The Linux Setup - Alistair Munro, Blogger/Podcaster
I was happy to hear Alistair talk up Evolution so much because I was just reading about what went wrong with Geary, the attempt to crowdfund a new email client. Like many, I thought there was no need for another (or any…) email client, but, as the article pointed out, the fact that so many people donated as much as they did shows there’s definite interest in a new email client, even if that new client wasn’t Geary. Alistair shows not everyone is entrenched within webmail. And that some people are happy with their current client options.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Alistair Munro. I’m often known as “B1ackcr0w” on various bits of the Internet (a reference to my favorite rock band, The Black Crowes). I’m a bit of a loudmouth who who loves to comment on various Linux media. I write the wtflinux micky-taking website, and recently I started the “Shot of Pal" podcast with my friend Peter Cannon. I am currently looking for work. My day jobs have tended to be database and Unix analyst jobs.
Why do you use Linux?
I use Linux for many reasons. I was finding the cost of the upgrade treadmill of MS operating systems annoying, particularly when they didn’t work up to the standard I’d expect of a paid product and required me to invest in further costly software just to maintain the system, let alone get anything productive done. I first used Red Hat and SUSE around 1996. I found them entertaining but difficult to configure. Over the next few years I hunted around for a distro that was more friendly on the beginner. Eventually, I found Freespire worked very well for dual booting (I still think CNR was ahead of it’s time), and as that started to fall apart, I found my way to Ubuntu Hardy. Since then, I’ve found that that the freedoms (technical and intellectual) of Linux-based operating systems make for a more stress-free environment.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
At the moment, I’m rocking Ubuntu 13.04 64-bit, dual-booting from an SSD with Windows 7, which I use for games only (although I was recently astonished to find it was easier to rip Skype voicemail with Windows 7 that it is with Ubuntu — that annoys me; maybe I should excavate pulse from Ubuntu). I actually support Canonical’s move to create their own graphics stack, because there are severe breakages on the X/GNOME stack, and right now my experiences say they’re doing a better job of fixing it. I just wish they’d do the same with the sound stack. I oscillate frequently between Ubuntu, Mint, Crunchbang, Debian and Fedora (and the KDE, Gnome, Cinnamon, LXDE and Unity flavours of those distros). It’s amazing how often those five are constantly improving on the others.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
Currently, I’m on Unity, which came with Ubuntu. I have to say that I hated the first few versions of Unity. They were so inflexible and orientated toward design over function, they just felt more like an alpha/beta release than a serious product. But Ubuntu has relentlessly improved Unity, and I’m at the point where I’m coming around to being persuaded by it. The criticism they’ve come in for about putting Amazon in the taskbar and other stuff seams like sour grapes to me. I do harbour one grudge with Unity: I think it has a left-handed chiral bias. In other words, I feel the basic concept is biased toward left-handed users (or left-handed designers?), and that’s a mistake because most users are right handed.
What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?
There are loads I could single out. One interesting one that I want to point out is Evolution (email/calendar/PIM). In common with a lot of distros, Ubuntu installs Thuderbird by default, and I can’t for the life of me understand why. There are two big problems with Thuderbird. First it’s been dropped as an actively developed product by Mozilla, which must surely put a question mark over it’s long-term future, and by extension, not a package distros should be encouraging its users to rely on. Secondly, its support for calendar and PIM functions is dreadful. Even if you can find extensions that add these functions, they all tend to be pretty ropy in terms of integration. Evolution, on the other hand, does all these things beautifully out of the box, and integrates with dbus better to boot. One of the few Microsoft products I admire is Outlook/Exchange. Their mail/PIM is pretty damn impressive. To compete with that on the desktop, Evolution seems to be the only credible open source alternative. If Mono is the sticking point, then port it or get over it, because they’re letting their ideals get in the way of a better product.
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
I have a self-built box. It’s an Intel i5, Gigabyte Motherboard, SanDisk 128GB SSD (get one, they’re incredibly good), 16GB RAM with a bunch of old Magnetic SATA drives in a RAID for storage. I did have it based on a MSI motherboard, but that motherboard got bricked when I tried to flash the BIOS a while back. My supplier (Novatech in Bristol UK) and MSI were very good about it, and supplied a like-for-like replacement. And this went into a cheap box with a very cheap Celeron Dual-Core and some other bits I had hanging around. I slapped OpenELEC (which is XBMC bolted into a very stripped down Linux OS) into it, and I now use that more than I use any other media source. I would heartily recommend anybody have a look into it. It’s incredibly good and saves your old hardware from gathering dust in the loft.
One thing I would like to say is that I have an nVidia 550Ti in my main box with two monitors attached (it’s just too useful!). In days past, Mint was fantastic for this setup. But the last two versions (14 & 15) have been crashy and buggy as hell, not even letting me boot to a login screen at times. Friends of mine with dual monitors have reported similar issues with Mint as well. I don’t know if this is the proprietary drivers, or X, or what the hell is going on, but it’s really annoying and Ubuntu doesn’t seem to have anywhere near as many problems.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
I used Shutter, a superb piece of open source Linux software.
Interview conducted July 23, 2013