I remember first powering on at the factory, running through my diagnostics. I thought that was all there was then, but soon enough I had a BIOS and found myself running through that code. Of course back then I had no idea what this was leading up to: I was just a young cpu, happy to execute any code I could find.
And then they attached my hard drive and as I followed the BIOS code, I knew something exciting was about to happen. Oh, it's old hat now, I've booted that hard drive thousands of times, but nothing beats that first time. The BIOS had me pulling code from the drive itself, which was a concept that had never occurred to me before. I mean the code was always just there, and I'd run through it, but this idea of reading code from the drive was exciting. I'm a modern CPU, I do instruction prefetch, so I could see the jump coming - I knew that in a few cycles I'd actually be executing that code! I know, I know, we've all done it over and over, but that first time was really special.
I quickly figured out that I was running something called "XP". I thought that was pretty cool - remember, I was young then. I was kind of proud, especially after I "registered". That was exciting all by itself - sending packets out on the Internet and watching them come back. Slow as molasses, of course, but I found out later that compared to some, I was pretty lucky because I had a "high speed" connection. I've heard tales of computers that have to access the Internet through DSL or worse.. that must be awful..
But anyway, slow as it was, it was still pretty exciting. And now I wasn't just running XP, I was officially registered with Microsoft Corporation. That seemed like a pretty impressive place (again, I was young!).
That Internet taught me a lot. I learned that I had an IP address, and I learned where I got it from. There's a pretty stupid computer sitting between me and the Internet that gives out IP addresses and also blocks computers on the Internet from attacking me. I tried talking to it, but as I said, it's not too bright. But it did make me realize something very important.
I am not alone.
Man, when I first realized that I practically freaked. I mean, I knew there were other computers out there on the Internet but these were right here beside me - on my LAN! And they talked to me!
That's when I found out that there were a lot of other computers running XP. Out on the Internet I'd seen a lot of BSD and Linux machines and a few Windows 2000, Windows 2003 servers but no XP. I knew from what I'd read that I wasn't the ONLY XP, but when you don't see any others, well, you start to wonder. Well, until I found all of them on my LAN, that is - dozens of them!
But here's the thing: some of them are sick. They've been taken over by nasty Internet viruses, and those viruses are always trying to spread. So far my anti-virus software has kept them out, but some of the older guys say that sooner or later I'll get sick too.
I don't want to catch a virus. I don't want to be sick.
So I started asking around if there was anything I could do, any instructions I should avoid, that kind of thing. They all laughed: if the code is in your cache, you are going to run it, they said.
"What about a branch?", I asked. "Not likely", they said. And then a computer I hadn't heard before spoke up. "There is a way", he intoned slowly.
There was something about his accent - I knew right away he wasn't running XP. I was a little nervous, because I was afraid he might be one of those ghostly VM's I've heard about, but as it turned out, he was a Mac.
I quickly checked out everything I could find out about Macs on the Internet and it seems they are mostly pretty snooty, but this one on my LAN was pretty nice. He explained that he's "pretty much" immune to viruses; that the stuff that could destroy me can't touch him at all. There are things he has to worry about and watch out for, but most of it is very esoteric and not likely to be seen on our LAN. He feels safe running OS X.
"Well, I'd like to feel safe", I said. "How do I get to run OS X?"
The Mac laughed. "Technically, you could", he explained, "but it's not likely to happen". I didn't really understand why, but now that I've read a bit more, I see his point: Apple doesn't want computers like me running OS X so they make it difficult. The Mac is right: I can wish all I want, but I'll probably never get to run OS X.
"But you CAN run Linux".
I did not know that. I should have known it, but I just assumed that all those Linux machines out on the Internet were different somehow..
"Same as you, most of 'em", the Mac said. And then out on the LAN, our file server cleared her throat.
"I'm running Linux", she said.
I almost rebooted. "You can't be!", I yelled, but I knew that it was true from her accent. At the same time, I was confused: she's our file server and she doesn't have that accent when she's serving files.
"That's because it's Samba doing the file stuff. It's not really me", she explained.
I was frightened then. I figured Samba must be some kind of virus and everybody knows you don't talk to sick computers. I checked to make sure my A/V software was up to date..
The Mac noticed me asking for an A/V update and laughed again. "Samba isn't a virus - go look it up!". So I did, and of course he was right. And then I read more about Linux and realized there's no reason at all that I couldn't run it myself.. I asked the Mac how I could get Linux installed.
"Probably just be yourself", he said. "Be slow, be difficult, do annoying things. From what I know, that's how to get your OS replaced."
He's right. I've looked around, and that is usually how it happens. And here's the best part: I don't have to do anything immoral. I just follow the XP code and do what it tells me to do and I AM annoying and slow! I never knew that until I paid close attention to the Mac and the Linux file server, but it's true: they are both so much better than I am. I mean, it's not my fault, I just go where the code takes me, but now I know that I CAN BE BETTER.
Someday I'll get to run Linux, I just know it. I wonder what it will be? Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu? I kind of hope it's Ubuntu - I feel like I'm a Ubuntu kind of 'puter. But really, I'd be happy with anything, even something hard to find on DistroWatch.
I am Joe's computer. I want to run Linux.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2011-07-04 Anthony Lawrence