Print this page

The Computer History

First Contact

My first contact with computers were my father's Commodore VC20 and Sharp PC1403 – small, simple machines by today's standards, but fascinating at the time… Needless to say, it didn't take long before I got my own computer: A C64! I had loads of fun with that machine for years – even got a monitor, a printer and a floppy drive after a while…

The PC Era

Despite all the fun with the C64, I wanted more at some point. When that time finally arrived, Amiga and Atari ST were still going strong but beyond their peak. The Macintosh was on the scene for a while already – and of course the IBM compatibles, i.e. what most people think of as "the PC" these days…

Macs fascinated me (we used them at the office of the student's association), but the prices were prohibitive… In the end, I went for a "PC": A 486/33 with 8MB, a whopping 170MB hard drive and a VGA card with 32768 colours. For 1991 not a bad PC. :-) Those were the days of MS DOS™ and MS Windows 3.1™ <shudder> – definitely no Macintosh, but at least within budget for me.

That PC stayed with me for many years. It got a new hard drive (540MB – wow!) and at some point a faster CPU (486DX2/66), but that was about it. With that hardware, I didn't even think about "upgrading" to Win 95. So, everything stayed the same until…

Enter Linux!

…in 1996/97, I was writing my Masters Thesis in Microelectronics. The research centre where I was working at the time was using Sun Unix(SunOS) workstations, so the preferred format for a thesis was LATEX. All fine and well, but near the end of the project came the time (as everybody who ever wrote a thesis or similar will know) when daytime wasn't good enough and I urgently needed to use my own PC at nighttime (when the centre was closed) as well. What to do? Using LATEX under MS Windows 3.1™ was possible, but extremely painful – starting from awkward usage over the notorious unreliability of Win 3.1 to the useless 8+3 filenames.

Hence, I was looking for a better solution. Enter Linux. Red Hat Linux 4.1, to be precise, as at that time that was the one most of my friends recommended. The installation was a nightmare, mainly due to the fact that – lacking a CD-ROM – I ended up downloading the complete distribution from the Internet "at work", saving it on a tape, carrying the tape plus drive home, making a backup of my HD (to tape…), repartition, copy the Linux distribution onto one partition and then running a HD install from there. The second problem was that my aging 486 only had 8MB RAM – which was a problem with RHL 4.1, as there was a bug in the installer…

Anyway, after about two, three days messing around I finally had the machine up and running. Not only that – I also had an almost perfect copy of the work environment I was using in the research centre: Same window manager (fvwm 2.0.45, if you need to know),LATEX, XEmacs – the works. All on a meagerly 486DX2/66, 8MB, with 300MB for Linux. I was happy and got to work, typing away at that thesis… ;-)

Now, I won't pretend that that machine was fast. In fact, it was downright slow, as I insisted on using X on it. But it worked and worked reliably – far better than what I was used to under Windows before. I was hooked…

The story continues…

Since then, Linux has completely replaced Windows for me on my desktop machines. Over the years, I have dabbled with several Linux distributions besides Red Hat (which is Fedora nowadays): Mandrake Linux (later "Mandriva Linux", now OpenMandriva – I think), SuSE Linux (which belongs to Novell now…) and Aurora Sparc Linux – which came from Red Hat and now belongs to Fedora again.
Recently, most of my PCs run UbuntuKubuntuXubuntu or Ubuntu Studio. I also have two "audio player" machines that run Debian Linux.

Other OSes

On my firewall/home server, however, I trust OpenBSD most. It has served me well and reliably – an excellent choice for this purpose. I also use it on some of the more exotic hardware I own (e.g. Sparc or Alpha)
My affection for Sun Sparc machines has also brought me into contact with Solaris which can be found on some of my Sparcs. Unfortunately, these days, Oracle owns Solaris and the new terms make it basically unusable for hobbyists (license was unclear for a long time, no security updates without support contract - Oracle really does not want home users and hobbyists to use Solaris). Further, I also made my first experiences with Irix, as I have acquired several SGI machines over the past months.
Other than that, I now also have a second generation iMac, which lets me play with Mac OS X (10.4). Even Windows made its way back – one single Windows XP machine to run the children's games that refuse to work under Wine… ;-)


On the hardware side, I still have that old, trusty, black AT bigtower from the 486, but its contents have changed many times. Currently, it sports a 1.3GHz Celeron (yes: on an AT board!) and gathers dust. I might actually give it away or scrap it after all…
Around it, a whole network of a wide variety of machines has grown over the years: Many PCs (nothing special – the fastest one is an AMD 64(?) 3200. I do not really follow the PC developments), some old laptops, some 23 Sun Sparc/UltraSparc workstations (I've dedicated an extra page to them: Sparcla), six SGI machines, one Digital Multia VX40 (Alpha) and the iMac DV 400.

My Part

Being a very satisfied Linux user, I was interested in contributing at least a bit back to the Linux community. Aside from using my (very limited) C coding skills to provide bugreports and maybe write the odd patch or writing a bit of documentation here and there, I turned to building RPM packages to enable other folks to use programs I like as well. Being notoriously short on time, it's not all that much anymore &ndah; these days, I'm happy if I manage to write a halfway decent bug report… Anyway, here's what I have done:

  • RPMs for the mail program mutt
    Muttix – the Mutt RPM Team Page
    (due to lack of time, I had to give up on this one)
  • I have taken over the maintenance of wmSMPmon, a Window Maker dockapp. I'm currently preparing a page for it – unfortunately, also pretty much on hiatus these days
  • RPMs for the window manager Window Maker
    (due to lack of time I gave up on this one)
  • Miscellaneous RPMs
    (currently offline)