This article was written when I was installing Gentoo on my notebook. The compiling time was really looong (I installed it from stage 1, because I wanted to use gcc 3.4.5 to build my system.) And then I began to thought whether I should switch to Linux and whether it deserved to spend so much time on this lovely operating system Obviously, you know my answer is positively “YES”. In this article, I looked back the time when I was switching from Windows to Linux, I tried to write down the reason why I switch to Linux and the experience I had on some Linux distributions I’ve used. I am not good at writing and I should write this article in Chinese to make it batter, but there is no Chinese input method at that time, so I used my poor English and this is just an record of my personal experience. It’s a little long though I have used Linux for only 4 months so far. It’s sure there will be many mistakes, forgive me

Windows — Begin to feel it boring.

I owned my own computer when I was 18 because my parents were afraid that computer will have some bad influnce on my study. So they bought me one after I finished the National Colleage Entrance Examination. Then I began to use Windows a lot since this is the only OS on my computer. In fact, before I had my own computer, I had been using Windows for much time. At that time, computer games were my favourate(Star Craft, War Craft & Need for speed, I just like the three and never play RPG or online games). On my 19 year’s birthday(2005), I had my own note book, an acer TravelMate 3202. Again the OS on it is Windows. At that time, I had been less interested in computer games though I choose this notebook is because it has an ATI 9700 graphic card which should be good for playing 3D games.

Maybe I am a strange person. Since when I could play computer games any time I wanted to, I began to found that I was losing interest in them. And later in 2005.6, I seldom played computer games any more and then I found Windows is boring. Yes, Windows can meet all my needs, but as my major is software engineering, I want to know more about an OS and I want get more control over the system. To me, the OS itself is also a computer game.(not very suitable) And then, just before the summer vocation began, I downloaded Fedora Core 4 and installed it on my notebook. That’s that’s the first time I saw a computer whose OS is not MS Windows or MS-DOS. (shamed)

Fedora Core — the begin of my Linux experience

I have no experience on Linux/Unix, and when I’ve installed FC4 on my notebook, all I did was to find the count-parter software which I used on Windows, not to learn the basic commands used on Linux/Unix. Lots of painful experience because I was doing things in a wrong way! Very soon I found it’s hard to install these software because of the dependencies. And very soon I go back to Windows and just left FC4 on my notebook just because… I’m afraid I can’t boot Windows if I delete the Linux partition.

Just after the Nation Day of 2005, I read the article written by Ying Wang titled “Do all the job under Linux, throw away Windows completely” (I don’t know is this translation correct.) This article says a lot of benefits about using Linux and Linux itself. The article is a little bit over rating Linux but is really convince-able. And I also read an article in “Joel on software” which compared Windows and UNIX. The conclusion of this article is that UNIX is good for programmers while Windows is good for the general users.(hope I didn’t misunderstand it.) And in this article I found Eric S. Raymond. I visited his web site and read some of his excellent articles(like “How to become a hacker”, “How to ask questions”). All these things made me decide to switch to Linux. Special thanks to those authors, it’s them that made me take the decision and it’s that decision made me found a great world of sharing!

As I decided to switch to Linux, I decide to learn from scratch. I borrowed “Unix The text book” and began to read it. At the same time I tried to install some software that are really needed for my daily use. Still I encountered some problems but fortunately they were all solved. (When you have problem using Linux, you can always find people who’d like to help you, while if you’re using Windows, I don’t know whether MS will treated you seriously.) These basic commands made life easier and I began to be used to manipulate files at the console instead of using Natuils and I thought it’s much efficient. Gradually, I logged in Windows less than Linux. Though there were still something awful, I can bear them. But these small awful things made me switch to SuSE.

SuSE Linux 10 — Let’s throw away Windows!

I DO NOT mean SuSE is better than FC4 here! I just think FC4 is not so suitable for beginners like me, while SuSE is really suitable for people who want to switch from Windows to Linux or are finding an substitute for Windows. (It’s also suitable for development.) It’s not fair to compare SuSE and FC4 because the FC4 is released long before SuSE 10.

