Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Linux Setup - Stefano Zacchiroli, Former Debian Project Leader

Stefano is my great white whale. I’ve been trying to interview him for years, so I was very excited when he was able to make some time for this. He’s a Debian user, as you might expect from a former Debian Project Leader. Stefano also has a lot of nice things to say about GNOME Shell. And mutt users will want to check out his software list, as there’s a lot of nice Emacs integrations in there.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here and follow me on Twitter here.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    My name is Stefano Zacchiroli, but I usually go by the nickname “Zack.” I’m a computer science researcher and teacher, as well as a Free Software activist. I’m a Debian Developer, former three-time Debian Project Leader, and a Director at the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

    These days my Debian involvement is mostly in Quality Assurance and in the development of infrastructure pieces like Debian Sources. In the past I’ve maintained many packages, e.g., the OCaml stack, Vim, and various Python modules.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I use Free Software in general—Linux, GNU, GNOME, end-user applications, etc.—to be in control of my own computations. I love the feeling of knowing that I can peek at any point in the software stack, make the changes that I see fit, and share any bit I please with my peers. I refuse to believe that software is a black box, remotely controlled by someone else, and that users should need permission to exercise elementary digital rights on software.

  3. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    Debian testing. It’s just the best (not to mention the first) “rolling release” out there: it offers a great trade-off between software freshness and not being too bleeding edge for use on your productivity machine.

  4. What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?

    GNOME 3 with GNOME Shell. Philosophically, I like the GNOME project, their vision, and the courage they have had to reinvent the desktop after many years in which nobody was innovating. But I’m also technically quite happy about GNOME Shell. I love full-text searching for applications, the big switch to mute notifications, the no-frills approach, and the well-rounded app integration.

    The only feature I miss in off-the-shelf GNOME Shell is tiling window management (there is some tiling support in GNOME Shell, like splitting the screen in half with two main windows, but I do use more complex window arrangements than that). To fill that gap I’m using the Shellshape extension; the result is good enough for my needs.

  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    To give an idea of my work flow, here is a list of tools that I use on a daily basis (in no particular order):

    • mutt
    • notmuch (with mutt integration)
    • Emacs (in client/server mode)
    • git
    • git-annex
    • org-mode (again, with mutt integration)
    • Chromium (although I’m considering switching back to Firefox)
    • screen
    • irssi
    • ssh (and more and more often mosh)
    • ikiwiki
  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    My main hardware is my laptop, which I always carry with me. I’m now at my third iteration of (Lenovo) ThinkPads over a period of more than six years and, overall, I’m a satisfied user. As a geek I mostly interact with my OS by typing, and ThinkPad’s keyboards are just unparalleled, in my estimation.

    My current ThinkPad is a T440s, i7 CPU, 12GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and a Full HD display (not touchscreen, as I don’t see the point of it). My main regret with ThinkPads is the need to use non-free firmware to get the Intel Wi-Fi working.

    Dear Intel, would you please give up on that, liberate your firmware, and finally set your users free?

    When at the office I connect my laptop to an external LCD monitor and the best mechanical keyboard I’ve ever used: a Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate. To ease the connection, I use a basic Lenovo docking station, and I also have many (five or more, I think) Lenovo-ish AC adapters: one for the office, one near the couch at home, one for each backpack, etc.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?


    Here is my GNOME Shell workspace three, the one I use for the main ongoing “work” activity during a typical coding session. In the screenshot you can see three windows, tailed automatically by Shellshape: Emacs for coding, Evince for doc reading, and a GNOME terminal running tests (in case you’re wondering, no, I refuse to use Emacs as an entire OS, and I dislike running “terminals” in it).

Stefano Zacchiroli's desktop

Interview conducted July 28, 2014

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

You can follow My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Linux Setup - Ron Guerin, Entrepreneur

I know Ron’s name from when he used to organize the New York Linux Users Group (NYLUG). He’s got a no-frills setup with a lot of solid software choices (what’s better than gPodder?). Like many Linux users, Ron is a ThinkPad guy, of which I wholeheartedly approve. They’re great computers in general, and the ones I’ve had have always handled a wide variety of distros very well, without a lot of drama.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow us on Google+ here.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I’m Ron Guerin, and I guess the best way to describe what I do is ‘entrepreneur.’ I also was the main volunteer and then primary organizer of NYLUG for over a decade. I’ve been a member/attendee/volunteer of many tech and FLOSS groups over the years. Now I’m doing some tech/FLOSS events over at http://luny.org.

