Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Linux Setup - Rafael Lino, Security Officer

Rafael is another Xfce/Xubuntu user. Xfce sometimes doesn’t get a lot of love or respect, which always surprises me. I think the issue with it is that it’s very plain and simple. But for people like Rafael (and myself), that’s the strength of it. Rafael also uses Linux because it’s the best operating system for his purposes. It’s not a political statement, though. And that’s an interesting thing to consider. Linux is mature and functional enough that using it isn’t just about making a political point. A lot of people use it because it’s their best option.

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 Rafael Lino, I live in Lisbon, a sunny city in Portugal, with my wife and two small kids.

    I’m a private security officer so I can’t talk much about my job in public, because I would put my clients, family and friends at risk. Anyway, it’s a typical job with army-style rules.

    With a job like that, my escape is writing about audiophile and DIY stuff on my blog. I was very active in some online Portuguese communities as a moderator and sometimes administrator, but I got tired of all the futility behind it, so these days I usually lurk or help in small-but-warm Facebook groups. Besides my online activities, I also enjoy working with audio-related electronics, and doing some woodworking.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I use Linux because it works for me and not the other way around. I’m a father and work by the shift, so I don’t have time for maintenance headaches or software malfunctions. When I was a Windows user I spent a lot of time handling that and it was boring. Now with Linux, stuff gets updated daily, so there are no boring reboots or other nags.

    Also, Linux is a secure environment. Working in security I see the headaches system administrators have with Microsoft PCs.

    Besides those things, my machine was getting old and I didn’t want to spend more money on new hardware, so I went the easy route and installed a fast, lightweight Linux distro.

    I must admit I’m not into Linux for the community. I believe Linux has some amazing communities, but the ‘My distro is better than yours’ way of doing things in those communities fragments what could be a powerful game-changer in the software industry.

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

    Xubuntu 14.04 64-bit on both desktop and laptop.

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

    I use the Xfce4 packaged with Xubuntu mostly because its beautiful and doesn’t need many resources to run fast and stable.

    I wanted a solid, fast, simple desktop environment that didn’t distract me from enjoying music, reading and writing stuff. My wife also needs to use the desktop, so Xfce was a better choice because of its easy learning curve for people coming from a Windows machine.

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

    I’ll pick two. Chrome, because besides the usual web surfing, I actually write most of my blog posts on it. I tried minimalist text editors, office suites, and all in-between, but nothing beats having the internet a click away—especially when you write about technology.

    I also really need the amazing music player DeaDBeaF. It reads almost all audio files, converts them, and was the reason I finally could drop Windows and the amazing foobar2000. Like the latter, it might look simple, but its an amazing player made for audio enthusiasts, so it does away with the pretty interface and goes for a practical approach.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    This old computer is based on a Asus P5QL PRO motherboard, Intel Core2Duo at 2.40GHz, 4GB of 667 MHz DDR2 RAM, a Nvidia GT440 card, four SATA2 HDDs and my only indulgence, a dual-bay I use to swap my collection of 2.5” HDDs.

    The PSU is a 750W NOX and all case fans are low-noise ones. My laptop is an ancient Intel Mobile Celeron by a Portuguese company called Tsunami and it’s my backup, if the desktop bites the dust.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Yeah, no problem!

Rafael Lino's desktop

Interview conducted June 15, 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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Asus 1015E: Low End Meets High Function

Asus 1015E-DS03

I’ve been going to more events that require a laptop. My day-to-day workhorse is a ThinkPad T420i that is pretty heavy and now has awful battery life. I also have my old T43 that’s even heavier and has even worse battery life, so I figured it was time to get some kind of small laptop that I could easily carry around and that could hold a charge for more than 15 minutes. The other thing was that I didn’t want to spend a lot. I was hoping to bring this in for around $200 (I once found a refurbished netbook on Overstock for that price so it’s become my go-to netbook price-point).

