10 things I miss about old school Linux

The evolution of Linux has led to many improvements -- but a few things have been lost along the way. Jack Wallen revisits the aspects of Linux he wouldn't mind bringing back.

I've been using Linux since the days of Caldera Open Linux 1 and Red Hat Linux 4.2 (prior to the creation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux). Since those days, I have seen a lot of things come and go. I was glad to wave goodbye to most of the things that have gone by the wayside. However, I actually do miss some of the bits and pieces that have slipped out of the mix. Some of these are software, while some of them are more ideas/ideals. Let's venture into the time machine and go retro with our memories of Linux.

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1: linuxconf

Of all the admin tools I have used on Linux, the one I thought was the best of the best was linuxconf. From this single interface, you could administer everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- on your Linux box. From the kernel on up, you could take care of anything you needed. With the dumbing down of the Linux operating system (which was actually a necessity for average user acceptance), tools like this have disappeared. It's too bad. An admin tool like this was ideal for serious administrators and users.

2: The challenge

I know this is counterintuitive, but there are days I really miss the challenge (and the ensuing celebration) of old-school Linux. Back in the day, getting Linux installed gave many users reason to shout their own variation of "Hoorah" to the clouds. Don't get me wrong, I love how easy Linux is to install (and how that simplicity enables users of any skill level to use Linux). But there was something to be said about overcoming the challenges presented by Linux in the early days. It was a badge of honor only a select few could wear.

3: WordPerfect

I realize there are some good word processing and/or text editing tools available for Linux. But none of those writing tools is as good as WordPerfect was. WP was the ideal word processor. It didn't get bogged down with feature bloat, but it had enough unique features to make it stand out as a real writer's tool. I would love for someone to bring that piece of software back. Probably won't ever happen, but it's always good to dream.

4: Install Fests

I remember when local LUGs (Linux User Groups) would hosts Linux Install Fests once a month. Users would bring in their computers, and members of the LUGs would install Linux on their machines for free. It wasn't just about Linux; it was about building community and spreading the ideal that was building steam at the time. Although the installation of Linux is easy enough that any user can achieve success, the camaraderie and community of those parties is definitely missed.

5: Linus' sound byte

Remember during those early days, when it came time for the installation to run a sound check, how you would get to hear Linus Torvalds say, "Hello! This is Linus Torvalds, and I pronounce Linux, Linux."? I always laughed when I heard that. Of course, to me, that was much more than a sound check -- it was the father of the operating system I was using reminding those using it that Linux was a community effort and everyone was welcome to be involved. I really miss that open-arm community, typified by that recording.

6: Window managers

Remember when the Linux desktop consisted of X Windows and then a window manager on top of that -- and nothing more? Sure, you can still have that if you install the likes of FluxBox or E16. But for the most part, the days of the window manager-only desktop have gone the way of everything else on this list -- b'bye. Although you didn't find heavy integration into nearly every aspect of computing, you did have blazing speed, a unique look and feel, and rock-solid stability.

7: Linus Torvalds

It used to be that Linus was the face of Linux. When anyone thought of the operating system, they thought of Linus. He was the final say, the pinnacle of information, the one person with the answers. That is not so now. In fact, for the most part, Linus has gone beige on us and nearly been relegated to obscurity. Oh, he's still a pivotal figure in the development of the Linux kernel (and that will be so for a long time). But when you mention his name now, it's not met with the "wow factor" it once was. I met the man a few times and always found him a treat. If I met him today, that treat would seem a bit flavorless.

8: Loki Games

There was a time when everyone thought Loki Games was going to bring gaming to Linux full time. The entire Linux community was riding high with the thought of playing all those wonderful games without having to dual boot. And it looked poised to happen... but then the Linux community did the unthinkable and refused to pay for the games it so desperately wanted. Unfortunately, I think Loki was way ahead of its time. If it could revive itself, now might be a great time for it.

9: Vi/emacs wars

Don't you miss the trench coat army camps lining up and warring it out over which editor was best? It was then you knew, without a doubt, that Linux users were passionate about what they used. That kind of passion is hard to come by now. It still remains, but it's not as prevalent as it once was. Do I want to see Linux users coming to fisticuffs? No. But knowing there exists an underlying passion for things Linux helps drive the community forward in ways proprietary software can't enjoy.

10: Thousands of distributions

Back in the early days, new, obscure distributions were popping up daily. Oh sure, most of them were spinoffs of Red Hat, Mandriva, SuSE, or Debian. But some of them really pushed the envelope in either task, size, or design. Some of them were no more than a preexisting distribution repurposed with a different desktop theme and funny name. It seemed you could go to distrowatch.com and find a new distribution every day. Now it's just a place to go to see if your distribution of choice is the hottest download of the day.

Other fond recollections?

I don't want to give the wrong impression here. Linux is in a good place right now, ever-poised to open up the floodgates to throngs of satisfied users. But just because Linux is taking the operating system toward new heights on the evolutionary ladder does not mean every shard and scrap it has left behind was justified. There are pieces of the past I would happily bring back.

What about you? Is there something from Linux's past you would gladly bring to the present? Share your thoughts with your fellow TechRepublic members.