The first time I saw SuSE is on my roommate’s computer. He installed SuSE in VMWare. And when I saw it, the first idea comes in mind is that it’s much more beautiful than my FC4(though my roommate used GNOME, but KDE under SuSE is even more beautiful). And what better, the default Chinese input method is SCIM, the Chinese characters displayed very well. Hesitated for a couple of days, I decided to delete FC4 and install SuSE on my notebook. At first I chose GNOME, and later I tried KDE and I immediately reinstalled SuSE choosing KDE.(I reinstalled it because I want to have a cleaner system.) GNOME is simple, but to me KDE is more suitable(at that time ). While reinstalling some software I used under FC4, I found that the GUI package management tool YaST in SuSE is quite good. When there are dependency problems, it will tell you where is the problem and suggest you how to solve the problem. You can just ignore the problem and take the risk yourself! It’s simple to use and is also flexible in some degree. In addition, the repository is easy to find, this makes life really much easier. I used those repositories to install many software, like mplayer, xmms-mad, bluefish… The problem with this tool is that it takes a long time to start up, so I installed apt4rpm(it is included in the SuSE Linux CD sets) and then use apt-get when I like. After using SuSE for some time and successfully solved some problems, I seldomly used Windows. Only when I have to visit some web site which can only be visited by IE will I use Windows.(Damn those web sites! I will never visit them any more unless they fix the problem) It’s about the time to complete throw away Windows, there will be no needs to it.(In fact, I deleted Windows just before I began to install Gentoo.)

Gentoo — want to know more about Linux and get more control

Yes, SuSE is great and I love it! It’s almost perfect for every day use and especially for those who want to switch from Windows to Linux. But to me, it still has a problem. The reason I switch to Gentoo is that I want know more about the OS, and I want to get more control over it. SuSE does a lot of configuration for you and you don’t need to do them yourself because the default one is usually OK. And when I was using it, I relay on the graphic tools too much to do the configuration so that I don’t know how to edit the configuration file manully and even didn’t know where it is stored. I think I have to know how to edit these configuration file by myself because this is the common way and can get more control.(Maybe I am wrong.) Then I heard Gentoo and know the soul of it is to give you the choice. And this article made me even sure that I should give Gentoo a try. And later I found Gentoo perfectly meets my needs.(LFS can give you more control over the system, but it’s too hard for me)

The installation took me a long time. One was because I had to compile almost every thing. From the compiler to the base system, and then the kernel, xorg-x11 and other software I needed like Emacs, firefox(I love them ) The more important reason was that I was not so experienced. I began to install Gentoo on Jan 15, 2006, and at that time I had used Linux for only 4 months. What worse, I chose the harder way: install from stage 1. I spent about 2 weeks time to set up the whole system.(shamed, but this includes the software I need to use) Of course I had a lot of problems during the installation, or I wouldn’t have to spent so much time. Luckily, Gentoo’s document is excellent! Really excellent!! These document helped a lot. And when the document didn’t help, I could google and could always find something helpful in the Gentoo forum. Without these things, I can’t imagine how I can set up Gentoo on my notebook. Most time troubleshooting is painful, but once you solved the problem you will be really happy! During the installation, I had much painful time and also much pleasant time. The more important thing is, I learnt a lot!

The first thing is about the compiler. Gentoo’s stage 1 tar-ball contains gcc-3.3.5 but I want to use gcc-3.4.5. I noticed that during the bootstrap, portage used gcc-3.3.5(this time use the flag march=pentium3) to built gcc-3.4.5. And when I emerge the system, portage used gcc-3.4.5(this time use the flag march=pentium-m) to build another gcc-3.4.5 so I will get an optimized compiler for my system!

Another thing is the kernel configuration. At first I used the configuration file the installation CD used to make things easier and to have a working system as soon as possible. And later I read a lot of articles about the kernel configuration in order to have an tailored configuration for my kernel and take full advantage of my hardware.(Most of them are Gentoo’s document, these articles includes things about alsa, wireless network, dri, power management, usb devices, software suspend and something else.) When I am not sure about one hardware support is needed for my notebook, I will compile it as a module and later use “lsmod” to see whether it is really needed. Now I think my kernel is some what tailored for my system.(Of cause there will be some thing that is not needed, but won’t be much and that’s OK) And I make the wireless card work, and successfully installed the ATI’s video card driver which I failed to when I was using SuSE.(Though SuSE’s document points out how to install the driver.)

Other things includes how to configure the Xorg, how to modify the font configuration file and many other things.

Many many thanks to the authors of these documents and these articles! They did really a great job! Portage is the most flexible software management tool I’ve used! It’s simple to use, just one command “emerge” and it will do things automatically. It’s flexible to use, just edit some flags and the software will be tailored for you. Gentoo gives you the choice, you just make the decision and wait for some time for the downloading and compiling. I really LOVE it! And I don’t think I will switch to any other distribution for my own use. What about Windows? Are you joking? I am not a fool and I like the feeling to control my system!