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February 9th, 2017

Back Yard Linux

It’s not as lonely being a Linux user as it once was. These days you’re liable to find people throughout your neighborhood using Linux.

Linux, supported around the world

My how times have changed.

It wasn’t long ago that Linux users couldn’t get any respect. People on the street had absolutely never even heard of Linux, and if you needed the services of technical support, like from your ISP, you might as well forget it. Back in the day, the help desk’s favorite thing to say was “we don’t support Linux.”

What they meant, of course, was that they had no clue on how to do anything in Linux. They were skilled at guiding users through arcane parts of Windows to determine whether the problem was with the company’s servers or with the customer’s computer. If the truth be known, they didn’t really know anything about Windows either, but they had a script.

When they said “we don’t support Linux,” they didn’t let on that they didn’t support Linux out of ignorance. They wanted you to think it was because Linux somehow wasn’t good enough to work with their equipment. You should call back after getting a real computer, they implied. You know, something with Window installed.

Things have changed, however. A couple of years ago, my ISP, the local telephone coop, called to remind me they’d laid fiber a couple of years earlier and to tell me they were tired of dealing with customers like me who were still insisting on using copper wires. I needed to either sign up for one of their fiber plans or go make a deal with Time Warner. I could take my pick. Either way, they were going to reclaim their copper from the telephone poles on my road and copper wire service was coming to an end.

I had known this day was coming. I’d been dreading it. I was getting super fast speeds from my low cost copper line DSL, because I had the good fortune of being the first subscriber on the line after the local rural switching station. To get the same speed with fiber, I’d have to pay double.

But what could I do? I agreed to make the switch and stay with the local coop. Anything but Time Warner.

That gave me something new to dread. The rural version of “the cable guy” would be coming to my house to “get ‘er done” and install the Optical Network Unit. Along with him would come the dollars-to-doughnuts certainty that if a problem arose getting online, he’d blame it on Linux.

The phone guy turned out to be the phone guys — there were two of them. As expected, they were fluent in speaking the dialect known around here as “good ol’ boy,” and both knew their way around a can of Skoals or a bag of Red Man. Nice guys, however, with manners that were passable if a little rough around the edges.

They pretty much left me alone as they mounted the ONU on an outside wall below the electric meter and ran a line to my office. After installing the modem’s battery backup, they had me connect the Ethernet cable and boot my machine.

They stood and stared at the monitor, watching the boot progress. When the splash screen with the Linux Mint logo came up, one of the installers said, “You’re using Linux?”

That was a surprise. I’d been expecting something like, “What the hell is that?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “Linux Mint.”

“I use Ubuntu,” he said. “It sure is cheaper than Windows.”

Always the evangelist, I replied, “It’s also a much better operating system than Windows.”

He grunted. I don’t think he was interested in all that. As long as it got him to Facebook and Gmail, he was happy.

We were up and running in about fifteen minutes. There was a slight glitch, but it had nothing to do with Linux. A small issue with the Vonage modem. Five years earlier, we wouldn’t have gotten that far. The telephone guys would’ve blamed the problem on unsupported Linux. I’d be assured that if I installed Windows, everything would work fine.

I was reminded again of the growing adoption of Linux about six months back on a trip to the local convenience store, which everyone around here just calls the BP station. Don was on duty, another local good ol’ boy who works full time as a landscaper for the county and moonlights weekend nights at the store selling cigarettes and beer. I like him, hes got a lot on the ball, so I take the time to chat with him whenever I catch him on duty, as long as he’s not too busy.

It was late summer and to beat the heat I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt with a row of Tux penguins along the bottom that I’d picked up at an open source conference. Don and I made idle chitchat, probably around Powerball, which he likes to call “Energy Orb,” or motorcycles, which are one of his passions. At some point, he nodded in the direction of my shirt.

“Is that about Linux?” he asked.

I was knocked for a loop.

It turned out he runs Ubuntu. He’s an amateur photographer, and is proficient with GIMP and darktable.

“Let me ask you something,” he said. “Do you ever install apps from a terminal? I don’t know if it’s just me, but that way seems a lot quicker.”

My how times have changed. Everyday people are running Linux in the rural South.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

15 comments to Back Yard Linux

  • Juan

    Well, actually I was surprised myself 3 days ago, when a woman in my neighborhood had to do a PowerPoint for the community and it turns out what I was seeing in the wall was LibreOffice running on a little Asus running Mint.

    We couldn’t talk much, but her boyfriend installed it and she just uses it.

    That was a surprise!

  • UncleEd

    My small town on the west coast of Arkansas is not a hotbed of computer usage. I understand that. My neighbor across the street has heard of Linux and is going to try it after we both finish painting our houses.

