login: Looking Back on Debian 1.3

Back at the tender age of 12 I picked up a magazine at the Base Exchange. This magazine contained a CD. This CD contained Debian 1.3. All was well in the world…

I remember reading with such excitement about this amazing new Linux (yes I pronouced it wrong, I was a geek living in Germany) and how it was free. Free you say!? I had just spent the past year lusting for Windows NT for no other reason that it was enterprise ready. I had no clue what that meant but I knew it was something I couldn’t learn. Much in the same way as I would look with much glee on the SGI pictures in magazines with no hope of ever affording the 12,000 dollar machine. Such was life for a youngster.

That is what made Linux so exciting for me. It looked kind of like those funny Sun boxes and it was what HACKERS used so it had to be cool. With no understanding of what installing Linux met I dropped that CD in and used rawrite for the first time to create the boot floppy.

Then it died. My perfectly working Windows 95b edition machine died. Well I thought it had died when really all I did was blank the partition table attempting to do an install. All of this came back vividly today as I retraced that install on my MacBook Pro in vmware.


The first thing that struck me was how much I remember watching the screen rush by in a flurry of kernel messages. I was amazed at the vast complexity of a free operating system. At the age of 12 I had no understanding of cfdisk and setting up partitions. This go around I flew through it knowing there was no Windows 95 install to blank on accident. When you compare this install process to the one of Debian 3.1 it is hard to believe that in those 8 years the routine was the same. While comfortable it all but symbolizes the troubles Debian has had facing the Ubuntu folks.

After the LILO issues being cleared up (THANK GOD FOR GRUB) I rebooted removing the virtual floppy. The virtual-BIOS beeped and there came a 2.0 Linux Kernel. I had played with Linux around the 1.8 days with Slackware but never could get the machine to boot. Watching the Virtual Machine boot gave me the same joy as it did all those years ago.



By far the most daunting task from those days for my non-Unix mind was dselect. All I could think back then was how many choices there were. The amount of software avalibale was daunting and I had no clue what too pick. This go around was similar but with a different perspective. It was daunting to see the version numbers. XFree86 3.3. Netscape 3.01. You have to remember this was before KDE/Gnome. Forgetting the time-frame I was working with I jumped to a virtual console to setup my apt configuration. Apt wasn’t there. I freaked out looking desperatly for the package online before remembering that Apt didn’t release until the 2 series of Debian. Due to there being no ISO images for the install anymore began the process of mirroring the deb’s to my NFS server and using it for the rest of the afternoon. It was a learning process to remember such a raw and unpolished build and how the install process for packages occurred.


Time passes and technology moves. My fascination with Vintage computers and Operating Systems stems from the era of change. In today’s computing world the players are condensed and the technology owned by large companies. The install screen mentions donating (no paypal link either) to the project of 200 volunteers. 200! Debian has grown into the basis for some of the greatest free software projects ever. Perens and Murdock are staples of the technology world now. Deep down the kid inside of me will never die, the excitement for seeing great people do great things never changes. I recommend you go find your first Operating System and take a walk down memory lane. Who knows, maybe it will help you remember just how far things have come.

Debian 1.3 Bo