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    My distro is Debian GNU/Linux (Testing) with MATE. My first Linux was OpenLinux and I got my copy on April 13, 1999 from Ransom Love at a LUNY meeting. After riding Red Hat Linux to the end, I switched to Debian Testing and haven’t looked back.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    On my notebooks, I mostly use Firefox, Thunderbird/Lightning, MATE, VLC, OpenShot, Scribus, Geany, GNOME Terminal, XChat, Pidgin, gPodder, Audacious, Audacity, Apache, MySQL, PHP, rsync, and ssh. When not working, like many people these days, I am both a producer and consumer of content and I use my Linux desktops for that as well.

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    My hardware is ThinkPad (T61 and T500). I always put as much memory and storage as possible in my desktops, as I use it all.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    ThinkPads are pretty much my ideal setup. I presently have two of them set up pretty much the same way. So long as Lenovo maintains the ThinkPad experience, I’d like my next machine to be a ThinkPad as well.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Ron Guerin's desktop

Interview conducted January 21, 2013

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

You can follow us on Google+ here and subscribe to our feed here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Linux Setup - Paul Tagliamonte, Software Engineer/Debian Developer

Paul’s got a great Debian setup across a lot of interesting hardware. I appreciated this interview, though, because Paul makes the argument that although software should be free (as in freedom), there are often technical limitations/complications with that free software that create a barrier-to-entry for less sophisticated users. Unfortunately, with Linux, the price of freedom is often technical ease. It’s nice to hear a Debian developer contemplating the issue. It’s not an easy fix, but it is a fixable problem. Especially with developers like Paul on the case.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow us on Google+ here.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I’m Paul Tagliamonte, by day, a Software Engineer with the Sunlight Foundation, and by night, a Debian Developer, an Ubuntu contributor (although, I don’t do as much there these days). I can sometimes be found hacking with the Fluxboxers.

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I use Debian GNU/Linux Unstable/Experimental, on amd64, for my personal laptop. I run Ubuntu on my work laptop (for now), and Debian on everything else (such as my netbook, desktop, etc).

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    I can’t function without vim, mutt, and irssi. I use all those tools on a daily basis, and I love them. I use irssi on one of my remote servers, in an always-on GNU screen session. I have a devoted user, which auto-attaches to a single screen session. It’s handy to ssh in as my IRC user and just close the window when I’m done.

    I’m always open to trying to find a new MUA, text editor or IRC client, but so far, there’s nothing I’d rather use.

    I’m also blindly in love with dpkg and apt-get.

    As for window manager, I have two setups. These days, I’ve been using awesome window manager, because it’s handling of more then one head is amazing. Tiling window managers are pretty cool. My other setup is Fluxbox + Xfce, which is also super rad. I’ve been using Fluxbox since I first got involved with GNU/Linux, so it’s pretty close to my heart.

    I also keep a small amount of software in my personal archive that’s not quite fit for Debian’s. I use some of that, but it’s mostly small stuff (metapackages to auto-install stuff I like, some slightly non-free stuff like node-jslint and security issues, like flake8)

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    • Thinkpad T520i, i3 (leliel; see photo below). I added in some more RAM and an SSD. It’s a great machine. It lasts forever on battery.
    • Thinkpad T420s, i5 (chayot). Pretty stock, but an amazing machine; light, portable, and great for hacking.
    • HP Mini 110, Atom, low RAM (uriel). It has a double-size battery but that machine practically fits in my back pocket.
    • Desktop machine, Core 2 Duo (loki). It has moderate RAM and lots of disk space. It runs a bit hot, but it’s been my stand-by machine since 2008.

    In case anyone’s wondering, I name all my machines after things from mythology, and ‘loki’ is always my primary development machine.

    My two Linode VPSs are named “metatron” and “lucifer.”

    Paul Tagliamonte's T520i
    Thinkpad T520i (leliel), in its dock, with its secondary screen, Das Keyboard II (amazing keyboard), and a Wacom Bamboo pad. I also have a few Razer input devices (mamba and nostromo), which seem to do their job fairly well.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    My work setup (physically) is about as good as it gets. I have a secondary screen, rotated the long-way (so I can view more of a file at one time), and a solid laptop I can pick up and hack elsewhere.

    I love—absolutely love—Debian GNU/Linux Unstable/Experimental (for some newer upstreams during freeze). It’s been my go-to since early 2004 or so.

    I would also love a Linux setup that is both free (as in freedom), but also one that I can have my non-technical friends use without problem. Debian is close, but the fact some platforms need non-free software upsets me.

