Apprentice days online: 1998 – 2000
Moving on browsing through my online history. At some point, my days started filling up with learning new things, and boy were there plenty of new things to deal with. Building network environments on top of Linux and BNC wiring. Running most of the relevant Linux services locally, including shared internet access for, by now, three or four desktop PCs in the whole house. HTML and very early styling just by using a plain text editor. FTP for copying these things across an ever-thin modem line. More than once, copying and moving larger files between the university systems and my home machine using 3.5” disks and tar or zip files spanned across several of those. Eventually this procedure got greatly eased by using CD-R and even CD-RW media. Very well remember quite some nights being spent on making my IDE CD writer to work with the GNU/Linux installation on my PC back then; great to see things have become somewhat easier the last two decades. 😉
Equipped like this, I got deeper and quicker into the FLOSS workd back then with the advent of two interesting projects: GNOME 1.0 and KDE 1.0. Started using both of them during their very early beta stage, downloading and burning most of the releases to spend several hours each time of building them on my home PC. In a way these were interesting days: With these both desktop environments, for the first time ever, Linux was pretty close and on par with what Windows operating systems used to offer in terms of usability and look-and-feel. Funnily enough, some things never changed: Even back then, GNOME appeared to be the visually more appealing environment with more focus on well-crafted usability and design but suffering from some technical flaws and misconceptions while KDE was exactly the opposite: A mostly technically brilliant desktop environment with a load of innovative features in each and every release, bundled in an extremely customizable user interface – but customizable mostly by buttons and dialogs that did and still do look and feel astoundingly random and raw. And, looking back, the history of GNOME seems to have been more moving and filled with some pretty strange phenomenons such as the whole HelixCode/Ximian part of the story that eventually led to the (first attempt of) release of a distribution-agnostic installer for later GNOME desktop releases, as well as the tool that is Evolution, GNOMEs default mail client, today. Or, another story, Eazel who managed to acquire a considerable amount of money for building … a file manager, dubbed Nautilus, now GNOME Files or just Files and still the default file manager on a load of current distributions. At some point both companies went down the drain in this way or the other in the early 2000s; in a sad way both seem to have been examples of FLOSS business models failing. Looking back at this history, I’ve been using GNOME for a longer period of time than KDE, for several reasons beyond the scope of this write-up.
Distribution-wise, I played with a lot of different distributions all along that way, including some RedHat derivatives, Slackware, Stampede Linux (which back then was interesting because it was the first distribution exclusively built and compiled for i586 intel Pentium CPUs, offering a performance gain that at least could be measured…) and others, until at some point I ended up using Debian unstable for a very long time. On this environment, I mainly utilized bluefish and GiMP for designing and building things I’d proudly consider “websites” back then, even though possibly they were as bad as they could be. To cut things very short: All of these have disappeared again pretty quickly, even before Y2k. One of these still should be noted, however, and still is partially available thanks to archive.org: the Gamma Ray Black Hole. I’ve been quite a fan of these guys back then, and, in the early days when band pages on the web were far from common, I thought I might start something like that on my own as well. Didn’t work out for various reasons. Browsing through the archived pages feels a bit strange, after all these years. Maybe the only reason worth mentioning this page at all is that, in 2000, it made me travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil, after getting in touch and falling in love with someone I got to know because she stumbled across this page. Well, what to say. It didn’t work out. She’s living somewhere in the US now. It’s been an interesting experience nevertheless.
And it’s been interesting from a technical point, too, as, in late 1999, it made me step back and dual-boot-install Windows 98 on my machine again mostly for one single application: ICQ. Communication between Germany and Brazil prove to already be quite difficult due to the time difference. Having “slow”, asynchronous channels such as e-mail or flaky multi-user-chats such as IRC made it even worse. Using ICQ on Linux back then, however, just got started; most of the clients such as licq were in its very infancy. This is the time when I learnt a load about “proprietary” messengers and their drawbacks – as well as the fact that once in a while it breaks down to deciding against using a certain technology for ethical or privacy reasons or rather deciding to be able to easily get in touch with people that at least at that time are important to you. We didn’t even have plenty of alternatives to choose from, back then, at least none that were manageable to use for someone with next to no computer experience working on top of Windows ME in a country on the other side of the globe…
There are a lot of other things I remember back from these days. Started playing with Perl and Python, two programming languages I still then and now use for productive purposes. Remember becoming a regular visitor of NASA APOD, something I keep on doing even to this very day. Actually the APOD Android App was the first-ever app I installed after getting my first Android smartphone years later. Likewise, less scientific yet apparently interesting to me back then, I frequently stumbled across spiritweb.org which went defunct a while later and at least taught me a load about things such as meditation, things I still make use of then and now. Used to be a heavy user of altavista.com back then, before Google appeared, and even very well remember a load of pages I frequently used to access, back then, stored in some geocities community. Been part of at least three of the Chemnitz Linux Tag events that started in 1999, most of the time supporting the Install-Party area to help interested users getting GNU/Linux to run on their machines. (Actually I did that for the last time in 2001, there even is a picture of me messing with a beamer still on their site).
Saw Mozilla M13 pop up, too, these days – back in a time when, even though GNU/Linux was a first-class networked operating system, actually usable desktop browsers were something mostly missing on that platform. Been using the “full” Mozilla suite for a very long time, including (cough) the composer module, then and now, for drafting basic web sites – something I mostly stopped doing in late 2000, all along with something new: I signed up for redseven, a web-based community and looking back something I’d consider the first “social network” I’ve been in touch with. That changed things…