How Microsoft drove me to Linux

A journey of self-discovery

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

I bought my first computer in 1988. It was an Amstrad PC2286. It came equipped with a 12.5 MHz '286 (no slouch by any measure of the day), an entire megabyte of RAM, an immense 40Mb RLL HDD, MSDOS 4.01, and a most peculiar OS called Windows-286.

Ah, the manual. It told you everything you wanted to know. I curled up with it in bed. I learned debug. You could do some stuff with that little progie. I came up with a little fractal-like item I could use, manually of course, as a sort of screensaver. I thought it was pretty damn cool -- and green on black, naturally.

I updated DOS every chance I got. I mastered batch files. I gave myself a dual-boot machine with a way-cool personalized boot menu. It was nothing, really, but I did like it.

I learned about the HMA, and how to make DOS load itself there. I learned how to load device drivers and TSR's there as well. I optimized my system so that when Windows-3.x came out, I was able to run it on my puny 286, and often better than a lot of 386SX machines could do. People soon envied my little Amstrad PC2286.

I loved Microsoft. They gave me tools to make my computer do exactly what I wanted. Well OK, they didn't 'give' them to me, but I took everything I needed from my university's network. The geeks who ran it didn't have a clue about security. It was a UNIX system, and I logged on as root every day without their knowledge. Then I copied whatever the hell I liked onto a floppy, and ran home to try it out. I wasn't a criminal. I was more than covered under the uni's site license, I reckoned.

Later I got a modem so I could browse the uni network from home. And that's when I became a cracker. Not a particularly good one, mind you; the sexless wimps who ran the network were impossibly inept. I didn't have to be very good to make monkeys of them. IRC, Telnet and Mosaic were my apps, and I got awfully good at exploiting them.

I added 2MB of RAM to my little Amstrad, and ran Word for Windows 1.0 very, very fast. I'd grabbed it off the network, naturally. 386's were popping up all over the place then; but Word flew open on my little '286 thanks to the manual that came with my machine, and thanks to some creative memory management.

This happiness lasted until 1993, when I moved to South Korea. A lot happened there which you don't need to know. I meant to shag my way across the country, but managed to get derailed by a single girlfriend who I later married because I couldn't think what else to do with her.

When I returned to civilization in 1996, wife in tow, the World Wide Web was all that. There were browsers and such, and Netscape was an exceptionally big deal.

So I built a nice little machine. DOS-6.x and Windows-3.1 on a 486DX 100, a 500MB IDE HDD and 16MB RAM. Quite the little killer, really, considering my knowledge of DOS and Windows optimization.

Time went by; my Korean wife met a smooth-talking Eurotrash weenie in IRC and left me (the single greatest blessing of my life).

Windows-95 was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. In 1998 I was finally cooling the 486 with baggies full of ice, the condensation from which one day short-circuited the beast and killed it.

I moved immediately to an OEM machine from Compaq because I needed a box then and there, and it, unfortunately, was available and within my budget.

This piece of garbage had the nerve to saddle me with Win-95, and to load it on a 'Quick Restore' CD which would re-format my HDD whenever I needed simply to re-install Windows. The senior management of Compaq should be led onto a tarmac and shot dead for this crime alone.

But with Win-95 came other shocks. It didn't respond to DOS settings like 3.1. It had this bollocky 'registry' which took me ages to comprehend fully. It was Microsoft starting to refuse to let me do what I pleased with my god-damned computer.

But I was loyal. Microsoft had treated me well over the years, which is a lot more than I can say about my ex-wife. I'd always been able to tweak my machine, and I'd learned to do it the Microsoft way. So instead of running to Linux as I should have done, I ordered the Windows-98 upgrade instead, hoping that the Redmond geeks had seen the folly of their ways and fixed the OS to give the user more control.

But it got so much worse. DOS-7.x was a joke under Win-98, and there was almost nothing I could do to make my machine my own. Bill Gates obviously 0wned it.

To me, the definition of malicious code is simple: any code that prevents my machine from doing what I wish it to do, and/or any code that makes my computer do anything I haven't instructed it to do. Under my definition, Windows had clearly become an extremely malicious virus.

So I ran to Red Hat 6.2; but the installation screwed up so royally that I decided Linux was a worse virus than Windows.

I remained under the Windows umbrella for a good deal longer than I should have done. By this time I hated it, resented it; but I resented it a bit less than Dead Rat and its joke installation.

And then Microsoft offended me so intensely that I wouldn't be caught dead running their filthy virus, otherwise called Win-XP, on any of my computers.

It was XP product activation that broke the camel's back. I'd put up with steadily deteriorating software and my steadily deteriorating control over it, all right; but the idea that I should have to buy a separate copy of their rubbish OS for each machine I have made me want to vomit.

I can understand MS cashing in on businesses that use their software to earn a profit. Fair enough. But to tell me that if I buy their software for my home I don't actually own it, and have to pay the Demigod Gates tithe for each installation, well, that's just going a bit too far.

It's the XP 'product activation' slavery agreement that drove me, finally, to Linux. And fortunately, a lot of the newer Linux distros now install nicely on any x86 machine. I've been able to install it successfully and then refer to the documentation to tweak it properly, just as I used to do with Microsoft's products before the cheap bastards shrank their documentation to a mere glossy advertisement brochure.

I have one copy of SuSE 7.3 Pro. I have it on every machine in my house (there are four). I've broken no law, nor any pseudo-law such as that promulgated in Microsoft's rubbish EULA. My machines are all running very well, as I've since learned, from the copious documentation provided by SuSE in exchange for a modest sum of money, how to tweak my Linux machines in exactly the way I once tweaked my MS machines -- in a long-lost era of decency. ®

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