    These days I just try to maintain a proper balance of free and non-free software on my system, but as soon as I find proper replacements, I’ll be a happy, happy man.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Paul Tagliamonte's desktop
awesome window manager

Paul Tagliamonte's desktop
Awesome desktop background

Interview conducted November 24, 2012

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

You can follow us on Google+ here and subscribe to our feed here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Linux Setup - Terry Hancock, Journalist/Producer

I came across Terry through a Linux.com feature that mentioned him as a Linux hero. I was also familiar with his work for Free Software Magazine, so he seemed like a great subject.

Terry is another power KDE user who makes great use of the virtual desktops. You’ll also probably be very impressed by the amount of video production Terry does using Debian Testing (although Terry points out that it sometimes requires a bit of work on his part).

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

You can follow us on Google+ here.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I’m Terry Hancock. I’ve done a lot of different things over the years, but for the last several years I’ve been writing a column for Free Software Magazine about free software and free culture topics.

    Since 2009, I’ve been actively working on producing and directing a free-culture science-fiction web video series which will be called “Lunatics.” We’re currently involved in recording voices for the pilot episode, and I hope to be working on animation again before the year is out.

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    On my desktop workstation, I run Debian’s main distribution — currently the “testing” version, “Wheezy.” I’ve tried some specialized derivative distributions, but none of them really worked out for me. I wind up customizing things and I want to control which apps are installed, try out new ones, and so on. So it’s easier to just use the main upstream distribution.

    This is not without headaches though. I probably have more problems with hardware compatibility because of this choice — especially with multimedia software. I have to work out my own dependency problems to a greater degree (though it’s not nearly as bad as installing from source).

    My wife is currently using Ubuntu Studio on her system, and we have a couple of other Debian systems for our kids.

    We also maintain a virtual private server for web hosting. That system runs Debian as well — though we stick with the “stable” distribution.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    Well, first of all, I’m a KDE4 user, and I’m pretty happy with that, although the sound system is not as easy to manage as I would like.

    For my work, I use a lot of different applications, but some of the most important are: Inkscape, Gimp, Blender, Kate (the editor — which I’m using more and more instead of Gvim, which I used to use all the time), Libre Office, Konqueror (for file management), VLC, and Audacity (which I’m doing a lot with this week).

    I use both Iceweasel and Chromium browsers. I primarily use Iceweasel for general-purpose browsing, while I use Chromium specifically with social-media websites (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Identica, and Diaspora). I primarily interact with Identica and Twitter using the Choqok client, though.

    Debian’s multimedia packages are not as up-to-date as some, and I wind up using a few pacakges from other sources. I’m currently running a build of Blender with Freestyle integration from http://graphicall.org.

    When I program, I use Python pretty much exclusively. A long time ago I wrote software in C, C++, and even Fortran, but these days I stick to high-level stuff, and Python serves well for that.

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    This is a self-built desktop with 64-bit quad-core AMD system with 8GB of RAM. The motherboard and drives are from ASUS. I’m using the on-board graphics and sound systems.

    I have an LG Blu-Ray/M-Disc/DVD-RW/CD-RW drive as well, which lets me write just about any optical media I need to. The printer (and scanner) is a low-end HP multifunction machine, and the monitor is a widescreen 21” with 1920x1080 pixels (so it can display full HD video at full-scale — which is important since I’ve got two major projects in that format, both “Lunatics" and "Lib-Ray”).

    A lot of the components have been through a few other computers before winding up in this one — there’s always a few parts lying around our place.

    We have a LAN and my wife and kids have their own systems. The computers are a bit behind the technology curve, but we’re able to keep them working. Obviously this is something we put a lot of value on.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. There will always be pressure to increase performance for things like rendering scenes in Blender or editing video with Kdenlive, but it’s not really proving to be a problem yet.

    When it does, we’re probably talking about creating a render farm server of some kind (not a new desktop).

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Which one? :-)

    I actually use the “virtual desktops” feature extensively. I have 20 desktops organized by task, and I spread out the applications I’m using accordingly. So, for example, I have four named desktops for “Lunatics” project work, one for “Lib-Ray,” two for Morevna Project, one for Free Software Magazine, and so on. This way I can leave windows open and just switch desktops when going from one task to another.

    I’ve attached a capture of my “Lunatics 1” desktop with Blender and Audacity both open on project files in progress — these are the “heavy-hitting” applications I’ve been using on production for “Lunatics.”

