joy of using linux

I’ve been using linux for a long time now, and I have been loving it since the first day. However when someone asks me Why linux? I find it difficult to explain. And then, I give up and fallback to Linux is free (as in free beer). Well, I have had a series of fortunate events yesterday, which (I hope) will explain my love for linux.

So, yesterday was a special day for me, we launched a webapp specifically designed to publish results of different exams (You can check it out at Ramanujan Result Engine). To publish the results we (me and my colleague Nagaraju) had to go the university at 08:30 in the morning to get the CDs which had the results’ data. Now, we were given the format of the data (just the column names) one day in advance. And we tested our data importing utility assuming that the data would be a simple CSV file. And as soon as the CDs were handed out we tried to extract the data, but it turned out that the zipped files which had the data were password protected and that some minister would release the password at 09:00. At this point I checked if I could unzip the data through the command prompt (I was just thinking of creating a script which would automate the unzipping and uploading once the password was given). That’s when a good and a bad thing happened, when we entered the wrong password it didn’t extract the files but it printed a messages telling us which files it was unable to extract. We were happy that we atleast knew the directory structure and filenames and that we could just write a script to automate everything, but to our horror we found out that the university folks had given us the data as mdb files. I was stumped, I thought I had to get to a windows machine with microsoft access on it and then export it to a csv file and then run it through our uploader, this seemed like a long process which would atleast take a few hours.

As a last resort, I googled for mdb to csv conversion to see if someone knew a way to do it on linux, and voila I found an awesome page which documented the use of mdb-export which looked like it would do our job. I was stoked with happiness. Here we were trying to be the first guys who could get the results online, disillusioned by the format of data given to us and in no time we found a way back into the game, thanks to the awesome linux community.

I quickly ran sudo apt-get install mdb-export on the terminal, I got a message no package found, Hmm, I thought it might have already been installed (by the ubuntu default packages) and ran mdb-export and ubuntu says please install mdbtools, Sweet :). Ran sudo apt-get install mdbtools, read the manpages, found out that it needed to know the name of the table to export. Googled again, found out that mdb-tables (which is part of mdb-tools) would give me the table names. Now, finally when the password was released by the minister, I did my mdb-export dance, and uploaded the results to our servers.

It is an experience I’ll cherish for a long time. I am sure we were the first guys who published the EAMCET results (we did it within 5 minutes). Other linux users may just give a big meh to this incident, but I am sure you have many such small incidents where the uber awesome linux community helped you out. One of the biggest things that I love about linux is it’s community. Linux wouldn’t have been what it is without it’s community, and I am forever indebted to it.

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