February 17, 2019

The StartX Files: Tux, My Hero

And the Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

  • May 1, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

One of these days I need to have a T-shirt made that reads: How Do I Get Myself Into These Things? Because that is pretty much the predominant thought raging through the stream of consciousness known as my brain on any given day.

My latest source of utter confusion occurred this weekend while standing mere inches from an animal rights activist in the middle of the Schmidt Academic Center at DePaul University. Looking back at this situation, it makes perfectly good sense: I was attending an interdisciplinary animal ethics conference one of my best friends was hosting at DePaul. So, I was bound to run into someone with a more forceful outlook on the cause of animal rights.

For the record, I have nothing against animal rights activists, such as the ones in PETA and the Humane Society. In fact, my own feelings on the subject tend to trend towards these organizations'. It is the so-called underground groups that like to cause property destruction and possible injury to people that get my shorts in a bunch.

It was--of course--these groups that this fellow before me had a deep belief in.

At best, this was the sort of situation that could just end in an awkward silence and that would be that. But the philosophical exchange of ideas going on that day made everyone want to debate about everything and now it was my turn.

The conversation to this point had not gone well and it was rapidly getting worse. I considered being rude, but being it was my friend's conference, I did not want to do something that would embarrass him. Nor was I looking to start a fight.

Then he noticed the shirt I was wearing-the one I bought at LinuxWorld when my last clean shirt got nailed by a splat of salsa. The one I wore as a bit of a goof at this animal ethics conference.

"Nice Tux," he said with a smile.

It was the like the sun had come out. Suddenly a conversation full of rancor and venom metamorphosed into a focused discussion about computers. Some people who were standing nearby watching the exchange rolled their eyes and walked away in disappointment.

The geeks, it seemed, had found the way of peace. And Tux had saved my pacifist butt.

If only I could have the same success with the Windows 2000 crowd. And speaking of...

Striking While the Iron Flops

Those of you who know me and are still willing to talk about it in public are likely aware of the fact that I keep a Windows 98 machine to lurch around the office. The reasons for this are simple: I need it for my other gigs on BrowserWatch and BotSpot and (the far more important one) my four-year-old needs something to run her Reader Rabbit games. For those of you who think this might be trivial, let's see you try to explain operating system architecture to a kid with a pouty lip.

Lately, the Win98 partition has been acting crankier than usual. I suspect I know why: too many installs of IE-based browsers. I was about to perform the semiannual ritual of a clean install when one of my friends suggested I use the opportunity to pop in Windows 2000 instead. I thought, why not? Anything to avoid the Blue Screen of Death.

It was, by all accounts, a flop.

Keep in mind, I did not think this would be a problem. After all, this particular machine is only three years old, bought new with insurance money after my old PC was removed from our home in a burglary. Pentium II, 450 MHz, tons of RAM, what could go wrong? Apparently plenty. First, my BIOS was all wrong and needed upgrading. At the same time, the installation program would not recognize my IDE controller, and therefore none of my hard disks.

In the new BIOS' documentation, I found a passage that indicated that the new BIOS might fix the IDE problem, which was an issue during Win2000 beta testing. One brand new BIOS later, the installation still did not see the IDE card. My friend said it was a false reading in the compatibility test and urged me to press on with the install. Against my better judgment, I did--until I got to the window that said the program could not find a single mass storage device. That was all she wrote for me. I have a certain attachment to my hard drives and had no desire to see them and the data they contained to vanish in some sort of Microsoft limbo.

A few days later, I had beaten Win98 back into submission--to the point where crashing is now just once-a-day affair again. But I am also left with some interesting questions. If Windows XP, which some would have us believe is the Linux killer (the same people, I presume, that predicted Microsoft Bob would be the future of software interfaces), is to be based on this not-so-compatable NT OS, then where does that leave the poor schmucks like me who do not buy a new computer every year and might have something a little stale in the hardware department? How does the upgrade path go then?

Or, if XP is more inclusive, will it be inheriting the same problems the Win95/98 OSes had?

Something, I think, is going to give. Even, suppose, if Windows XP had The Coolest Interface Ever, or some other Huge Feature, the average consumer is not going to want to jump through a lot of hoops or buy a new machine to pick it up.

Is this all just wishful thinking by a dedicated Linux columnist? I would concede this is partly true. But Windows 2000 never really took off like Redmond expected now did it?

I submit that within this transition period is an excellent time for Linux developers to get their ducks in a row and start really churning out the apps that will attract disenfranchised Windows users, whether they are server administrators or desktop users. In times of upheaval, fortune may favor Linux with more serious looks from serious users.

After all, the Chinese symbol for chaos is a combination of the symbols for danger--and opportunity.

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