeatedly. I downloaded Caldera over a phone line and ran six months with no crashes on five machines. I have never gone back except out of brief necessities.

Anonymous said...

For the most part, I use Linux. It's the only OS on my laptop and is a dual boot with Windows 2000 on my desktop, only because I can't get my Aircard to work with Linux.

At work I show off the laptop and all it can do, and pass on LiveCD's to all that will try it, yet none adapt it. But, they come to me when the computers freeze up and no longer work, and like the good friend I am, I use Linux to retrieve their lost data from their harddrives, so they can reformat and reinstall their Windows OS.

Some people never learn and will keep on paying MicorSoft for beta OS, which needs fixs downloaded continuously.

Anonymous said...

You fanboys !! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I guess I am also a fanboy.

Back in 1990, during my studies at college, I had not yet got an internet account. We were pirating software like everyone else was. Just because we could.

I was considering learning to program Windows programs. Mind you, Windows wasn't all that good, but it sort of looked like the feature.

Then, I got an Unix account and Internet access. Boy, did it change my computer life. I rarely used the DOS/Windows computers anymore, except as terminals towards the Unix computers. And pirated software? Didn't need it anymore. I didn't before either, I just didn't realize it.

In 1995 (pretty late by any standard), I got my own machine. An old and used 386. I didn't really need it as much other than a means to log in remotely to the unix machines at the university. Of course it ran Linux - that was what was most Unix for a 386!

After university, I had a brief year contract with an academic network provider that used Unix desktops. It was what I needed, what I was familiar with. Life was good.

But then I started working in a consultant company, in 1997. Not being too experienced, I accepted what I was given: A Windows NT machine. I hated it. It was just plain strange, didn't do what I wanted it to do, and was hard to understand. But I thought: Others like it. I can probably like to learn it, too. It can't be all that bad.

I was wrong. One year in-house doing various projects, and one year at a customer (where I had asked whether or not I could install Linux, and got a " better not!" that didn't sound all that well-founded, but I obeyed anywhere) didn't make me like Windows anymore. It was still weird and difficult.

One day I'd gotten just warn enough at the company I was hired to just take the plunge and install Linux. To heck with it. What can they do? Probably yell at me, but I can't stand this anymore. But I do good work, so they'll probably not throw me out...

It was like coming home. It was all familiar, I could be effective getting my work done again! Finally! I should say that I've always in my professional life been a network and Unix guy, also at that place I was running stuff on Unix machines. Doing it from Windows *was* awkward*, of course, but also everything else was awkward.

My colleague consultant got envious on me, and also wanted Linux. But didn't want to rid himself of the DOS/Windows partition, and didn't have a harddisk large enough for a decent home directory - so I gave him an NFS mount at my box. We also set up NIS to synchronize accounts. A desktop environment was born!

Business grew, more Unix consultants came, and they hired people themselves. They all got or converted to Linux at the desktop. Suddenly, my desktop was serving closer to 10 peoples home directorys. This could not continue this way.

But by now, the desktop environment had become sort of a de facto part of the environment. We complained to the management that we didn't have a proper server for it. And by golly, we got not only one but *two* servers! Linux was accepted!

I switched place once more, and where I ended up, Linux was already well established as a choosable alternative. Not officially, we were part of a 3000 people corporate, but in our outpost, it was accepted that we needed an extra box to do productive work. Couldn't do that from the corporate windows.

To this day, my Windows box is labeled "that outlook machine".

Windows? I tolerate it. I couldn't care less what others choose. But never again am I gonna run Windows as my primary desktop. It's just not for me.

Oh yes, I am a fanboy too. And I don't pirate programs!

- Vegard

Anonymous said...

My computing career started at the teletype of a PDP-11. I was studying biology and every now and then I was allowed to work for 20 minutes at a stretch on this ancient beast.

Me too - well except it was biochemistry.