Manish Chakravarty (manish_chaks) wrote,

14 years of loving Linux and Virtualization - all on a Mac!

14 years ago I got my second computer [1]

It was a Macintosh LC  475, fondly called the pizza box.

Here's a picture:

I was used to live in Patiala then and we had to drive to Chandigarh - a good 60 kilometers to buy a computer. We went to this "computer expo" ( I forget the actual name, it's been 14 years after all) and the choice was between an IBM PC running Windows 95 and an Apple machine running Mac OS System 7 ( that's a good 9 versions before Snow Leopard! ).

As a kid I remembered seeing "Mission Impossible" and all the good guys used Apple machines while the baddies used IBM machines
I wanted the Apple machine. Dad wanted to buy the IBM machine for two reasons:

1. It was cheaper
2. The dealer promised me that "Windows 96" was right around the corner ( Yes, you read that right "Windows 96 - the next version of Windows 95" )

I insisted on having the Apple macs and after a brief fight and a one-month long waiting period, we got the Apple Mac LC 475. It ran a Motorola 68040 CPU running at a mind-boggling 25Mhz with 4MB of RAM and 256kbytes of video memory and a whopping 640MB of hard drive space.  I still have this machine in my house in Kolkata and it still boots :) 

I started writing programs with HyperCard and while it was cool, I didnt see any command prompt to type in cool commands like "Computer network security override". Of course I didn't know what a command prompt was then, but I knew I wanted it.

After all, System 7 used to look like this 

While Tom Cruise's Apple machine used to look like this:

Clearly the UI was different.

Then I came across a PCQuest. It used to be a geek-focussed magazine then - it's a boring CIO focussed magazine now. In article written by Atul Chitnis I read about something called "Linux" [2]. And most importantly, PCQuest came with a CD of Slackware linux. I cannot recall the exact version. But I remember that Slackware was for the x86 architecture and thus it could not run on my Apple Mac.

A year had passed, I got good results and I got a PowerMac 7300

It had a top-of-the line Power PC 604e CPU. It was also the time when Apple was in the midst of its first transition, from the Motorola to the PowerPC architecture.

It also had a CD drive and I bought my first VideoCD - "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"

What is important however, is that the PowerMac came with a very interesting piece of software from Connectix (later acquired by Microsoft) - called the "Connectix Virtual PC". It could emulate the x86 architecture on the PowerPC, enabling people to run MS Windows 95/98 on the mac

(Note the System 7 Tabs underneath the windows task bar and the ethernet / hard disk lights. Virtualization on SOHO segment computers is nothing new - I had this in 1998. Mainframes have been doing virtualization long before I was born - from the 70's )

Once I got Windows 95 running the Mac, I remembered that the Slackware CD from PCQuest came with detailed instructions on how to setup Slackware on a "PC". Since I had a Virtual PC I decided to give it a shot.

After around a week of effort ( it was 1998, I was in Class Xth and I had no internet connection) I managed to install Slackware on my box. It would be one whole year before I got (what I used to call) "X Windows" running on my machine with Tabbed Window Manager running on my mac. This is how TWM looks:

While it took me a year to get X running, it wasn't without it's joys.
I found out what modelines were, how to write my own X configuration files ( and running X -configure multiple times). I learnt how to compile the kernel, load and unload modules. I would watch compilations all day long. And since this was a virtualized environment, I rarely got any benefit of the long and slow complies. But I loved the "make config" and the "make menuconfig" scripts. ( one would run the kernel compile configuration in console and the other in an ncurses type interface )

My biggest achievement was writing my own man page. Slackware shipped with a package which had the entire The Linux Documentation Project's HOWTO's tarballed and that was an education in itself. I decided to write my own "man page" ( a Unix Manual page ) and started reading through the offline copy of the Man-Page HOWTO that shipped with the distribution.

The day before my Class Xth board exam I wrote an man page for a shell script that I'd written using nroff

My love affair with Unix had started.


[1] My first was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum +

I was around 10 years old then. The first thing I did after getting the computer was to type "What is the population of the world" in the BASIC prompt. To my dismay it did not give me an intelligent answer; it said it could not recognize the command. I thought computers knew everything!

[2] = Many people prefer to call it "GNU/Linux" as well.
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