I considered a Chromebook, but as cheap as they are, it still felt like a lot to pay for a web browser. In general, there really aren’t many netbooks or small-scale laptops bouncing around. But then I remembered there had been an Ubuntu netbook — the Asus 1015E-DS03. I liked the idea of buying something that would be able to handle Linux without any tweaking. I also liked the price. I was able to bring it in refurbished for right around $200 (unfortunately, it now seems to be out of stock).

It came with Ubuntu 12.04, which I didn’t even bother configuring. I installed Xubuntu 14.04 on a thumb drive and paved over 12.04 immediately (or once I finally got the USB installer to work — the 12.04 Startup Disk Creator was a little wonky and Unetbootin wasn’t much better). Once I was able to boot off of the USB drive, I was up and running in less than an hour.

I don’t have much to say about Xubuntu 14.04. It’s great, just like 12.04. The menu is more compact and easier to search and the settings menu moved, but those are about the most dramatic changes I noticed. Synapse is no longer maintained, so I’m working with Kupfer, which isn’t as great, but is fine (Synapse is much better at finding files and in figuring out which programs I use most frequently).

comparison of menus in 12.04 and 14.04

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big hardware guy, but I do have some thoughts on the Asus hardware. It’s small. It’s very small. I have abnormally thin fingers and that keyboard makes me feel like Orson Welles. Another inch wider would have been great. The 10.1” form factor is probably about as small as you can go before the monitor becomes squint-inducing. On the plus side, my 14” laptop now feels gigantic — almost like a dual-monitor.

It doesn’t have a TrackPoint, which I miss like crazy. The touchpad is fine, but it’s not something I’m used to. Also, because the keyboard is so small, my palms often bump it while I’m typing, sending the cursor away. When I play guitar, certain chords will sound off because my hand is accidentally muting strings, so I have to adjust my grip and kind of stand my fingers over the fretboard so everything can ring. That particular skill has served me very well with the 1015E (it also makes me think I’m a lazy guitarist). Luckily, Kupfer does a pretty solid job of letting me avoid the touchpad.

I wouldn’t want to spend hours every day working on the 1015E, but for meetings and short bursts of work, it’s great. It’s fast. It’s responsive. It boots quickly. It’s not instant-on, but I’m never in a situation where I’m like ‘I need to use this computer now and I can’t wait 10 seconds for it to turn on!’ And I love that it’s a full-blown operating system, rather than just a browser. I took the Asus to a Python workshop and it was super convenient that I had Python right there, rather than having to deal with a web-based emulator or booting into developer mode.

I know the netbook concept is over, but it’s a real shame. Small, portable, fast machines like these, at a price point where you’re not devastated if something breaks or goes missing, are very useful. Not everything can be done on a phone or tablet — especially text- and research-based work. If you’re looking for something cheap to haul around or use as a backup machine, and if you want something Linux-ready, seek out an Asus 1015E. It’s not as nice as a MacBook Air. It’s probably not even as light. It’s not as tough. But it’s also just about a quarter of the price and because it’s Linux, you can tweak your desktop experience so that it’s workable on a piece of hardware that isn’t ideal.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Linux Setup - Dheera Venkatraman, Graduate Student, MIT

As I write this, there’s a fair amount of back-and-forth about actor Wil Wheaton’s off-hand comments on Unity, Ubuntu, and Xfce. The timing is great because Dheera’s interview is all about Linux freeing the user to work in whatever way makes sense to him/her. The point of Linux isn’t to create the perfect distro or desktop environment, because the perfect distro and desktop environment depends very much upon the needs and behaviors of the individual user. So when Wheaton says he doesn’t like Ubuntu and Unity, I don’t think it’s an indictment of those projects, so much as an indication they’re not a great match for him at this time (and just to be clear, I don’t think Wheaton was condemning anything — I think he was casually speaking his mind and not expecting innocuous comments to take hold so quickly across an occasionally news-starved Linux-verse).

Also, not to bury the lede, but Dheera has a great setup, mixing Xfce and Compiz. My previous experiences with Compiz were as something I need to turn off, but this interview made me consider trying it out again.

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?

