A recent Slashdot poll asked "How often do you reload your OS and software?". The some of the participants in the ensuing verbal slugfest suggested that it was aimed at Windows users. My own answer was "not very often", for I ran a Windows 98 box for about four years before converting it to a dual-boot Linux system. I only last fall removed the second disk and reset the master boot record so it would run solely on Windows 98 again. Say what you want to about Windows 98, Bill Gates, and Microsoft, that box, an HP Pavilion, still ran when I put it away. Using Netscape mail and Mozilla mail, and a little bit of judgment about what I opened, it never caught a virus, and the Blue Screen of Death only appeared very rarely.
I've been living very happily on my Dell laptop running Debian "Sarge" since January of 2006, and the installation went nearly without a hitch. Except for having to find the Windows driver for the Broadcom wireless card and put it where Linux could find it, everything just worked, right out of the box. I felt that Linux had finally made it to prime time for desktop users.
Saturday evening, though, I accidentally told aptitude to upgrade everything, and it did. Several packages offered to make backup copies of the config files and told me where they put them. The X.org package, which seems to have replaced XFree86, did not, and I've got no GUI any more. Ndiswrapper doesn't seem to be able to find the wireless stuff any longer, and so now my laptop has to be tethered to a cable to do anything. I've spent several hours mucking around with the X configuration files and even went so far as to remove and reinstall X.org without XFree86, but I'm still jodido. It looks like the easiest path forward is to format and reload. <sigh> It's times like this that I really hate computers, and sometimes I think maybe I could live life just fine with a Knoppix CD and a USB memory stick.
Update 18-jul-07 I'm happy to report that the installation of Debian Etch went well, except that there didn't seem to be any option to keep the old disk partitioning. I'd have liked to have saved the Windows XP partition that was there, but it's been months since I booted it, and I didn't want to mess with it. The installation "just worked", with the exception that the installer detected the wireless interface and loaded (or tried to load) a driver that resulted in repetitive errors. Following advice on an advice website, I blacklisted the module, and I may be out of the woods soon. Tonight I have to reassemble the 5 gigs of data I stashed on another box on the network.
I guess the point of this is to say that Windows isn't the only OS that can result in needing to reload after some seemingly innocuous action. And I should also mention that I am extremely grateful to all the people who have made Linux a usable OS.