The Linux Setup - Durand D’souza, Academic
I first connected with Durand on Google+ (which actually has a fairly bumping Linux community). He had some interesting insight into Linux in academia, which he discusses below. Also, he’s one of the seemingly increasing number of Unity fans, which is becoming an interesting phenomenon.
Durand has a great software list, that includes a few non open source tools, which is fine, because as he points out, work is often about picking the best tool, not the most open one.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Durand D’souza, an astrophysics master’s student studying in the UK and Germany. For the past few months, I have been researching the evolution of very massive stars which lose a lot of mass though dense stellar winds. Astrophysics is probably one of the few fields of academia in which Linux actually dominates on the desktop, a fact that I am very proud of! :) Outside of astrophysics, I also do some desktop and web programming, graphics and photography.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
At home, I usually run a bleeding edge version of Ubuntu with Unity. When Unity was first introduced with Ubuntu 11.04, I avoided it like the plague but after using it during the Precise development cycle, I was extremely impressed by its stability, speed and innovative features like the HUD and Lenses and I now feel very attached to it. And no, I’m not getting paid to say this!
I also occasionally use Fedora (with GNOME Shell), Gentoo (with Openbox), Crunchbang, and have been recently experimenting with Elementary OS. I am a bit addicted with trying new things and I have probably tried most of the relatively popular distributions at one time or another. Of course, I also have a dusty copy of Vista installed but that is very rarely used.
At work, our desktops run Ubuntu Lucid (10.04), soon to be upgraded to Precise. Using such an old version of Ubuntu has really made me appreciate how far Ubuntu and Linux has improved in just two years, something that no proprietary OS can claim to have managed. I’ve also realized that I actually miss the Unity global menu and the HUD, which I did not expect at all.
What software do you depend upon with this distribution?
Ooh, that’s a long list! The Opera web browser is what I depend on most. Its RSS reader, mail client, tab stacking features and web development tools are unrivaled in my eyes. While I prefer to use open source software as much as I can, I am a pragmatist and if I prefer a proprietary app over open source alternatives, I will use that instead.
At work, I am lost without Zim, which is a desktop wiki that allows me to keep track of my research using graphs, LaTeX equations, images, and plain ol’ text. I also rely on Mendeley to organize my collection of highlighted journal articles. I use the fish shell along with Terminator, a terminal emulator powered by magic whose pane-splitting feature lets me run pyxplot (a graphing program similar, but much cleverer, to gnuplot), Vim, several analysis tools and simulations all in the same window with no clutter. I also use Sublime Text 2 for programming in Fortran because I need all the help I can get with this language ;)
On my laptop, I dabble with 3D graphics in Blender, vector graphics in Inkscape and digital painting with MyPaint and The GIMP. I also use RawTherapee and Hugin for processing photographs and I depend on MPD and Spotify for my music fix. And because this list isn’t already long enough, I also depend on Dropbox for collaborating with others and Sparkleshare for storing my graphics projects and letting me revert to previous versions when I screw up.
Finally, I depend enormously on Compiz for both my work and my hobbies. The scale, colour invert, grid and window transparency plugins are essential and they are a big reason for me to stick with Unity (which is based on Compiz) rather than switch to GNOME Shell (which is not).
What kind of hardware do you run it on?
My laptop is a 17” Dell Vostro 1710 with a nice, high resolution screen, a 2.4GHz Core2Duo, an insufficient 4GB of RAM, Nvidia graphics (8600M GS) and a 250GB hard drive filled to the brim with several operating systems.
My work desktop is some five-year-old machine with a 22” LCD, 1.6 GHz Core2Duo processor, 2GB RAM and a 1TB local hard drive with another 7TB NAS. It doesn’t sound like a powerful machine but I can run up to six stellar evolution simulations simultaneously without any noticeable slowdown which I think is quite impressive!
What is your ideal Linux setup?
Based on my current frustrations with trying to render large 3D scenes, I’d say a 17” laptop with a fast Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, a top of the range Nvidia card and a SSD/HDD combo for storage. I might also throw in a Bluray reader for luck ;) As it is right now, I am very pleased with my current laptop and probably won’t upgrade for at least another year and a half. I prefer to buy a good laptop that will last me at least five years than a cheap one which constantly needs to be replaced.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
I use multiple desktops a lot to organize my work so to get a true picture, I really need to show them all.
Interview conducted June 1, 2012