Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Why did I switch to Linux?

After a long consideration I think I have to thank Microsoft for pushing me to switch to Linux ! I admit it has been a long road until I decided to give up my will to insist on Microsoft Servers and workstation operating systems. I think the fallout actually began in year 2002, with the launch of Windows XP as I was a real keen Windows enthusiast in those days, (even a certified one - MCSE !!) but, though the whole population adored Windows XP, I hated that menu and the GUI which used excessive GPU and memory. I had to go in advanced menus to set it to basic screen mode to free memory and GPU which enabled you to work smoothly, even with 8 Gb memory. I was already aware back in those days that the CPU speeds were stuck at 3.4 Ghz and would not go up and Intel would play around with cores and caches to sustain its revenue.

As a person who arrived to the computer world from good old IBM DOS 4.x which had the chance to experience loads of operating systems such as OS/2 Warp, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows NT and eventually to Windows 95 etc. I remember the days of Windows 95 quite well. It was a breakthrough for Ms as well that several functions and ideas were introduced such as PnP, high resolution desktop graphics, multitasking, 32bit architecture and ah yes, long filenames ! Though all still depended on Ms DOS (playing around with UMB via autoexec.bat and config.sys improved performance greatly).

In those days I used to work in Ms Support Centre back in Istanbul, where support calls were on the swarm after the release of Windows 95 as Ms had announced to the customers that it was very easy install, even for a non-computer person! Of course the illiterates started pouring over the lines ; some even came to our door with their tower computers, weeping for help as they had just wiped their data in the course of installing the new Windows OS. Sad, really. Of course there were those with hardware mismatches, unsupported hardware and of course the hardware manufacturers were only ready for their new equipment to be "compatible" with Windows 95. After a shortwhile I remember the famous machine stickers came in "Compatible with Windows 95!"....

We, as IT crowd, went and upgraded to the latest hardware so that we can use Windows 95 on our machines at home. Games were blazing fast compared to DOS, where we had constant memory problems due to the boundries of 640k UMB.

Ah of course, though we had already known about infectious and malicious softwares called "viruses" but never saw it in action. Thanks to Microsoft, in a short amount of time we became quite acquainted with their kind as the installation diskettes, the OS itself got infested by them. One of the main supporters and software providers for Ms was Symantec (I think they had written some additional parts of the Windows 95 OS, such as the fax functionality and diskscan tool) and funnily, their software was ready on day one! Then we had to purchase packages such as Norton Disk Doctor, Norton Utilities, Norton Antivirus...and eventually the machine was slow again! I had heard about the Wintel partnership but I really didn't know this was the whole idea of it. Then of course higher performance parts started pouring in into the market faster CPUs, 3D capable GPUs, larger capacity HDDs, faster memory modules, fax modems, soundcards...luckily there were the OEM hardwares that helped us young ones to be able to manage the cost of constant upgrading. Ah lastly, for some reason, the softwares we installed started to have special hardware requirements such as more memory !

I never thought this topic is going to be so long and winding, I will publish in pieces I guess. 

With the arrival of the revolutionary operating system Windows 2000, in year 2000, which had the look and feel of Windows 98 but the power of NT, I remember saying to myself, "OK the nightmare is over"...but how could I know that it had just began! Being one of the main support people for Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 in Turkey, Win2k was awesome as it was really compatible with the current hardware as well as it was rock solid; less BSD's (bluescreen of death as we named it). I admit I stayed with Win2k for a quite a long time. Of course, once again the systems started running slow once again and the hardware needed to be upgraded once again. Then came the ATX form factor to the OEM markets where most of the previously separately available hardware became "onboard". So we didn't have purchase an IO card separately and try to configure it through its BIOS for 30 times over (today not many know what IRQ or DMA even mean...)

Not long after, we started to acquaint about some "patch" software published by Ms and her software partners that was a compliation of software fixes. It was named "Service Packs". We all imagined that Service Packs were awesome and would have made our machines awesome too....not long after updates started flowing in through the internet called "live updates". Everyone was happy once again ; though it didnt take me long to realize that some of the service packs were so huge, it was nearly as big as the OS installation CDs and the machines did not get any faster; but slower.

It was around then that we learnt a new word called "vulnerability" as viral and malicious attacks started pouring in though the internet. With everyone feeling the vulnerability of losing data, we all loaded our machines with antivirus and personal firewall softwares. Oh oh...this machine is slow again, need to buy more ram !

By the year 2007 I was in a contract project with Ms and I was appointed to be the project manager for customizing the OEM version of the Windows Vista for a hardware brand. As we were the hardware manufacturer, we had to make sure that our drivers were WHQL certified. I think it has then I realized there was no good or god. It was a real punishment and hell torture that went on forever, trying to get the optimum performance out of the drivers so that they are not just WHQL compatible, but also performed as supposed to ! From the user's point of view, the world hated the new start button and could not get rid of it!

