Long ago and far away, I started writing a series called "Road To Linux," in which I set out to learn Linux in a few weeks. Talk about clueless. Nearly one year, two wasted computers, a ticked-off spouse, (and a Yellow Lab who ate a motherboard) 30-plus books and manuals and much assorted debris later, I've more or less made it.I have no illusions about the technical accomplishments I've achieved here, but these are the first proud words I've ever written online without any assistance from Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or any big fat corporation. Small stuff to most of you, Computer Everest to me.
My PPP daemon keeps cutting out, and I'm puzzling over swap partitions, random seeds and generators bin/appfinders, so I'll keep this brief. In the next few weeks, I'll write more about my personal, somewhat hellish road to Linux. It was a hummer, accompanied every step away by the jeers and cheers of geeks and nerds on and off of Slashdot.
The big lesson was that I approached Linux in the wrong way, from every conceivable perspective. It needn't be that hard.
Rather than wading into manuals and books and programming (if you do it, believe me, O'Reilly is the best), I finally figured out that there are people like Joe Volodarsky out there, and companies like Amnet, people who live and breathe computers and Linux and who actually pick up the phone and help Every-Single-Time-You Call! The truth is, I never did figure this out. Somebody figured it out for me, but I finally got it. If you're not a geek, that's the big news.
And I am not a computer geek, and don't aspire to be one. I'm a writer, and happy with that title. Posting a column on a Linux laptop somebody else designed and preloaded for me hardly makes me any sort of nerd or techno-whiz. This is, in fact, the level of the classic breathless newbie, a mantle I expect to take to the grave.
Disagreement and criticism is a healthy, integral part of Web-writing, but the minor yet persistent controversy surrounding my writing for Slashdot has always surprised me. Some are passionately into defining who belongs or doesn't, an unfortunately common and increasingly difficult impulse in electric (and off-line) communities.
The term "geek" is broadening and evolving daily, and is coming to mean different, complex and increasingly positive things to people.
The real geeks and hackers, it seems to me, aren't into chest-thumping about who deserves the title. Like Joe, their real kick comes from getting people where they want to go. They're almost invariably welcoming and helpful. They're pretty secure about themselves, and their techno-manhood. From the first, they've been trying to help move me along, to the best degree of my limited ability. But if I recognize my limitations in writing on a Linux Box, I'm still pretty happy about it.
Real programmers are different from mortals, certainly from writers. They are a separate species. Programmers are precise, confident and look ahead. They have no doubt they can make technology come out right for them. Writers are imprecise, uncertain and backwards-looking. Their relationship with technology is uncertain, a means, never an end.
But here's what the fight about me being on Slashdot has always really been about: You don't need to be - and shouldn't have to be - a programmer to use and appreciate Linux, which is, to my amazement, every bit as easy and logical as my beloved Macs, once you get past the installation.
Linux is fun. Knowledge is, in fact, empowering, and learning and seeing how a computer actually works, especially in the context of a powerful idea like Open Source, is worth the grief and trouble. And for non-geeks heading for Linux, there will be plenty of both.
Joe Volodarsky was savvy in puttng together this computer for me, to a degree I wouldn't have thought possible. He used KDE and set up folders for Netscape, WordPerfect, documents,the printer, Templates, News, Updates, the Gimp, CD-ROM and floppy disks. I can't stay off of the KAPP Finder, which scrolls through an exotic list of programs and apps I'm reading about one by one, using my O'Reilly and other Linux guides. My laptop was designed with me in mind, even down to a Mac OS logo on the start-up menu. I've spent a dozen happy but nerve wracking hours puzzling over random seeds and bizarre commands, but I've learned more about computing in the last few weeks than in the decade I've been online.
For somebody who loves to write about technology, this is definitely a humbling gift and an opportunity. Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas I've come across in media, even as I'm just beginning to grasp how complicated an idea it is. Linux is a huge part of it. I'd like to go as far as I can get, taking small steps, one day at a time.
Playing around with my new laptop, I'm fascinated by how accessible the workings of this system are, (and how hidden the processes of my other computers have been) and have even moved a few things around, killed a few programs, and relished checking the Term windows to see my computing life and history passing before my eyes. I was up till 2 a.m., and had more fun than at any point in my life aside from walking into Joe DiMaggio on a New York City street when I was a kid.
Since this is the third time I've tried to post this message, I'm not going to prolong it.
Thanks to Joe of Amnet, which makes Linux boxes, laptops and servers. For getting me up and running, he deserves a place in the Geek Hall of Fame. Rare in our world, he is both technologically skilled and empathetic. He only lost it with me two or three times, and then briefly ("Katz, you don't have to Re-Boot. Don't turn it off!"). Thanks also to VA Linux Systems for hooking up the Slashdot crowd with Sony Vaios.
For those of you who sneered and jeered, thanks. You gave me the iron will to persevere. It was the Penguin or Death. And nuts to you, too.
For those of you who supported me in a hundred ways - especially Rob, Jeff, Robin, Jesse, Joe, Karl, Tom, Sandy, and scores of others who offered help every single day for nearly a year - thanks even more.
I might never be a Linux Geek. But I am my own particular kind of geek now.
Seems to me that's the idea.