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OpenSource.com Test-Drives Linux Distros From 1993 To 2003 (opensource.com) 80

An anonymous reader quotes OpenSource.com: A unique trait of open source is that it's never truly EOL (End of Life). The disc images mostly remain online, and their licenses don't expire, so going back and installing an old version of Linux in a virtual machine and getting a precise picture of what progress Linux has made over the years is relatively simple... Whether you're new to Linux, or whether you're such an old hand that most of these screenshots have been more biographical than historical, it's good to be able to look back at how one of the largest open source projects in the world has developed. More importantly, it's exciting to think of where Linux is headed and how we can all be a part of that, starting now, and for years to come.
The article looks at seven distros -- Slackware 1.01 (1993), Debian 0.91 (1994), Jurix/S.u.S.E. (1996), SUSE 5.1 (1998), Red Hat 6.0 (1999), Mandrake 8.0 (2001), and Fedora 1 (2003). Click through for some of the highlights.
  • Slackware 1.01 (1993). "The best part about trying Slackware 1.01 is that there's a pre-made image in Qemu's 2014 series of free images, so you don't have to perform the install manually... In more ways than I'd expected, the system feels surprisingly modern. What's missing is any notion of package management. All installs and uninstalls are entirely manual, with no tracking."
  • Debian 0.91 (1994). "To try Debian 0.91, I used the floppy disk images available on the Ibiblio digital archive... The install process is surprisingly smooth... The dpkg command exists, but it's an interactive menu-based system... Even so, you can sense the convenience factor in the design concept... I sincerely see why Debian made a splash."
  • Jurix/S.u.S.E. (1996). "Because I wasn't specifically looking for the earliest instance, Jurix was the first Linux distribution I found that really 'felt' like it intended the user to use a GUI environment. XFree86 is installed by default, so if you didn't intend to use it, you had to opt out."
  • SUSE 5.1 (1998). "I installed SUSE 5.1 from a InfoMagic CD-ROM purchased from a software store in Maryland in 1998. The install process was convoluted compared to those that came before... Included desktops were fvwm, fvwm2, and ctwm. I used fvwm, and it worked as expected. I even discovered tkDesk, a dock and file manager combo pack that is surprisingly similar to Ubuntu's Unity launcher bar."
  • Red Hat 6.0 (1999). "The disc I used was purchased in June 1999. The installation was fully guided and remarkably fast... The desktop bundled with Red Hat 6 was, as it still is, GNOME, but the window manager was an early Enlightenment, which also provided the main sound daemon... Unlike later implementations of GNOME, this early version featured a panel at the bottom of the screen, with an application menu and launcher icons and virtual desktop control in a central location."
  • Mandrake 8.0 (2001). "Mandrake 8.0 was released in 2001, so it would have been compared to, for instance, Apple OS 9.2 and Windows ME... I'd thought the Red Hat installation process had been nice, but Mandrake's was amazing. It was friendly, it gave the user a chance to test configurations before continuing, it was easy and fast, and it worked almost like magic..."
  • Fedora 1 (2003). "The Fedora Core experience is largely indistinguishable from Red Hat 6 or 7. The GNOME desktop is polished, there are all the signature configuration helper applications, and the presentation is clean and professional... A red hat icon marks the applications menu, and the lower GNOME panel holds all the latest Linux application launchers, including the OpenOffice office suite and the Mozilla browser."
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OpenSource.com Test-Drives Linux Distros From 1993 To 2003

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This submission makes us ask an interesting question: what impact will systemd have on the historical preservation of today's software?

    A lot of people have reported problems with systemd. A look through the Fedora, Debian or Ubuntu bug trackers and mailing lists will give some idea about the sorts of problems that are encountered. Many of them are quite strange, and some of them are downright stupid.

    If we're running into these problems today, under ideal circumstances, I can't help but think the situation w

    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      You must not have used Linux back in the early days. Sure Linux was simpler back then, but it definitely struggled mightily to "just work." Hardware support had to start at zero, essentially, so devices only worked in Linux as developers and Linus had time to add them. And hardware specs were quite fluid back then. Anyone remember having to deal with IRQ and port assignments? The mess that was ISAPNP? Having to use SCSI-emulation to use a CDROM drive? The mess that was the sound system on Linux that P

    • I think there will be no impact at all.

      As you can read in TFA, just booting up an installer back in the day could be a struggle. The author tried to tweak his X settings for an entire weekend and just gave up.

