Title text: This really is a true story, and she doesn't know I put it in my comic because her wifi hasn't worked for weeks.
Megan decides to install Linux on her new PC, and calls her cousin Cueball, whom she views as her personal Linux expert. The overarching joke revolves around the fact that Linux, especially home PC-based GNU/Linux, is much more often used as a "hobby" OS, as compared against a "productivity" OS such as Windows or OS X. Large numbers of people use Windows or Mac by default, because it came with their computer hardware when they bought it, and it already had the software suite they wanted to use installed along with it. Linux, on the other hand, rarely comes pre-installed on PC hardware and generally must be deliberately chosen and acquired; and while it can be set up to achieve efficient and productive workflow in virtually any area on PCs, because it often must be consciously selected, installed, and configured by users, it tends to either attract or, in a few cases, create individuals who take disproportionate pleasure in, and derive self-identification from, hacking the operating system itself. Thus, many people who are Linux enthusiasts began by not really knowing anything about it other than that it's free of cost, but the process of actually building Linux on their machines gradually lead them to take an increasing interest in it, which the comic humorously likens to substance addiction.
Xorg (officially X.Org) is an implementation of the X Window System, a program responsible for the graphical display used on Linux. If it has configuration problems, which was quite common with some video card drivers back in 2008 (especially those for ATI Radeon cards), it is often difficult and/or painful to fix (see 963: X11). Man pages are manual pages for Unix-based operating systems and software, usually accessible online but also bundled with the software itself, that explain in simple unambiguous language what certain things are, how they work, and providing clear illustrations of their use.
Linux has many versions, called "distributions". Each distribution, or "distro", has a different look and feel, and different feature sets and design philosophies. Ubuntu is a very popular "beginner" version of Linux, designed to "just work" and be familiar/usable to people fresh out of Windows. Debian is a popular but somewhat more "advanced" distro, more traditionally "Unix-like" than Ubuntu, with a huge and diverse base of supported software that generally requires more Linux know-how to configure and use, or at least more eagerness to learn. Gentoo is a very advanced distro allowing for extreme customization and optimization but requiring extensive install and setup time. Because Megan is fed up with Ubuntu trading functionality for ease-of-use, she decides to switch to Debian or maybe Gentoo, both of these successive options prompting Cueball to fear that she may just be getting in deeper and deeper. ("Autoconfig issues" refers to 416: Zealous Autoconfig)
Some advanced users of Linux choose to compile their kernel from source; Gentoo requires this, and is customarily compiled locally. Source code is a computer program expressed in an easily human-readable format, often simply as text. However, source code cannot be run directly by a computer, and instead needs to be "compiled" into object code, a computer-runnable but human-unreadable low level code. A coder will generally hack a program in source code, then compile their source code so that the computer itself may run the program (see 303: Compiling). This means that with Gentoo, instead of downloading an already functional Linux system to install and run, users download the source code for the system, customize it to their own needs, then compile the code into a runnable version of the OS, all before they can begin to use the system. To many such advanced users, their installation of Linux is like a hobby sportscar: A never-ending project, constantly tweaked and cleaned and adjusted to improve performance, that spends far more time sitting around with its hood open than actually being used for its ostensible purpose.
The title text jokes about the bad support for many then-common Wi-Fi cards within Linux back in 2008.
It is likely that the last cautionary aspect of the comic, explicitly present in both its title and its conclusion, is sarcastic. Randall is clearly very fond of Linux and even a Linux and open source advocate. (See comic 272 as an example.) At the beginning of the comic, the cousin seems to barely know how computers work past very basic end-user functionality. After just a few weeks, she's become extremely advanced. Not only can she compile her own kernel, she does not do so by blindly following instructions. She does so in a critical and meaningful way. This high praise of Linux is most likely wrapped into a facetious tone of caution for comic reasons.
- Linux: A True Story:
- [Cueball talks on a cell phone.]
- Week One:
- Megan: Hey, it's your cousin. I got a new computer but don't want Windows. Can you help me install "Linux"?
- Cueball: Sure.
- [Megan sits in an office chair with her laptop on her lap. She is on the phone.]
- Week Two:
- Megan: It says my XORG is broken. What's an "XORG"? Where can I look that up?
- Cueball: Hmm, lemme show you man pages.
- [Megan crouches on the floor with the laptop on her lap. She is still on the phone.]
- Week Six:
- Megan: Due to auto-config issues, I'm leaving Ubuntu for Debian.
- Cueball: Uh.
- Megan: Or Gentoo.
- Cueball: Uh oh.
- [Megan lies on her stomach with the laptop on the floor. On the floor are several pieces of paper and a book. Cueball stands to her left.]
- Week Twelve:
- Cueball: You haven't answered your phone in days.
- Megan: Can't sleep. Must compile kernel.
- Cueball: I'm too late.
- [Box with text:]
- Parents: talk to your kids about Linux... Before somebody else does.
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