    I’m a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology currently researching single-photon imaging in the Optical and Quantum Communications Group. My side interests include hacking whatever gadgets I can get my hands on, photography, cycling, hiking, piano, and sustainability. As a student I’ve also been involved extensively with the MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum and the MIT Sustainability Summit.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    For me it comes down to customizability, flexibility, security, and being able to take control of everything. In general, Linux never tries to tell me how I’m supposed to use my computer, Linux never tells me that I’m not allowed to do something despite my hardware being capable of it, and Linux never tries to force a user interface upon me. Instead, it gives me the freedom to implement my own visions of how I want my computer to behave, which is exactly what I want technology to do. Also, Linux never tries to “dumb down” technology or hide gory details; when something goes wrong, it tells me precisely what’s wrong, which helps me debug things.

    I’m also a heavy command line user for getting all sorts of batch work done quickly, whether it’s watermarking a thousand photos with custom-generated watermarks, systematically renaming a bunch of files, makeshift e-mail alert systems, or automating desktop publishing tasks; these are all a piece of cake when you have decent command line interfaces to everything and good scripting languages, whereas with most non-free platforms and applications you’re often at the mercy of their GUI interface.

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

    Mostly Mint and Xubuntu. Android on my phone if that counts :-)

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

    Xfce + Compiz. This might seem an unusual combination, but Compiz isn’t really all about effects — it really has some useful productivity features like being able to sketch on your screen (great for presentations!), better customizability of virtual desktops and shortcuts, being able to invert screen colors with a keyboard shortcut, zooming the entire screen, and so on. It’s sad that Compiz seems to have stagnated in development of late. As for Xfce, I used to use GNOME 2 a long time ago, but with the changes in GNOME 3 and especially Unity, I find it extremely inefficient to get any real work done. I dislike desktop icons (I have nothing on my desktop), and I also dislike “smart” menus that dynamically change ordering since it interferes with my muscle memory. I wanted something customizable but simple. Xfce was the answer.

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

    Anything and everything that can be interfaced with a command line. I can fill in variables inside an SVG document from a database before generating a PDF with Inkscape, embed the result inside a LaTeX document, compile it, and upload to a server all in one go, for example. You get the idea.

    My preferred music player is the command-line mplayer. I don’t bother with playlists, rather I have my own looping player “shell” that lets me input regular expressions like

    beethoven.*(symphony [5679]|piano concerto [^1]) 

    which searches my music files and calls mplayer on the files that match those regular expressions (in this case, Symphonies 5, 6, 7, and 9, and all Piano Concertos except the first).

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    My main desktop is running an Intel Core i7-920 with 8GB RAM, a 64GB SSD for the OS, 1TB conventional disk for scratch space, and a 2TB RAID array in a Linux-based NAS box as a file server.

    Various websites I maintain, including my personal website at http://dheera.net/, are all running on Linux servers as well. I have a couple of laptops that run Linux and I’ve also played with running desktop distributions of Linux on a Nexus 10 tablet (with the LinuxOnAndroid project).

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Dheera Venkatraman's desktop

Interview conducted December 30, 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 My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.

Friday, January 17, 2014 Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Linux Setup - Mike Saunders, Linux Voice

I was a huge fan of the TuxRadar podcast for years, so I was both shocked and curious when the team behind it, which was also the editorial team for Linux Format magazine announced they were leaving the magazine and podcast. They left for Linux Voice a new magazine (and podcast) that will also help fund free and open source projects.

The magazine is funded via an indiegogo campaign and the team hit their £90,000 funding goal this week. Linux Format was a great magazine, but it was insanely expensive, especially for those of us in the United States, and the electronic subscription options also weren’t fantastic. Linux Voice addresses a lot of those problems, making it available across formats and geographies for a reasonable subscription price (issues will also be available for free nine months after publication). I can’t wait to get my first issue.

This week’s setup is from Mike Saunders, part of the new Linux Voice team (and a former editor for Linux Format). He’s an Xfce guy, which tells you he can be trusted. And who doesn’t need more Nintendo simulators in their workflow?