The situation was pretty much the same on the server side. Though the companies' requirements were the same as they were 10 years back, OS kept on getting bigger and heavier which required more resources. With the withspread use of virtualization, the resource requirements went over 10000% probably, which increased the arrival speed of alternative virtual and embedded operating systems and hardware such as VMware and NAS. If it wasn't for virtualization, we would all be lost in mayhem probably. The arrival of faster networking speeds and fiber WAN technologies, we were free at last ! Even today when we compare the Windows Server 2000 and Windows Server 2016, only difference that can be seen are the additions compatibility packs for todays hardware requirements, rest is probably just vulnerability service packs (yes, yes, i know there are hundreds of utilities that are replicated from Unix to stabilize the systems and fulfil today's world's needs, but people of my era probaly understands what I am trying to say). The current server environment is so much aligned with UX that there's even a linux console command system embedded into the PowerShell.

I admit I had played around with Linux OS's back in 2001 when some school kids started asking weird questions such as "linux drivers" for the hardware. Eh? I thought it was going to be another temporary OS like the BeOS...

Then, it was the good old SuSE 2.4 that was actually bundled by a PC magazine that got my attention and I had evaluated it on a test machine. The look and feel as a bit like OS/2 Warp.

I had always disliked OS/2 Warp as it was made by IBM. Most probably I remembered how the installation constantly failed, even on IBM hardware ! For some reason I kept on researching for an alternative OS to the Windows as it was interesting. OSX was never my kind of thing for only one reason: the mouse had only one button ! But I admit BeOS was awesome. Pity other OS corporations thought as competition and took it down asap. Of course there were hardballs such as the AIX and the Sun OS (Solaris) which still rock. I have to admit, the main reason I loved Windows NT and its derivatives was that it killed Novell Netware. I know what is to try to configure a server on a tokenring network with IPX/SPX on NetWare 3.x!! 

Coming back to end-user operating systems, Windows 7 was the return of the flagship ! Most compatibility issues were fixed, less BSDs, configurable Start button (LOL!) as well a huge list of improvements which eased the life of the IT crowd greatly as it was easier to manage remotely and use everywhere possible. Plus, it had great improvements to the deployment services which still is quite complimentary.

Frankly I had forgotten about that thing called "Linux" for a longwhile. Long until I needed a low cost webhosting and a webserver to run php. Though I aimed at Windows based webhosts, I must admit linux based webhosting packages were much cheaper. Of course nothing goes perfectly. Eventually found Googling about fixes. Later on found myself doing myself a LAMP installatio (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). I had no idea that I was being pulled in deeper ! Though I was skeptic about the reliability of it as Linux is "opensource", especially securitywise. But in comparison with Ms, what could be worse ? I mean Ms guys in Redmond and elsewhere were supposively test the apps perhaps 1000 times, but things still go horribly wrong, whereas in opensource, tests are executed by self-motivated, groups of volunteers who test the sh*t out of the applications then publish them have less glitches. 

Whilst freelancing for a precious customer, (yeah, he will read this I know) the customer had requested a solution like "Websense" but relatively cheaper. Whilst researching for such software's availability a friend of mine advised me to test "Squid" or "Dansguardian". By the time I realized what platform they work on, it was too late ! The word was out and the customer demanded one of them as per a noob's referral. Guessing that I would be lost in code, I started searching for a solution that perhaps process would be easier. Then the linux kicked in. Someone had thought of creating an all inclusive software that includes web content filter, firewall, vpn, proxy, mail scanner (antivirus) as well as all inclusive monitoring and reporting tools that can work on the most pathetic machine configurations.

My test took approximately 2 weeks as I could not find anything wrong with it. You know, its quite annoying not being able to find a bug. When I realized that I was like Jamie in Mythbusters, I gave up the research and went into live installation. Seriously, it's annoying not to find anything wrong! As I do not work for that customer anymore, since I have serviced it last (in 2010) noone has touched the machine and it seems to be working like a charm. The package I'm talking about is called Endian Firewall.  

Frankly I dug so deep into Endian's core, I found myself involved. Though I am not a coder, we were a good team with the Italians and successfully published later versions with more ability. Heck, it still can work with 512Mb memory ! Of course I would recommend 4Gb minimum but that's my argument. The point I am trying to make is, Linux can work on low resources as well as legacy hardware like a charm. These days there are several packages like Endian (eg. IPcop, pfSense, OPNsense, etc.) that does the same sorts of tasks including even a full featured VPN server.

god, this has taken too long..I will continue in Part.2 soon.