This article is a reply to Lorelle’s Blog Challenge: Describe Your Computer Setup – Then and Now
It is difficult to think back to our first computer, because my first experience with them was when I was three years old. These days, that’s nothing uncommon–my boss’s kids use Edubuntu exclusively and were typing at two and hacking at three–but in 1988, our household was rather uncommon. I grew up “playing” with DOS, and we had just upgraded to a 486/33 (which was upgraded to a 486/66 when I was 4).
I had been introduced to the Internet in seventh grade by my friend Justin, who helped me pick my first screenname and shared his ORION (Ozarks Regional Internet Online Network) account with me so I could connect from home. With a brand new 28.8 baud modem, we would chat via telnet and, on a few exciting occasions, connect Doom over TCP/IP for some multiplayer gaming. My father shelled out the cash for a Prodigy account, and suddenly we had a graphical web browser… but the Internet seemed small back then. It was all Yahoo!, Angelfire, and Geocities. Businesses ruled the web, and there wasn’t much I was interested in beyond interacting with my friends. These were my father’s computers, though, and I didn’t get my first until high school.
My freshman year of high school, my mother purchased me an HP mini-tower and CRT monitor for Christmas of 1999. Back then, Napster and ScourExchange ruled my time, and downloading music was just an everyday thing. I mixed CDs for myself and my friends, discovering a wide range of music I hadn’t known existed outside my little country-radio-station world. The world hadn’t turned dark and scary yet, and TOR was just an interesting idea rather than a potential necessity.
My little HP box ran Windows 98, and ran quite fast for at least a few months at a time. I don’t even recall the specs on it, but it was pretty generic, and I didn’t really care back then anyways. Our operating systems didn’t demand much, and I spent most of my time on telnet. We were still on dial-up (though some of my friends who lived either in town or in subdivisions had cable), so my access was limited, and so was our budget. Buying software wasn’t really an option, so I pirated a copy of Norton AntiVirus, ran ZoneAlarm, and used IE without thinking about it. I was grossly ignorant about computer security, but it didn’t seem to matter as much just yet. The great virus outbreaks of the early 2000s were still to come.
My mom got me a separate phone line sometime around my sophomore year of high school, and I spent the vast majority of my time at home on the Internet. Eventually, my time went from downloading music to movies, from ScourExchange and telnet to IRC, and from browsing for MUDs to researching evidence for my speech & debate team. The RIAA began making more noise about music downloads and announced that they were targeting anyone with more than 1000-3000 songs. I deleted everything I had pirated, but I still had my Norton AV and my copy of Windows XP that I had acquired from someone. When it came time for college, it was time for a new machine.
I purchased a Compaq laptop, which died so often in my first year of college that Best Buy gave me a new HP to compensate for the lemon they had originally sold me. I used the laptop to take notes in class, but it also doubled as a gaming laptop (freshman year was Star Wars Galaxies, a far cry from the Ultima Online I had begun playing in high school), and its 64mb video card blew away everything I had seen until then. The Compaq had 1gb of RAM and a 40gb hard drive, so I was pretty stoked; when I upgraded to the HP, I suddenly had 80gb of HD space, filled rapidly with games from LAN parties. I still have that HP, but last year I built a new desktop.
From spending my evenings on telnet and IRC growing up, I have now transitioned to being connected to the Internet almost 24/7, both for work and play. I wear a smartphone that picks up all my email, almost all of the games I play are either MMORPGS or multiplayer over XBox Live, and I do almost all of my writing online. I don’t download music, which means my collection (all legal now) is many years out of date, but I’m OK with that. I do still download software all the time, but that’s also all legit. When I got my current job (Centralized User Support Specialist for Computer Services at Missouri State University), I decided to take the plunge and switch entirely to Open Source.
My home computer has a 400gb SATA drive with a DVD-burner, a far cry from the few hundred meg of storage space I once had. A 19″ LCD has replaced the 15″ CRT, and 2gb of 1000mhz RAM is certainly a change from the 128mb in my first machine. I ditched Windows, both at work and at home, and run Linux everywhere. OpenSUSE 10 at work for a long time, recently replaced by Linux Mint, and either Ubuntu or Linux Mint at home, depending on the release cycles. I have a video card and a sound card now, neither of which I had on that old HP (instead using the onboard devices) and, of course, a DSL modem rather than a 28.8 dial-up device.
I still live on the Internet, but most of that time is spent at work. At home, rather than MUDding, I sometimes play World of Warcraft with my wife. Just over a year since I built my most recent box, I built her a new computer that was half the price of mine and already superior. And yes, it runs Linux.