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?

    I’m Mike Saunders, a Linux journalist. I worked for many years on Linux Format, and now I’m helping to launch Linux Voice, a crowdfunded magazine that will give its profits and content back to the awesome Free Software community: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/linux-voice

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I came from an Amiga background, so I’d never spent much time with Windows. When I started with Linux (Red Hat 5.2 back in 1998), the hardware detection was pretty poor and it took a lot of work to get everything set up. But I loved the freedom to tinker, explore the source code, and make modifications. As I got onto the internet properly, I found the most amazing, passionate (and often argumentative!) community.

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

    Xubuntu 13.04 at the moment. I really like the Debian underpinnings, and I’ve been using Xfce for years. Before that I was a big fan of Window Maker.

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

    See above. Also, Xfce has the best of all worlds: it’s fast, it’s configurable, and it fits in well with GTK apps. It’s a great choice for those who aren’t happy with the direction GNOME 3 took.

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

    I couldn’t live without ZSNES, the awesome Super NES/Famicom emulator. But it’s not so distro-specific :-) Really, there’s nothing specific in Xubuntu that I couldn’t get elsewhere — it effectively provides me with a stable and up-to-date Debian system.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    Currently an Asus K52F laptop. It’s not very high-specced, but I’ve never owned top-of-the-line machines. Part of the appeal of Linux to me is that it works great on old hardware, and I don’t have to upgrade every few months.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?


Mike Saunder's desktop

Interview conducted November 11, 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 My Linux Rig on Google+ here, follow me on Twitter here, and subscribe to the feed here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Return to Xubuntu: A Review

screenshot of my Xubuntu desktop

A few months ago, I had a Linux first — I reached the end-of-support of a distro. I never thought of myself as a distro hopper, especially with my main laptop, but I guess I hop around enough to have never made it to the end-of-support.

I was using OpenSUSE 12.1 GNOME, and I loved it, but I saw end-of-support as a chance to really explore my options. I’ve messed around with a few distros on my testing machine, but nothing really grabbed my attention, other than the dearly-depart Fuduntu.

The Search

OpenSUSE actually lets you upgrade via disk (and rather scarily, live), but I didn’t want to upgrade two versions (12.1-12.2 and then 12.2-12.3), having to back up all of my work and settings, only to be back in a similar situation in less than 18 months (assuming nothing horribly broke). So even though I love OpenSUSE, it didn’t seem like the right option for me at this point in time.

OpenSUSE has a rolling release concept, Tumbleweed, that interested me, but I was never able to get it to work on my testing machine, a ThinkPad T43. I suspect the problem might have had to do with bouncing between GNOME versions, but I was never really able to pin the issue down.

I played with Manjaro’s GNOME edition on my testing machine for a few weeks, and that seemed pretty nice, but eventually an update broke my setup and I wasn’t able to even triangulate on what the issue might be. I don’t blame Manjaro, though. Part of running an Arch-based distribution means accepting a willingness to go through log files. I thought I was willing to do that right up until I couldn’t figure out the issue in less than a few hours. I enjoy trouble-shooting a lot of different Linux issues, but reviewing log files is completely unrewarding to me. It’s not a knock on Arch or Manjaro — it’s more a self-realization.

I also played with Linux Mint Debian Edition, another rolling release, but aesthetically it was a bit raw, and there seemed to be some concerns about the rate at which Mint pushes out security updates. In general, it’s a nice enough distro, but it felt and looked old to me.

The Bake-Off

With rolling releases ruled out, I decided to focus on long-term stability. That meant either an Ubuntu Long Term Support release (LTS; 12.04.2) or a Linux Mint one (Maya 13).

Now down to two distros, I had to think about the desktop environment issue. I love GNOME, but I haven’t had the most luck getting GNOME shell working in Ubuntu. In the past it’s been glitchy in a way I haven’t seen in other distros. Ubuntu now has a GNOME edition, but because it’s brand new, there’s no LTS version.