      Linux was a far cry from the mature OS it is today. Systemd just works for a very large portion of the user base. Remember that systemd is an old piece of software: distro's started running on systemd by default as early as 2012, in 2014 it was mainstream. Systemd protests only seemed to start when Deb

  • 2001 was the year (Score:4, Interesting)

    by boudie2 ( 1134233 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @08:13PM (#55000779)
    Bought the 4 disc Mandrake 8.0 in 2001. It came with an excellent book explaining the basics. Had been running Red Hat 6.1 for about a year and the Mandrake felt much more polished. As I recall at the time I had a Pentium II with 32 mb of RAM and it would run KDE, but worked much better with Fluxbox. A big deal at that time was to play a DVD, which it did with some help of packages from the Penguin Liberation Front. Got me on the internet as well, setting up PPPOE was stressful. Doesn't seem like 16 years ago. Have been running Linux as my main desktop ever since, no complaints.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jastiv ( 958017 )
      Mandrake was my first distro too. I remember downloading over 2 weeks with dialup using getright. The next one I purchased as a box set. I think I either downloaded the rest or got as pre-installs.
    • Re:2001 was the year (Score:5, Interesting)

      by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @11:07PM (#55001345)

      In that era, I tried a number of Linux distros - Mandrake, Corel Linux, Storm Linux, Turbo Linux (before it went Japanese), Caldera. All of them had the same freaking problem - couldn't recognize my ethernet & so wouldn't connect to the internet. Otherwise, most of them were pretty good.

      Today, I work on PC-BSD/TrueOS, which recognizes an RJ45 connection, but not WiFi. Hopefully, one day...

    • 2002 for me, this distro: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      I had read about Linux in various stories on Slashdot and thought that the Linux kit would be an interesting way to learn about it and add functionality to my PS2.

      PS2 Linux is basically a RedHat 6 system on 2 DVD's. The default DE is Windowmaker. It would run practically anything you could get to compile on the thing, the limitation being RAM more than anything else. It did serve as a good introduction to Linux and I still run Linux, Fedora now o

  • by iYk6 ( 1425255 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @08:21PM (#55000823)

    This wasn't until a few years after 2003, but after trying to install Mandrake Whatever and Red Hat 9.0, I remember installing Debian Sarge. It wasn't magic, but I remember thinking, "So this is what an easy install feel like." No crashes or anything, it just installed easily, 1 step at a time.

    • Re:Debian Sarge (Score:4, Interesting)

      by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @09:08PM (#55000973)

      This wasn't until a few years after 2003, but after trying to install Mandrake Whatever and Red Hat 9.0, I remember installing Debian Sarge. It wasn't magic, but I remember thinking, "So this is what an easy install feel like." No crashes or anything, it just installed easily, 1 step at a time.

      I had a somewhat different experience. I started with RedHat 8.0 around 2001, since the school Linux cluster on which I was doing a class assignment ran RedHat (6.x or 7.x). A friend from class (who also worked tech support in the CS department) told me that I would be better off with Debian but that I would probably need some help to get through the installation. That was Debian Woody. I remember thinking that I would not have made it through the install without the hand holding.

      That said, after some months of using RedHat, the Debian way just made so much more sense to me. It seemed far more natural than the way RedHat approached so many things. I liked so much that I start getting involved, contributing bug reports, writing documentation, and after a couple of years becoming a Debian developer. I think Debian has come such a long way that when I look back I am surprised at how far we have come, both in the sense on how Debian has been able to build on the work of others and how Debian itself has formed an incredible platform from which so many derivatives have sprung forth.

  • You used to have to download this stuff - on dial up. And save it to floppies.

    I was running Red Hat version something when I heard about this new desktop environment called KDE. Their website had screenshots, a sales pitch why this was great, and *downloads* - woowhee!!

    They had packages for Red Hat - I think about 5 or 6. You'd download each package and put it on a floppy. Then the install procedure had to be done in the proper sequence - first floppy one, then floppy three, then 2 and 4, and, finally flopp

    • by voss ( 52565 )

      Cheapbytes was a godsend , you could order linux cds by mail or less than $5 in 98

      • Ooh, had forgotten that name. Such a great service.
      • When I installed Linux the first time, I didn't own a cdrom drive. I had a 44MB Syquest... but that was in my Amiga, which had SCSI. My PC only had an IDE host adapter/multi I/O card, a ne2000 card, and a Trident 8950 with 1MB. ISTR it was some 20 floppies to get the A, N, D and enough of the X set from Slackware to get up and running with Nutscrape

    • by farrellj ( 563 )

      I remember having to download and then write out to disk a total of 93 3.5" floppy images to install the early Slackware versions.

      Ah..those were the days...NOT! I thank the Ghods of Linux that you can install from a flash drive...simple, easy, and you don't end up with a collection of virtually useless CD/DVDs!

  • it should be called "stupid if you keep running this" if any of this is on public-facing systems. No security updates, no new patches. Not a problem if it's some firewalled-off or disconnected system, but running even CentOS 5.XX on a production system is just asking to be hacked.
    • This! TFA tried to redefine the word "End Of Life" to mean "Not Longer Available". That's a very dangerous distinction.

