I really don’t remember when I first heard of Linux but I do vaguely remember the first time I saw a Linux desktop. I was at my friend Mitch’s place in the very late 90’s and he had it running. I remember he said something about “X Windows” and I remember thinking it was ugly but neat. He was the only friend I had who shared my love of computers though his skills and knowledge were (and still are) greatly beyond my own. In our earlier teens, we’d spent much of our time tinkering with various old TRS-80s we’d bought from a stockpile of retired computers at our school. We were both proficient in BASIC and could navigate BBSs with our relatively ancient machines using their ridiculously slow modems. As disappointing as I now finding it in hindsight, that brief glimse of Linux didn’t actually start me on my path.
And the actual start of my Linux journey is even more embarassing. You see, there is something else you should know. Like most people, I was a Windows user. Unlike most (or at least many) Windows users, I was also a huge fan of the look of Mac OS X. That’s right: I was an ucky Windows user with even uckier Mac envy.
So, what does that have to do with getting me to Linux? Well, in 2005, Apple (of all companies) made an anouncement that would eventually change my life. They were transitioning from PowerPC processors to Intel processors. This meant, of course, that those of us without overpriced Mac hardware might be able to actually run Mac OS X. The Hackintosh community was born! One of the early development images leaked to the torrents, as all things do. Since it was a raw disk image, the best way to use it was to write it directly to a hard drive. Practically all the forums and guides recommended downloading a copy of something called a “LiveCD” of “Ubuntu” and use its “dd” command to do so. Before long, I had learned about boot loaders and dual-booting and I had both Windows and OS X installed.
But dual-booting a crappy, boring OS and a pretty-but-barely-functional OS was just the first step. A consequence of getting there was that I’d incidentally learned about Ubuntu and the philosophies around Linux and Open Source software. And I quite liked them! Plus, it worked so much better than OS X on my computer and was many times more interesting than Windows. Before I knew it, I was triple-booting and, surprisingly, spending most of my time in Ubuntu. As I learned about other operating systems, my GRUB menu eventually grew to having 8 entries for different OSes that were all in different states of usefulness. Over the next couple of years, little by little, I started whittling away at the ones that were just there for novelty (including OS X). Besides, by this point I’d been introduced to VirtualBox and could boot most of them that way if I wanted to. I also did a lot of distro hopping but tended to always land back on Ubuntu. And with every install, I’d give Windows less and less space since I wasn’t using it for much.
I couldn’t tell you when the realization set in that I didn’t need Windows for anything anymore and could dedicate my entire hard drive to Ubuntu but, honestly, it all happened very quickly. My hardware was well supported, I didn’t have any particular application I needed for work holding me back, and I was never much of a gamer (plus, the one game I casually played the most, Warcraft III, ran fine under Wine). I kept Windows around in a virtual machine for a long time but even that became more work than Windows was worth.
I eventually grew tired of Ubuntu’s release schedule and I hated what I’d seen of the upcoming Unity so I transitioned to Debian Sid. I loved the rolling-release style but Sid proved to not be stable enough for me (there is a reason it is Sid, after all….). I found myself giving Arch Linux a try. This was sometime shortly after Arch had transitioned to systemd so I missed a lot of those headaches (which still plague Arch’s repuation). And here I am, still. I keep a couple of VMs around, though I now use GNOME Boxes instead of VirtualBox, but they are both also open source operating systems that I like to follow: ReactOS and Haiku.
Anyway, that’s the story of how Apple, oddly enough, freed me from Microsoft and introduced me to Linux.