Poking around Ubuntu, I remembered how much I enjoyed Xubuntu back when I ran it a few years ago. While Xubuntu won’t push out Xfce-related updates as long as it will push the general Ubuntu ones, it felt long-term enough for my purposes.

Looking at Mint, I’m not a huge fan of Cinnamon or Mate, so I decided to try Mint’s Xfce version, too.

I installed Mint and Xubuntu side-by-side on my testing machine. As you might expect, they’re both very, very similar, what with Mint based upon Ubuntu. In the end, I decided to go with Xubuntu for purely aesthetic reasons. The default Xfce configuration was nicer, with a single panel across the top of the screen, much like my beloved GNOME. There was more contrast due to a darker theme. It shipped with the beautiful elementary icons already installed. The fonts and rendering were all sharper within Xubuntu (say what you will about Ubuntu, but no distro renders fonts better). Obviously, I could have configured Mint to look just like Xubuntu (it even has the elementary icons in its repositories), but it seemed like an unnecessary step. Why bother going to the trouble of getting Mint to look like Xubuntu when I can just use Xubuntu?

screenshot of Linux Mint Xfce desktop
Linux Mint Xfce

And so, with that, I was settled on Xubuntu as my new distro. Now, I had to get it on my main work machine, a ThinkPad T420.

The Switch

I moved my files over to the testing machine, just to make sure there were no issues with file versions. It was time well spent. OpenSUSE was using KeePassX 2 while Xubuntu is still on 0.4.3. Despite what the numbers imply, they are two completely different programs. The Linux version of KeePassX 2 won’t let you roll back a file to version 0.4.3, so I had to do it in a Windows version of KeePassX via a virtual machine. It represented work, but far less work than losing all of my passwords.

I had some PDFs zipped up with a password. For some reason, the PDFs wouldn’t open on Xubuntu. I had occasionally had the same thing happen on OpenSUSE, so I’m not quite sure that issue was, but the files weren’t anything irreplaceable, so I didn’t even bother trying to resolve the issue.

I had a virtual Windows XP machine in OpenSUSE. I archived it and reinstalled it in Xubuntu without any drama, other than that my flash drive was formatted as FAT32 and couldn’t handle the archive size until I reformatted it as NTFS. I didn’t pick up on the FAT32 size limitation until the Xubuntu virtual machine told me the archived image was defective. Once I reformatted the flash drive, moving the virtual machine over was effortless (and much faster than reinstalling a Windows image from scratch).

Once everything was working on my testing machine, I quickly installed Xubuntu on my main laptop. It was quick and easy, like most Ubuntu installs are. I appreciated that Xubuntu didn’t require me to manually configure my TrackPoint scroll, like so many other distros do. Although I had my files backed up on my testing machine, I was able to move them over using SpiderOak, and that was shockingly quick.

I’ve been tweaking Xubuntu and the level of customization is very impressive. As I’ve mentioned, I really loved GNOME, but there isn’t much you can do to change its look. Xfce is quite the opposite. Of course, I’ve been using that customizability to make Xubuntu look more like GNOME. I turned off the button labels so it just shows program icons in the top panel. I’ve mostly been ignoring the bottom dock, since it autohides. I might remove it at some point, but so far, I rarely see it. I installed the Microsoft fonts from the repositories and manually added Courier Prime, my favorite font. I set PCManFM as the default file manager and configured the application finder/launcher to come up with the Super/Windows button (one of my first Xubuntu tricks). I miss not being able to open specific files from the launcher, like I could in GNOME, but it’s really not much of an adjustment — especially with the gedit dashboard plugin enabled.

annotated screenshot of my Xubuntu desktop
Annotated Xubuntu

screenshot of my OpenSUSE GNOME desktop
My old GNOME desktop

Xfce is great at making tweaks very easy to implement. Keyboard shortcuts take a few seconds, where in GNOME they could be hidden in gconf and dconf configurations. Once you know what you want to do with Xfce, making changes is remarkably quick.

