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In the beginning…

I’ve been using Linux for quite a few years now. I got started using Mandrake before it changed it’s name to Mandriva. Back then I was just looking for an interesting alternative to Windows. What really got me hooked was when I switched to Gentoo. The install required me to build the operating system from scratch. I had to download the source code and build tools, customise it to match my hardware, then build the system on the machine it was going to be running on. This gave me a very fast system for the given hardware perfectly matching my system with no bloat. It also gave me a foundation in understanding how Linux was structured. I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in Linux should try this, dig out a spare hard drive or make some space on a partition. It’s a very educational process.


Taking it seriously.

After playing with Linux and using it for my desktop OS, I also ran my own web server and mail server from a couple of old spare machines. This is when I realised that I could do way more than just browse the web and read my mail on a free OS. I started to see what else I could do with Linux. I had an old thin client that I added a compact flash drive to and installed Crunchbang. This gave me a silent tiny machine for use in my lounge. It was adequate for web and mail and even YouTube. I could write documents on it, I even installed a couple of IDEs. All this from a box smaller than a toaster. The skills I picked up playing with these projects quickly became useful in the work environment. I built on my knowledge and ended up running Linux servers for the company where I worked. By this point I had switched my main home distribution to Fedora so I opted for another of Red Hat’s offerings for the servers, CentOS. Red hat have a commercial OS, CentOS is their community edition using the same packages. One of it’s strengths is that it consists of only the packages that have been run in live environments and have proven to be stable and secure. This gives you a solid secure operating system that’s well supported and very versatile.

Using CentOS I ran web servers, database servers, and even used one machine to build a PBX (phone system) for the company. We had a VOIP phone each on our desks and as many lines as we wanted using a combination of Asterisk and Trixbox as the software that handled the phones. I repurposed the thin client to run as an overnight code tester testing the core code of the apps we produced as much as 100,000 times over night and printing out a summary report. Linux has an almost endless variety of uses both at home and in the work environment. The more projects I take on the more I learn and the more new uses open up to me. One of my most recent projects that proved useful in the work environment was recycling an old desktop machine that was destined for the dump to use as a web traffic analyser and logging machine. Using the machine as a conduit between a wifi network and the internet I could capture the output from our applications and asses the data that was being sent. This enabled me to check that the right data was being sent to our server, to check when security measures were enabled, and to log the frequency of connection from our software. From a piece of outdated hardware and a bit of knowledge I managed to provide the company with useful data to aid in the development process of out software.


Where now?

I now use Linux almost exclusively at home. I have one Windows machine for running software that requires Windows but everything else runs on a version of Linux. I have a desktop and a couple of laptops running Fedora, a NAS (network attached storage) drive running FreeBSD, a media server running on a version of Android, my own cloud storage service so I can access my files wherever I am on my laptop, iPad, and phone. For any new project my first thought is can I do it with Linux?

Adding to Linux’s versatility is it’s support of Virtual Machines and it’s Windows emulator “WINE”. Using the virtual machines I can run almost any OS from within my main Linux install, and Wine allows me to run software intended for Windows in an environment in Linux.

The possibilities with Linux are only growing, I look forward to all the new things I can try.