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      Not necessarily...
      These systems may come with some exploitable services by default, but all of them can be turned off.
      While there might not be any updates from the original distributor, there's nothing to stop you updating things like SSH yourself.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      For many years back in the 00s, I would see old boxed Linux distros in used bookstores. Every time I saw one, I couldn't help but think of all the exploitable services that they installed and enabled by default. Ironically, those exploits may now be so old that nobody bothers to put them in automated 'sploits. But I still wouldn't install that shit.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @08:49PM (#55000919)

    It's really sad that Ximian Gnome, circa 2001-2002, seems more user friendly than the 2017 version of Gnome.

    • You can always use MATE.

    • For whom? Gnome is no longer *power* user friendly. But Linux (and GNOME included) was frigging terrible for the general user populous in terms of friendliness circa 2000s.

      Use the correct words. Call it configurable, call it hacker friendly, call it by what functionality you use, but don't pretend that Linux hasn't gotten more "user friendly" in the general sense of a user being able to sit down and do basic things without tearing their hair out.

      • Compare Gnome 2 and 3, I suspect 3 is more confusing and less intuitive to pretty much everyone.

        • I first used Gnome in 2006 and it was immediately obvious to me how to do everything I wanted to. Not so with Gnome 3 *even with previous experience with Gnome*.
          • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

            That "previous experience" is the problem... If you've got previous experience from something else then your view is skewed towards that.
            Someone with no prior experience may have a wholly different experience.

            • Hogwash. I started off on Windows 98 and a year or two later tried Debian Woody. All my computer experience up to that time was Windows, yet Gnome2 was far more intuitive to me than Windows. Linux overall has always made more sense than Windows to me. The directory structure, the bash shell, no idiotic registry to corrupt, etc... all made more sense to me from the very start.

              I run XFCE4 today because that Gnome2 interface still makes far more sense to me than Gnome3 or any Windows gui. Change for the s

              • Hogwash. I started off on Windows 98

                So you're not at all even remotely qualified on how the changes between between Gnome 2 and 3 affect new users. You have fallen into exactly the original trap which is to approach the problem from a power user point of view and then speak on the topic of general usability. Not only that you reinforced just how much of a disconnect you have from new users when called out on it.

      • The ability of users to do basic things has not changed. What changed is it's no longer possible for users to do advanced things. Unfortunately, "user friendly" these days is apparently much more about preventing people from doing things to harm themselves than helping people do things to help themselves. Modern interfaces are like building a gun that can only shoot blanks, just so that people can't shoot off their own limbs by mistake.

        • The ability of users to do basic things has not changed.

          You just rendered your entire comment irrelevant as you have demonstrated that you either a) have never used the product, b) are blind or c) just have no idea.

  • by asicsolutions ( 1481269 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @09:06PM (#55000965) Journal
    Worked on ASIC development for F-22 back in the 90's. Management had stupid idea of putting us all in a big room where we had to share Sun IPX's to work on ASIC design. I got permission to build linux PCs so we could work from our desks. I used slackware for X windows terminals. In true defense contractor fashion the PC people bought us the SVGA graphics cards I asked for, but VGA monitors. Luckily I was able to return them and get state of the art 17" 1024x768 ones :)
    • I did the same in my first sysadmin job, brought in some intel PCs with mach64 onboard (ugh) which made nice X workstations. A place to run spice and to remote other tools to from the Suns.

  • The first version of Linux I ever played around with was from a book with CDs about Slackware in 1997. Must have been an old version as it never worked with my Socket 7 motherboard with an AMD K5 processor. Back then it was compile and pray to get anything working. I later ran SuSE 5 through 10. Switched to Ubuntu for a while. Fedora and Mint are my favorite distros for work. These days I use Red Hat at home in case I ever get a job that required Red Hat experience.
  • by GerryGilmore ( 663905 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @10:52PM (#55001299)
    That was my first Linux install, soon to be followed by Slackware, then Mandrake. At that time Mandrake (and SuSE) had the absolute BEST interfaces going, though - in true Linux/UNIX fashion - they were entirely incompatible. :-) Think AIX's SMIT vs SCO's or Sun's UI experience.
  • I have been a frequent flyer with them since Mandrake 5.1,

    I installed it and it just worked, even the Kool Desktop Environment.

  • The link for some highlights just redirects to this article again.

  • FTR, the article is from December 20, 2016.

  • by sad_ ( 7868 )

    how the hell did the slackware 1.01 from 1993 feel modern? you didn't even have something simple and considered normal like openssh back then.
    i started using linux in 1995 and a lot has changed between then and now...

  • My first experience was with a boxed set of SUSE 9 in about 2004. Total garbage! Constant driver issues. Web pages wouldn't load correctly. I must have spent 6 months messing with it.

    I was able to get a copy of Windows XP Pro from my school cheaply. That was great! However, there were still some opens source apps that I brought over from SUSE. Gaim (now Pidgin) was awesome, and so was Firefox.

    Eventually I bought a new computer with Windows Vista installed by default. That inspired me to try Lin

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