    One thing you might notice here is that I use the pin-up notes to keep track of to-do lists and the like on each project. Maintaining this place-like metaphor on my desktops helps me deal with the mental clutter from several projects that I’m working on simultaneously.

Terry Hancock's desktop

Interview conducted 9/23/12

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

You can follow us on Google+ here and subscribe to our feed here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011 Monday, May 2, 2011 Saturday, April 9, 2011

Linux Mint Xfce Versus Xfce Debian Testing

I don’t quite know why, but I really like the idea of a rolling distribution.

Rolling distributions are constantly being updated, so you never have to go from a version X to version X.1. Instead, everything is being updated constantly.

A while back, I used Arch Linux, which is a bleeding-edge rolling distribution, and I really loved it, but eventually an update broke my system and I didn’t have the time or the skills to repair it.

But despite that experience, I like knowing I can hold onto an OS for as long as I want. Because right now I’m running Xubuntu 10.04, which is a long term support release. But that just means I get three years of updates instead of 18 months. We’re about a year into that LTS release. If I get a new computer in the next year, I’ll have to upgrade to a new LTS about a year or so later. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a little bit of a hassle I think about from time to time.

To start thinking ahead, I looked into Debian Testing. Testing is the pre-release form of whatever the next Debian stable release will be and as such, it’s a rolling release that’s constantly being updated. I spoke to some people who use it and even though it’s technically not considered stable, just about everyone said they see very little breakage (with the caveat that Testing is much more stable toward the end of a development cycle than at the beginning of one).

I’ve been playing with Debian Testing (of course, with Xfce) in a virtual box for a few weeks and so far it’s pretty good (details are here). There have been no real issues. The look and feel isn’t as polished as Xubuntu, but some of that could be because it’s running in a virtual environment. Finding software in testing is sometimes a challenge. I had to wait a few days for Chromium because of a package holdup. But that was resolved.

One thing that surprised me about Xfce Debian Testing is how little software bloat there is. There’s no graphical package manager. There’s no update manager. It’s pretty bare-bones. Obviously, one can easily install these things if one wants them, but I opted to just run update and upgrade from the command line, whenever I happened to remember. Testing doesn’t get a lot of updates, or at least it hasn’t up until now.

Right around the time I was playing with testing, Mint announced the release of Linux Mint Xfce, which is the Mint take on Debian Testing with an Xfce desktop.

I decided to try that in a virtual machine, too. In terms of software, it seems like Mint just moved over a lot of GNOME-y stuff. There’s pure GNOME stuff, like the GNOME system monitor instead of the Xfce task manager. Mint opts for LibreOffice instead of lighter office programs, like AbiWord. Mint also chose Rhythmbox over Exaile. I wish the software selection was a little more Xfce curated, like Xubuntu’s software selection increasingly is, but I think Mint is positioning its Xfce Testing as an alternative for people who don’t want to move to GNOME 3, so they want to include as much GNOME software as possible.

I was shocked at how ugly the default Mint icons are. I usually can’t be bothered to change icons in a virtual machine, but it was one of the first things I did. Mint ships with an impressive array of icon options, though.

But in terms of performing very simple tasks, I didn’t feel much difference between Mint and Debian Testing. Neither rendered fonts very well. Both seem to lose application focus on open (but that could just be a Chromium bug), and neither could run Grooveshark in Chromium.

Flash worked right out of the box for Mint but needed to be massaged with Debian, which one would probably expect, given Debian’s stance on free software.

Other than that, it’s hard to say which was better. Because I was in a virtual machine, I can’t speak to how they handle wifi and printing, which are kind of huge things in an OS.

Debian Testing is lean and mean, but it requires more work to get everything configured. It starts you with a very basic system and it’s up to the user to enhance it. I’m a bit concerned about software availability, since Debian is sometimes a bit sluggish with updates. But from what I’ve read, you can often access more cutting edge software in some of the other Debian repositories (although with Volatile gone, I’m not sure what those might be).

Mint makes more assumptions and choices for its users. The GNOME focus isn’t ideal, but it doesn’t take much to remove the GNOME stuff you don’t like and add in the Xfce stuff you do. Plus, I imagine there are less media issues with Mint, since they’re less concerned about free and open software.

If I had to reinstall an OS today, I’m still not sure if I would go Mint, Debian, or Xubuntu. Xubuntu is probably the nicest product, but the update cycle can be a pain. I want to keep an eye on Mint and Debian and see if either breaks or if one emerges with better software selection.

But for now, it’s nice to see some interesting rolling release options for Xfce lovers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011