The biggest compliment I can pay my current setup is that it doesn’t feel different from my old one. I’m still able to launch things by clicking the Super button. If I have that ability in any operating system, I’m pretty happy. I appreciate the range of software available within the Ubuntu repositories. Everything is in there, where with OpenSUSE I often had to enable certain separate repositories to get software I wanted.

Lessons Learned

Changing distros is stressful. The main lesson, which I’m sure everyone knows, is to make sure all of your files are backed up. I back up everything to SpiderOak, but I also backed up my files to a flash drive, just in case something went sideways with SpiderOak (which it didn’t).

I’m lucky enough to have an old laptop I can use as a test machine. That was huge. It let me flag problems and resolve them before they were live on my main laptop. If you have a second machine you can test on, I strongly encourage you to do so. Especially if you’re going between different distributions.

Also, in general, when choosing a distro, think about what you really want. I started looking at rolling releases because I didn’t want to deal with reinstallations down the line. But with rolling releases, the cost for having to do a reinstallation every few years is having to be vigilant and observant on a regular basis. In the end, I realized I’d rather spend a day or two on a reinstall every few years than constantly watching and maintaining my system. I just don’t have the skillset to understand the implications of each update. I need a distribution that parses that information for me.

On a related note, try and spend a few weeks with a rolling release. Just about all of them are easy to manage at the beginning. But as you make changes and as updates come in, things can become more complex. Testing over time will give you more of a sense of if you have the tools to keep a rolling system running.

Finally, I really urge people to take Xubuntu for a spin. It’s a beautiful distribution that has a lot of nice default settings. I really thought more people would flock to Xfce when GNOME 3 came up. Some of the default implementations, or lack of implementation, can make Xfce seem old-fashioned and kind of ugly. Xubuntu does a great job of showing how contemporary Xfce can look and feel. It’s got that familiar, menu-driven interface that so many people seem to like, but it also works well via its own application launcher/finder. It’s fast and simple. I loved GNOME 3, but Xfce is just as impressive. Plus, it’s really nice to have my weather applet back.

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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Linux Setup - Sebastian Feiler, Student

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but a few years back, I went to a university-wide Linux event which had vendors and speakers from across the Linux world. One of the speakers, from a Linux-friendly company, said Linux would never make inroads into enterprise desktop computing as long as people relied on Microsoft Office. He said the OS wasn’t the issue — the office software was. Sebastian explores a similar thread in discussing why Linux is a tough fit for the legal community. But, like so many others, he sees the cloud as a way to potentially open things up.

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?

    I am Sebastian (@Gerion80 on Twitter, +Sebastian Feiler on Google Plus), a legal trainee and Ph.D student from Cologne, Germany. After finishing my legal studies at University of Cologne, I am now in the last stage of my legal traineeship (“Rechtsreferendariat”). In Germany, in order to become a lawyer, judge or legal practitioner, you have to take two state exams, the first one at the end of your university education, the second one after completing a two-year traineeship. In addition, I am working on my Ph.D disseration in private international law.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    While I have no history in information technology or programming, I am a tech-savvy person. Some might even call me a nerd or a geek or whatever name they wish to attribute to “techies.” Nevertheless, I have been a Windows user for a long time, but after the “Windows experience” got more and more uncomfortable, I decided to switch. This was in 2011, and it has been an amazing journey since then. Although I am writing my disseration in LibreOffice, I still need Windows for my reference/citation database software, so I went ahead and set up a multiboot system and started to dive into Ubuntu Linux. I like the way Linux and Unix work, being very adaptive and stable, powerful and capable of solving every IT-related problem and adapting to a million different workflows. Although I have to admit that there is a steep learning curve if you want to understand the system. And with Linux, you have to.

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

    I currently run Xubuntu 12.04 LTS on my machine. I think that it perfectly combines the reliability of a long term support release and the sturdiness of a no-nonsense desktop environment. However, I like to test new distributions. I carry a thumb drive with a few distros nearly all the time (Fedora 18, openSUSE 12.3 and Linux Mint 15, currently). I have also been tinkering with Arch in a virtual machine.

