Walking to Linux is about computers, how they operate, how to use them and in particular under a GNU/Linux operating system. It is egocentric about my own findings and escapades.

But before we start the walk, I want to tell you about what I have done in my computer days. If you are curious, please join me on my memory lane walk when I retrace my experiences of computers over the years. Bear in mind that facts may not be complete or correct, as memory tend to be more selective than we often believe.

I must establish I am not a professional nor a hobby expert on computers in any way. I have "always" been interested in computers but I have never been spending a lot of time nor been one that dare to test everything possible with computers. I have spent time with computers, but never dedicated all of my time to understand them. Having said that, I have probably learned one or two things over the years.

When I was born, computers had existed for many years. But not to be used at home. As a reference on the time line, we had one TV-channel when I was born. I remember when we later, I was about five years old, got the second TV channel and for the additional channel we had a grey box so the TV set could manage the two channels on two separate frequency bands - which also required a second antenna on the roof top.

Maybe my first electronic calculator, a Citizen 800D, should be counted as my first computer.

Citizen 800D calculator [photo: Henrik Hemrin]

The machine that definitely was a computer was my Sinclair ZX80. It was launched to the market 1980, and most likely it was during that year I bought it. I bought it as a kit to solder together myself. I was not at all new to soldering, but I had never soldered anything this complex or with so narrow lines. Maybe I should have had better soldering equipment, like a smaller tip for the soldering iron, than I had. By the way, this was at the time when components were hole mounted, surface mounted components were still to come, at least in any volume. However, the computer did not work when I was ready. I had to hand it in for repair, the repair shop fixed it and I could use it. It was some sort of soldering issue, whether shortcut or disconnection I do not recall.

The ZX80 came with 1 k RAM (I do not remember how many bites). This memory was shared between the program code and the graphics. The screen to use was the ordinary TV-set, the ZX80 had a TV tuner built in and the TV-set had to be tuned to this specific channel (frequency). Manual frequency tuning was the normal way to tune in ordinary TV channels as well. This shared memory was a clever solution to reduce cost. But a drawback was that when the code became longer, and longer, the presentation on the display became shorter and shorter. And finally when adding more code, the screen became black because there was no memory left for the presentation. It meant I had to delete rows of code in blindness, and if successful, memory became free so there was something visible on the screen again.

The programming language was Basic, a very popular language at the time, and I learned it decently well on a very hobbyist level.
When power was turned off, the code that had been written in the RAM also disappeared. An external memory was needed if I wanted to store the code. Most commonly storage device was with a normal analog cassette tape saved in a normal cassette tape recorder/player. It was somewhat complex to save and also to load, but I think I managed to get it working. It was important to have a backup - write down the code on paper. As far as I recall, Sinclair had a printer, but I never bought it. But I did extend the memory. The 1 k memory could be extended with another 16 k, a bulky extension connected at the I/O interface on the back side. 16 k was so much more! I also upgraded my Sinclair ZX80 with a new processor, so it became a Sinclair ZX81. With the upgrade a new "keyboard" was included.

Sinclair ZX80, upgraded to ZX81 (incl new keyboard plate) and extended with 16 k RAM at the back end [photo: Henrik Hemrin]

When I bought my Sinclair ZX80 I was a student at Teknikum, the technical "gymnasium" school. At Teknikum we had some lectures with the Swedish Luxor ABC 80 computer, also using the BASIC language. I think I bought my ZX80 in order to help myself to test and understand so I could follow the lectures beside general interest in electronics and computers. ABC 80 was an extremely successful computer, of course a dream to buy, but far too expensive. It had a real keyboard and a dedicated monitor. Like the ZX80, only black and white graphics. And graphics, that means the ASCII-symbols, I do not remember how many. ABC 80 was not the smartest computer for calculations, it could only count with a few decimals. We learned the trick to multiply first and then divide to get more decimals in the result. We learned to make the entire calcualtion at once, and I think also to consider in which order each calculation step was executed, all to get as good accuracy as possible.

Those my early days with computers gave me a basic knowledge of coding, how to think, write and think the steps in a flow chart. I think I learned to understand to have sub processes for tasks you needed repeatedly, a string that the main code could call when needed. The very limited memory also gave me an understanding it is useful to code smart, with so little code as possible to reach the goal.

Next in my computer history must have been when I joined Ericsson 1985. At my office, we had a 3270 (I think) main frame terminal, an Alfaskop terminal, in our room. We had one Alfaskop terminal for about five persons. Here we could access several internal data bases. We also had an internal mail system named Memo when I joined or soon after, also accessed from the Alfaskop. Ericsson was a big international company also at that time, so with Memo I could reach people world wide. I also remember I used Memo as a kind of word processor to store a project work digitally. My manager suggested we should login to Memo and check once a day. The secretary had a big Xerox machine with those big floppy discs in size like an LP record where she could write documents. She could also send Telex, the Telefax machine did not arrive to our office until some years later. We also upgraded our classic type writer in my office room to an electrical Ericsson type writer with built-in memory.

Already when I started at Ericsson we also had computers in our labs for measurements and calculations. The Hewlett Packard HP 85 was a popular computer in the lab. It also used the Basic language; the HP-Basic dialect. HP 85 was a very compact computer - a keyboard, a small screen, a tape recorder for storage (with special very expensive cassettes) and also a thermal printer were included in this compact computer in size of a bigger type writer. Peripherials, like instruments, were connected via HP-IB bus cable.