    Met a local accountant on a social occasion. (He lets me do my own taxes.) I tolerate that he uses Windows, because that’s the only software he has available. But I wandered into his office one afternoon to say “Hi,” and he waved me back to his storeroom. “Hey, come look at my Raspberry Pi stuff.” And the Raspbian it runs is based on something called “Debian.”

    Maybe I should be looking harder around the town.

  • tracyanne

    Now if only I could get more people running Linux here in the rural North… The home of our good ol’ boys and Pauline Hansen, Queensland

  • Eddie G.

    Its no surprise that Linux is “taking off” a lot of people are turned off by the look and feel of Windows 10. Not to mention the issue they had with spying on their customers. While this is wonderful news, there’s also a dark cloud on the horizon. I guess the more Linux gets dragged into the limelight….the more we can expect things like this to grace the headlines?


    I guess time will tell if it ever gets so bad in the world of Open Source that you actually hear people saying “I’m ditching Linux for Windows because its SAFER”…huh?

  • Mike

    @Eddie G.

    Just FYI, hacking a website has virtually nothing to do with the operating system running that site.

  • Thong N

    Great article, my son wanted to play the original StarCraft with his friend. The original StarCraft does not play well or play at all on Win10. I installed PuppyLinux and then WINE on two 16GB USB drives, one for him and the other for his friend, they play multiplay on a local LAN. Fast forward a few months later, my son’s friend dad called and asked if I can help him convert his Excel files over to LibreOffice on Ubuntu.

    On the topic about the hacking, I would worry more if the hackers are able to replace the current ISO download with their own version and still have a back door into the system.

  • deedster

    February 10, 2017 at 12:03 am
    @Eddie G.

    Just FYI, hacking a website has virtually nothing to do with the operating system running that site.

    Mike, people affiliate OpenSuse with Linux, affiliate with os, affiliate with libreoffice etc, they know no better and hence the attack on linux will never end untill it is dead in the water or controlled by YOU-KNOW-WHO…..micro$oft….C!A

  • MisterGoldiloxx

    Many people confuse TWC with Time Warner. March 2009, Time Warner Cable (TWC) became a separate company from Time Warner (the media company). May 2016, TWC was purchased by Charter, and in those areas is being re-branded as ‘Spectrum’.

  • Alex Borrell

    Yes, things have changed. Not long ago Linux was forbidden in my job (state goverment in Mexico). What a days! What I find really amusing is the presentation with LibreOffice, haven’t seen much on that

  • @Alex You need to go to some Linux or open source conferences. Practically everyone uses Impress, of course.

  • Lurking About

    Good proxy for Linux acceptance is one can find computers with Linux preinstalled on Walmart.com or Amazon.com. Linux may not have a marketing budget but it does have passionate users.

  • Nonya

    I have been using Linux for more than 7 years, and 3 moves. The Mediacom Cable guys never said a word, just hooked everything up and let me see if Internet worked. The one time it didn’t, they hooked up a test box, and said there was no signal from the pole. They fixed a connection on the pole, and everything worked fine. Not a word was said about my using Linux, or needing Windows. I am sure that windows 10 has encouraged some to try Linux.

    Wednesday I replaced a hard drive in my laptop with an SSD. From blank SSD to fully updated Linux Mint (KDE) 17.3 system (with some added software that I like) took about 1.5 hours. Installing some games in Wine took another hour. No hunting down and installing drivers, it even finds my printer. Only one reboot needed, to boot from the SSD instead of the live DVD.

  • Eddie G.

    @Mike: Yes I know that the OS has nothing to do with someone getting hacked. I was more referring to the fact that the site, just like Linux Mint had made headlines (although this news wouldn’t be on the major network stations) and was just “wondering aloud” if there’d ever come a tims when Linux would be reviled enough to make people WANT to switch to Windows. I alredy know that “…If Someone Can BUILD It…..Someone Can BREAK It…”.

  • Jim

    I have built several computers for older, less tech minded friends of mine and I always install Ubuntu and show them how to get online, make a Word document, download a movie and sign into Facebook.

    None of them ever ask or even notice that it is Linux.

    Once in a while they will call and say their grandchildren could not install a game on their machine- and usually they are glad!!

  • UncleEd

    @Lurking About – Linux at Walmart? I had never seen it (never looked) so I did a search on their website. Think I felt a disturbance in The Force or something.

    @Jim – a working lady nearby had three daughters and one was dominating their computer with LimeWire and World of Warcraft. Yes, it’s been a while. I spent a LOT of time cleaning it just to keep it running.

    I built the lady a computer I was almost ashamed of–single core, limited RAM, small hard drive, 802.”b” wireless, MEPIS–and a login screen. She loved it because the boyfriends couldn’t use it for purposes she was afraid of.

    One day she was home and she let one boyfriend use it because the other one was busy. I waited for the report…

    “It’s so fast!”