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

    At this moment it’s Xfce 4.8. I like that it’s customizable, but at the same time it still delivers a full desktop environment experience.

    I tried LXDE but was not completely satisfied (but that might be because I messed up my system by installing too many desktop environments). It turned out that Unity and Compiz are not ideal for my somewhat aging machine (see below), although I have to say that I enjoyed Unity quite a bit. I like the OS X-like arrangement of menus, although I find its gray-orangeish colors to be rather disturbing. I started to use Ubuntu after the 11.04 switch to Unity, so at first Unity seemed the way to go. But after wiping my hard disk a few weeks ago, I am now completely happy with Xfce. Everything I need is accessible via simple key bindings or is just one mouse click away. I would be interested in trying out a tiling window manager, though, like awesome or i3.

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

    I guess there is no particular software that is exclusively tied to Ubuntu. I rely heavily on Chrome (and the vimium extension - I like keyboard shortcuts!), Thunderbird (and the nostalgy extension, since I like…you get the picture), LibreOffice, TrueCrypt and the usual set of text editors. One outstanding piece of free software that I admire is GNU Emacs. I got to know its power through the excellent Org-Mode. On the other hand, I also do like to use vim a fair bit. All things considered I must say that the whole idea of a powerful command line and the beauty and simplicity of Unix commands, bash and its tools simply amaze me every day. I can still remember the first time I realized the advantages of screen (I used to use irssi then), and the first time I prepended some notes to a text file by simply echoing into the file from the command line. I guess it’s those simple things that make me enjoy the Linux computing experience most.

    In my field of practice, due to the overwhelming force of Microsoft, it will be very difficult to go Linux-only. The only way this might work would be for solo practitioners or in small firms, and even then you would need a Windows or Mac partition to use MS Word and its advanced text revisioning and commenting features (Wine does not seem to be very reliable when it comes to current MS Office versions). No legal practitioner will risk ruining or missing an important comment because he used LibreOffice instead of Microsoft software. That’s the simple, dirty (and sad) truth. Since I love the modularity and power of Linux/Unix systems, I think I might try Apple in the near future. OS X and its Unix core seems to be quite customizable under the hood (or so I’m told), and I could use Office there and go for OpenSUSE or Arch on the Linux partition. No matter what happens, Linux will stay on my computer(s). Maybe there will be a time when all relevant computing and applications have moved to a (private) cloud and you will be free to use whatever OS you desire. This has already started with the advent of Google Docs, but it takes time for legal professionals to adapt to these services — and for the services to adapt to the usage cases of lawyers (especially when it comes to privacy and data security). We’re not there yet.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    My main and one-and-only machine is an old, trusty Lenovo Thinkpad T60. I love this piece of hardware. It’s as close as you can get to a sort of “fanboy experience” without buying Apple devices. A rock-solid piece of hardware! I maxed out the memory (3 GB) and upgraded the hard disk several times now. A few weeks ago I finally started using an SSD drive. It was amazing. I will never switch back. Even though my old hardware won’t support the new iterations of SATA, SSD still boosts the overall performance and speed of the system. Unfortunately, when I purchased the T60 back in 2007, I made one mistake: I did not opt for the high-resolution display. Now I can only use 1024x768 pixels, which gets more and more painful. Guess what a revelation Linux’s virtual desktops have been for me!

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure, there you go! Nothing exciting, I guess…

Sebastian Feiler's desktop

Interview conducted June 13, 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.

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Monday, May 7, 2012
I only wish Xfce looked this good in Debian. I vaguely remember trying Xfce 4.6 on a Debian Wheezy system (very vaguely; I need to try it again), and it doesn’t look as polished as it does here in Xubuntu 12.04.

Steven Rosenberg : Xubuntu 12.04 with Xfce 4.8 - one giant leap and a mighty attractive desktop

Me: Stock Xfce isn’t pretty. Ubuntu does a great job enhancing it (without turning it into GNOME or Unity) via Xubuntu.