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Silver Jubilee

It’s Linux’s 25th birthday and issue 30 of Ubuntu User. Time to reminisce.

Dear Ubuntu User Reader,

I have always been an avid magazine reader. I have always wanted to write for magazines, too. When I was 17, or thereabouts, I submitted an article alongside the code for my Rubik's Cube simulator to the Spanish edition of Commodore Magazine . They paid me 8,000 pesetas, which was a lot for a teen back then. It was at least enough to buy a double-deck boombox, some Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk LPs, and a bunch of video games, which is what I did.

I also bought a Pascal compiler for my C64, wrote a program, the Game of Life (on a 10x10 grid), got published again, and earned some more money. This was the beginning of a trend.

Fast forward to 1993. I had just bought my first PC-compatible computer with my girlfriend-now-wife. It had a 386 microprocessor that clocked in at a dizzying 40MHz and a hard disk that could hold 127MB of data. There was no way I would ever fill that up, I thought.

It also came with a brand new VGA graphics card, which meant a top resolution of 640x480 and 16 colors! However, I soon discovered that to enjoy 3D I would need a little extra. I went out and bought myself a math coprocessor. The way that worked is, the guy at the shop fished one out of a re-purposed tupperware container (that may or may not have at one point contained the shop guy's lunch), took your money, and handed you your chip. No instructions, not even a box to carry it in. But life was simple back then, and we computer-nerd types were reckless. We had no choice: Nobody had invented end-user support yet.

So, I unscrewed the case on my desktop, discovered an empty socket on the motherboard that seemed to match the pins on the chip, placed the chip as carefully as could, and pushed.

Hey presto, 3D.

That machine became officially the coolest. Maybe not as cool as my defunct Commodore 64, but definitely the coolest at that moment in time.

Of course, I wanted to program it, but BASIC was getting kind of stale. I wanted to get down and dirty. I wanted to mess around with the system calls that allowed you to put individual pixels on the screen, as I had programmed my beloved C64. So I taught myself C. Again, I made the Game of Life (this was becoming my own personal Hello World by now), but I decided I wanted to go further. The same way I had been fascinated by the Rubik's Cube in my teens, I loved playing Poker in my 20s. So, for my first C project, I decided to create a full-fledged graphical Poker game, with artificial intelligence players (AIs) and all.

Thirty days later I emerged from my room with a fully functional Poker simulator. The AIs were crap: All you had to do was bet hard against them and they would eventually chicken out. That said, the overall effect was quite good. The game even had a cheat mode. If you named your player MarkCards , you could see everybody else's hands at all times.

I played the game once or twice and never again. What I did do, though, is sell it to an online software catalog. Well, not so much "sell" as "exchange for a bunch of disks from their catalog," which is the payment they offered me. I didn't know then, but I'm pretty sure now that the operation behind the catalog was not all that legit, and the games and programs I got in lieu of payment were not properly licensed from the legitimate rights holders. I mean, for starters, there was this really cool 3D shooter included in the batch with the name "Wolfenstein" scrawled in felt tip on the disk that came in the post.

Fast forward to 1996. I had moved on to a more powerful Pentium tower computer (yes, I had managed to fill up that hard disk, eventually), and I was starting to see all these new computer magazines with the word Linux in their names: Linux Actual , Linux Journal , Linux this, Linux that. Having been de-sensitized by Windows – for, what, 10 years? – they were utterly confusing to me. What were these things Red Hat, Slackware, Debian, and SUSE? How could there be different organizations working on the same operating system? Wasn't there only one operating system, and wasn't it Windows 95?

Intrigued, I had to install this thing. My first attempt was Debian Buzz. This was a time when you needed to dig out the manuals for your hardware at several stages during the installation to input the vertical refresh rate correctly or risk setting your monitor on fire.

I didn't get that far, though. I ended up screaming for help. Fortunately, a neighbor, a computer science professor at the local university, heard me and came to my aide, He finished the job before all my gear went up in smoke (thanks, Antonio). Thus went my first attempt to install Linux.

Fast forward again to 2004, and I was pitching Linux Magazine in Spanish to a bunch of executives at Linux New Media. Despite my lack of a coherent business plan, the powers that be recklessly said "yes." With Linux Magazine Spain, came Ubuntu User Spain, and finally, here I am, editing and writing for you, dear reader. Who'd have thunked?

Why this trip down memory lane, you ask? It's just been 25 years since baby Linux was officially delivered via email to the comp.os.minix Usenet newsgroup. It has also been 12 years since the first Ubuntu, then pooh-poohed as a lowly Debian derivative, came out. To top it all off, this is issue 30 of Ubuntu User : 25, 12, and 30 are nice, round numbers. They are the kind of numbers that make you look back and reminisce.

So reminiscing we are. Not only me, but also the magazine: Check out the DVD. To celebrate all those numbers – the 25, 12, and 30 – we decided to do something different and cram every single issue of Ubuntu User to date into it so you too can see how far we have all come.


Paul C. Brown,

Editor in Chief

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