Τετάρτη, 22 Απριλίου 2020

How I Helped An Engineering School Swap To Ubuntu - 15 Years With Ubuntu Linux

15 years ago the world was a bit different. Greece had a hangover year after having hosted the 2004 Olympic Games and won the UEFA Euro 2004. I was a computer engineering student in Patras, Greece, and the world had survived the Y2K bug and recovered from the dot com bubble. It was around that time that Ubuntu launched and, like it or not, brought Linux to the masses.

I was a terrible engineering student but I was also very curious. After having failed the Introduction to OS course (Oh Tanenbaum!) which was taught in Minix3, I remember reading somewhere about a new Operating System based on Linux called Ubuntu. At that point, the small but awesome Patras Linux Group was leaning towards Fedora thanks to Dimitris Glezos. Besides Fedora, I remember trying to install Suse Linux to my Intel Pentium 133Mhz but I wasn't very impressed at that point, so I thought of giving Ubuntu a try.


I ordered my Ubuntu x86 CD from Ubuntu Shipit! and I was amazed by how more user friendly it was, at least for a newbie like me. I think these two factors played a crucial role in the Desktop domination of Ubuntu: easy and friendly user interface and free delivered CDs with a sleek design. Remember that at that point the majority of users didn't have xDSL so downloading a whole iso just to try a new OS was too much of a commitment. After having used Ubuntu for a couple of months, I then read Tanenbaum's "Modern Operating Systems" with more excitement and passed my exams but I went a step further. 


I contacted Ubuntu to request a larger quantity of CDs "for an engineering school". I got a reply from a guy named Benjamin Mako Hill (cool huh?) asking why do I request so many CDs and how I will use them. He agreed to send 200 CDs, to begin with. After a couple of weeks, I got mail! A big package has arrived with 200 Ubuntu CDs, all in their paper cases with three different colours (x86, AMD64 and PowerPC), and a lovely paper Ubuntu stand. 



I went straight to my university and placed the stand outside the Students' Office. In the beginning, most students thought I was selling them. So I printed a note saying "Free CDs with Ubuntu Linux for Operating Systems Lab". They vanished within 30 minutes. 

Two years after that, the Operating Systems Lab accepted projects in both Ubuntu and Minix3. Sorry, Mr Tanenbaum. Although I think Minix3 is still a better tool for Engineering students to understand microkernels and filesystems, the vast majority of students only used it for the course by installing it on VMWare on Windows. The transition from that to installing a second operating system on your laptop and working with the Linux commands and filesystem daily helped more students to have a bigger picture of Computer Science. After that things rolled. More and more open-source tools were mentioned for projects, like replacing Matlab with Octave.

In the last 15 years, CEID and Patras Linux Group have made some great scientists and entrepreneurs, with great outcomes like Transifex and Codebender. I am not the best example of these two groups, but I would like to think that I played my tiny part in making them better.

This is a story that few people know and I guess nobody else remembers. I liked to write it down before I forget it too. Small victories. Old stories. 


Post Scriptum: As this is a flashback to my 15 years of using Ubuntu and my years as an engineering student I searched for some posts from that era. Like one of the very first sites of Patras Linux Group (hosted at CEID Student Pages and last updated on 1997!) and the same community thriving almost ten years later (still Fedora dominated)

Bonus photo from the Fedora 9 Release Party at Patras - so that you can understand how difficult was to promote Ubuntu at CEID :D but also how awesome that department is. It was also the first presentation of the "One Laptop per Child" project in Greece by Linux Magazine.
Fedora Release Party, Patras, Greece
Fedora Release Party, Patras, Greece
In this photo, we got at open source founders and CEOs, tenured CS professors, managers at Mozilla, lead engineers at Citrix and Skroutz, Unix hackers, and me.

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