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September 3 2012

Slashdot has been a guilty pleasure of mine ever since it came out. Indeed, I have a four-digit user ID on that site. This blog entry is the first part of a (hopefully) multi-part series on my long-term love-and-hate relationship with that website.

In the beginning

Once upon a time, before computers were powerful enough to allow Microsoft to make a stable operating system, it made a lot of sense to use Linux as a desktop OS. For people too young to remember the 1990s: Windows back then was really unstable. Any application had the ability to crash the entire system or infect it with viruses.

Linux, meanwhile, was much much more stable. While it was possible to crash Linux, crashes were quite rare. This stability came with a price: Linux was very difficult to set up. For example, it took me about an hour to set up dialup networking in Windows 95; the same thing took me about two days to set up in Linux.

Microsoft in the 1990s

In addition to having a lot of stability issues, Windows also suffered from Microsoft's then monopolistic practices. One of Microsoft's key strategies was to "embrace - extend - extinguish". What they would do was take a technology whose market they would wish to control and implement the technology so it was 100% compatible with their competitor. Then they would add Microsoft-specific extensions to the technology; people who wanted the extensions would have to use Microsoft's version of the product.

Pretty soon, the competitor would be caught in a catch-up death spiral, where they would madly try to implement whatever features Microsoft added to their version of the product, but always falling behind Microsoft. Pretty soon, Microsoft would buy out the company or the company would go bankrupt.

One example of this was Java: Microsoft made their own version of Java, which was compatible with Sun's implementation, but added Microsoft-specific features. Programs using Microsoft's features would only compile and run on Windows.

Another example was how Microsoft handled Netscape: When Netscape refused to be bought out on Microsoft's terms, Microsoft did everything in their power to kill Netscape. One big reason why HTML and the web is such a mess today is because both Microsoft and Netscape were adding proprietary HTML tags to their browsers in an attempt to win the "browser wars".

It was not until Microsoft cheated by including their Internet Explorer browser with Windows that they started getting significant leverage against Netscape. This resulted in Microsoft being investigated by the United States Department of Justice for engaging in monopolistic practices. Netscape could not survive this onslaught as a software company; they ended up having to open source their browser before throwing in the towel.

My early days at Slashdot

I was disgusted with Microsoft's monopolistic practices and wanted something more stable than Windows 95. So, I became quite a Linux fanatic and refused to dual boot. A co-worker suggested, since I was so gung-ho about Linux, to check out Slashdot. This was the environment I started reading and posting to Slashdot in.

Pretty soon, I was getting a lot of my comments moderated up to +5, the highest level of moderation available for Slashdot postings, indicating a well-written post which the community really liked. I was a very active member of the Slashdot community.

To be continued

When I get time to write in my blog again, I will continue this series with a blog entry about how I became disillusioned with Slashdot and started moving away from this online community.

Continued in Slashdot and the Napster crowd

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