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The Journey Part 01: Software

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This is going to be a long couple of posts about my life. It's also going to be kind of a stream of consciousness. We'll see where this goes. For now, we're starting with how I started using free software and how I got to where I am today in regards to my ideas about it.

Ubuntu - Where Everyone Starts

If you know anything about Linux or even just operating systems, there's a good chance you've heard of Ubuntu. It's one of the most popular GNU/Linux operating systems. It is known for being a very polished distribution with sane defaults for most users and being more up-to-date than its parent, Debian GNU/Linux. It's most people's first Linux distribution.

I first started looking into it spring of 2010. This was around the time Chrome OS had started becoming a thing, and a friend of mine and I wanted to compile Chromium OS and work on it. Mind you, I knew nothing about software development at that time, but this sounded like a fun project. This was around the time I had started getting interested in software development. I was registered to take the intro programming classes at my high school at that time. Google's instructions for compiling Chromium OS required Linux (Macs might have had instructions too like Android, but I definitely didn't have one of those).

It was about April, so I waited the few days or weeks until Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx came out. I first installed it via wubi, a program that let you install Ubuntu as a Windows application so that you could try it out without modifying your partitions. This made it really simple for one to try it without possible repercussions.

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS

This is what I booted up to. I think part of why I was so fascinated with Ubuntu was just due to it being different than Windows. It was so customizable. After a few weeks of using wubi, I convinced my dad to let me dual boot Ubuntu with Windows XP. I remember writing arguments as to why I should be able to use Linux, including that Office ran in WINE. Those were the days...

I used arch btw

That summer was a lot of messing around with Linux. I distro-hopped a little bit, but I pretty much stuck with Ubuntu. I did start messing with Compiz (3D cubes ftw), Emerald window decorations, Avant Window Navigator (AWN), and Conky. I made some good looking desktops. I unfortunately still used a lot of proprietary software. Chrome and Dropbox made the switch easier. By the fall, I had heard a lot about Arch Linux and how it taught you a lot about Linux by installing it. This is when I got a taste of minimalism in software. This was before Arch became a meme, so the community was very different back then. My first Arch install took a few hours. I don't really remember much about it. I do know that I followed a Lifehacker guide for installing Arch + KDE in conjunction with the Arch Wiki. I learned so much by doing this. Eventually, I also played around with super lightweight installs with LXDE or just straight up Openbox. I liked Arch, and it's how I learn the different layers working together to get a modern Linux setup. However, I didn't like how manual it was for certain things. Eventually Linux 3.0 launched (it was on 2.x for forever) and broke GRUB (I still didn't understand that you should check the Arch website before updating). Soon after, they switched to systemd, and I was done. I thought Ubuntu was the best because it worked out of the box and didn't need a lot of configuration.

The Dark Ages

Once I got to college, I built my first gaming computer. At that point, Linux kinda fell to the wayside because I hated rebooting. For the most part, Windows 7 did what I needed it to. I still used Linux a bit, especially on my netbook. This is a screenshot from January 2013.

My Lubuntu Desktop

I eventually even got a MacBook Pro in 2014. I was full on proprietary. I viewed Mac OS X as the perfect intersection of proprietary polish and UNIX utils. For the next couple years after that, in the height of my addiction to video games, I just used Windows. All I did on my computer besides sshing to the Computer Science department computers for homework was games, so I just stayed in Windows.

suckless

My interest in tiling window managers first started in high school when I installed ratpoison in Arch. Back then, using all terminal applications sounded extremely difficult and leet, so I wanted to try it out for a month. I used ratpoison so I could have more than one at a time (this was before I learned about screen and tmux). I think that lasted about a week before I gave up.

The next bit until 2017 is kind of a blur. I did start playing around with tiling window managers for a bit, but I stayed with Windows for the most part. I do know that's when my dotfiles repo took shape because of the dates in at the top of each file. That's when I learned vim, tmux, and spectrwm.

At some point, I found the suckless project. That really interested me. I was a big fan of minimalist software that focused on correct code and not having bloat. I tried dwm, but I wasn't a fan of the defaults and was too lazy to configure it. I settled on spectrwm as my first main tiling window manager. I liked it because it was very similar to dwm, but it read a configuration file and had a couple extra layouts by default. I primarily used this with Arch Linux, but I dabbled with Void Linux occasionally.

From some point in 2017 until now, I started using Linux full time. This is when I developed my convictions regarding free software and started taking them seriously. I wanted privacy and was not ok with companies and the government having my data. I got to the point where I refused to use proprietary software if possible. I had always preferred open source software for various practical reasons, but now I was a free software advocate.

I finally took the time to learn how to configure dwm, st, and other suckless tools with surprising ease. They weren't as difficult as I thought they'd be. I used these with Arch Linux for a while because I installed Arch so much over the years, the installation was pretty simple. I also started using full disk encryption at this time, and Arch had the best documentation for manually doing so outside of an installer.

Puffiana Jones and the Hackers of the Lost Raid

OpenBSD 3.8 Poster

I distro hopped a lot after Arch. I wasn't sure what distro I wanted. I liked Arch for being rolling and up-to-date. I liked Debian because of the history it has. I liked Void because it didn't have systemd and followed a more UNIX-like philosophy.

I eventually settled down on OpenBSD. I always had an interest in BSD as direct descendents of UNIX, but I had always been intimidated by it. I eventually gave it ago. I picked OpenBSD over FreeBSD, NetBSD, and other BSDs because it seemed to fit what I wanted the best. It also focused on code correctness like suckless software, and they also focus on security. Despite how hardcore, and sometimes elitist, the community is, I didn't give up and kept going. I think the fact that I started with Linux has given me unique challenges because all of the similarities have small differences that you don't expect.

That takes me to where I'm at today. I'm using OpenBSD with dwm and other suckless and command line tools. The only graphical application that I regularly use is surf, the suckless web browser. It's been a long road, but I finally found where I'm happiest without a temptation to distro hop like I have for ages before. Though if I need a Linux distro for anything (thinking about getting a single board computer and those have better Linux support), then I'm going to go with Void Linux, since it's one of the most similar to BSD (though I've heard crux is pretty great).

I'm also discovering how copyfree software is more advantageous than copyleft software. I'm still figuring out where I stand on copyleft, but copyfree is what I'm writing and advocating for nowadays.

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