Computers‎ > ‎

My story

As quite a young child I was introduced to computing by playing the adventure and zork games on IBM mainframes at my Dad's work. I recall him bringing an ADM 3a terminal home and connecting it to a mainframe via a wooden box into which you placed a telephone handset - a primitive modem. There are not many computing peripherals these days that can suffer from woodworm. An Osborne computer visited the house next and also an 8086 IBM PC. I believe I learned to program in BASIC on all of these computers and remember devouring an Usbourne book on Basic in the early hours of Christmas morning. Santa also brought me Dr Who and the Tenth planet that year too. So far, so nerdy.

The first home computer we had was a BBC Micro model B and I used that to learn more BASIC and some motorola 6502 assembler. More often my sister and I would be playing games on it though, the highlights being Elite (I only made deadly), Revs and Twin Kingdom Valley (a text adventure with pictures, if you were patient!). I graduated to a Commodore Amiga 500 after that and started using Archimedes machines at University, programming a galaxy collision simulator in ARM RISC assembler. An Amiga 3000 followed during a period when I was 3D ray-tracing with software called Imagine (Babylon 5 was using Lightray on Amigas at that time). Eventually for speed and affordability reasons I moved to using 486 PCs, but still lamented when Commodore went bust.

At work I got an original pentium in my office at university and, with much help from my Dad, installed Slackware 3.x on it. For a little over £1000 I had a machine that could keep up with the department's Sun workstations that cost several times more; also, I could listen to my CDs on it. I remember being impressed at how this was achieved by an OS that seemed to cost nothing, but I didn't fully appreciate the meaning of free or open source software at that time, nor did I take much interest in how linux worked. That PC stayed always-on for several years without crashing once - it only went down when I told it to.

As work and career pressures dulled my senses, I became more inclined to use the computer as a tool and eventually I became frustrated that I couldn't open certain files attached to my incoming emails. This, and the fact that I got a laptop with windows 95 pre-installed meant that I left linux behind for some years. When I changed jobs I did regain some use of linux by having my laptop dual boot windows 98 and redhat (before its enterprise days). I don't remember being very fond of that redhat, in particular the gnome desktop irked me and I preferred the simplicity of what I used in slackware (FWVM I think) but I never bothered to tinker with it.

When I founded my own company I felt compelled to leave linux behind completely and go with windows 2000 professional and then XP. I liked windows 2000 and to a slightly lesser extent XP. I remind people of that if they erroneously conclude I hate all things to do with microsoft. I have a strong dislike of microsoft, or indeed any large company that aggressively protects a monopoly.

After some years living in the exclusive world of microsoft (where most people seem to live) I developed an interest in open source software and a good friend drew my attention to the Cathedral and the Bazaar essay by ESR. After reading that I decided to have a play with linux again, but with quite different motivations than before: I was now interested in taking part in free or open source software. I considered Debian at first (Ubuntu was in its infancy at that time) but was soon tempted back to Slackware by my Dad who gave me a Slackware 11 DVD.

Here's a fairly technical account of I how found starting out with Slackware (second time round).