At Ericsson we also had some bigger more advanced computers in the labs. I learned a little about them, but never really used them. Now I am uncertain if it was Cobol, C, Basic or what language they used. I vaguely recall I had some studies in one non-Basic language. But maybe it was only Basic I used and studied at work, including a course at Hewlett Packard at their Kista-Stockholm office.

Some years later we get a PC at the office, some time after the managers first got one. I do not recall brand, but probably it was a Nokia or Ericsson. First we had one common at the office, placed I think at the side of the Alfaskop. At some stage I got a PC on my desk, maybe without any network connection. I think the PC at the beginning was mostly for word processing, replacing the type writer. We used WordPerfect when I started processing words.

I also remember we later got a Sun workstation, ie Unix based language. And I remember when we at the office got a first Sun with colour screen.

My first PC at home was, I am almost sure, a Nokia (or Ericsson) beige white-skin-colour PC that was no longer needed at work. It had DOS operating system with a b/w screen, and no internet connection.

My second PC at home was also, as far as I remember, a left over from Ericsson. But this time maybe with a colour monitor and likely Windows 3.0 or 3.1 operating system.

Maybe my third PC at home was one I bought myself. The first PC I bought was an IBM Aptiva with Windows 95 operating system. And now, internet connection had arrived! The IBM Aptiva had a built in telephone modem - I think 14.4 kbaud transmission rate, but it could have been 28.8 kbaud. I soon bought an external of double speed, whether it was 28.8 kbaud or 56.6 kbaud. At the end it was 56.6 kbaud. These were the days when the internet connection was using the same line as the normal land line phone and it could be hard to reach some people on phone, as they were connected to internet for such a long time every day. This was also long before any ordinary person (or in business) had a mobile phone.

At work I used a Sun Unix Solaris work station for several years as my daily driver. I learned some about Unix, but never deeply. Sun Unix workstations were built to be used in a network, but Windows was not really designed to work in a network. Some years later PC came to dominate at my work and eventually I had to stop using Unix.

And myself, at home, upgraded with new PCs, when needed.

I also bought a Psion Series 5 handheld PC using Symbian operating system. It was a smart, great small PC. Symbian was clever, it started in no time in comparison to Windows and when using eg the word processor it saved automatically. Psion with Symbian was stable and did not crash like Windows tended to do.

Psion Series 5 [photo: Henrik Hemrin]

I heard about Linux very early at office, more or less when Linus invented it. It was at the time when I was using Unix. I vaguely recall a colleague started to play with it. I came as far as I bought a book on sale about Linux; about Red Hat Linux and it included a CD I believe. I never installed it, but curiosity for Linux was born. At the same time I bought a book about StarOffice, which had become a free office suite after Sun had acquired the German company/software. I started to use StarOffice at home, I believe when it still was StarOffice, but even more when the free version became OpenOffice. I still use OpenOffice more or less daily, and its fork LibreOffice.

For several years I had a Dell Inspiron desktop with Windows Vista operating system at home. I had some hardware problems early, I think I got a new motherboard from Dell. If it was the hardware, or the Windows Vista, that was most troublesome I do not know. But I heard that Apple computers were much more reliable. So in April 2015 I bought an Apple MacMini to replace my Dell, which is my daily driver today. My MacMini still works well. Apple products are indeed very good both regarding hardware and software, and different devices interact very well with each other.

Dell Inspiron 530 [photo: Henrik Hemrin]

I also bought a cheap Windows 10 laptop after I bought my MacMini because I wanted to use a few Windows software. But this laptop was too cheap, too soon it was very difficult to update Windows and it finally became impossible to update. It became hard or impossible to update because it only had 32 GB of RAM. See my articles Short life time for my cheap laptop (April 2018) and Cheap laptop reborn (November 2018).

The laptop was reborned with Linux! Linux Mint 19 to be precise. The laptop was reborn with an operating system that the laptop could handle without any issue. Applications are still limited due to the PC characteristics, but simple operations works well.

Over the last years a friend of mine at Ericsson had repeatedly told me the good things with Linux and he handed now and then over DVDs with Linux operating systems to me. His advocacy for Linux, my ownpositive experience of Unix and curiosity of Linux since it was invented, was behind the decision and even awareness to change operating system on my cheap laptop.

After I installed Linux on that cheap laptop I have installed Linux also on a refurbished laptop I purchased, a Lenovo ThinkPad T430s. Much of this article is written on the T430s. Although my Apple macOS works very well, I have more and more got a desire I want to use Linux more, especially considering if I should buy a new Apple computer or not when my macMini becomes outdated.

So I have been using Linux to some extent for almost four years. I have tested a couple of different Linux operating systems (aka distributions, distros). I have installed Linux Mint, Debian, elementary and Ubunto studio and maybe something more on the laptop. I have tested more distros as live-USB. I have read about Linux, listened to podcasts and so on to learn some about Linux. Although Linux Mint is as user friendly as Microsoft Windows 10 is, I want to understand more to get out even more from the computer. That said, I want my computer foremost to be a machine that simply works and can manage my needs.

For a while, I have been pondering, if my daily driver can become Linux Mint. I started my home personal computer ride with Microsoft DOS and Windows (and I still have Windows), for some years my main machine has been on macOS, and now eventually Linux will become my daily driver.

This is what Walking to Linux is about. I do not know if I will reach Linux, or which parts (distro) of Linux I will arrive at. Nor how much I will use Windows, macOS and eventually other different systems, in addition. But for time being, my direction is to Linux Mint.

Henrik Hemrin

17 August 2022