My main desktop is Ubuntu GNOME 16.04, which I guess is now just Ubuntu. I think it’s great. The author of this article seems to think heavy-duty Unity users will have some trouble adjusting to GNOME. Maybe I wasn’t enough of a Unity power user, but it seems like a very easy transition to me. Unity is a failed experiment, but it did help give birth to MATE and Cinnamon, so some good things did come out of it.
Last year, I wrote about the seven apps that I pay for. I thought it might make a nice annual post, since things fall in and out of that list, and I think it’s always good to highlight products that are worth paying for.
Also, I know everyone has different financial constrains—especially this time of year—but if you do have some extra money, consider supporting a free and open source project that’s saved you money. My go-tos are Debian, KeePassX, and the Software Freedom Conservancy. For me, it’s a convenient way to give back to those communities (I also try and regularly donate to my beloved MetaFilter).
Here are the things I use and pay for (and that I think are worth paying for!):
- Fastmail: I wrote about why it’s great here. The service and uptime is amazing. It’s well worth the cost. I pay $35 a year on an old plan, but the new plans, which include more space, are $30 to $90 a year. If you depend upon email, you should pay for it.
- CalDav Sync: Fastmail comes with a great calendar. To sync it to your Android phone, you need CalDAV-Sync, which is around $3. It’s a small price to pay for a calendar that syncs almost instantly and that I never have to think about. Plus, it’s a one-time cost.
- WordPress.com: It powers this site. On the one hand, using the WordPress-hosted WordPress is pretty limiting. There are very few plug-ins and customizing can be tough. However, they have great support, I get to use the latest-and-greatest web interface, and I never have to worry about updating it. The fact that I don’t have to think about folder permissions makes it well-worth the $4 a month.
NYTimes.com: I subscribe to the digital New York Times (which is also an app, which is why it’s on this list) because it’s important to support journalism you believe in. My academic institution actually provides free access and I still pay for a personal subscription. It’s not expensive and it helps me feel like I’m doing my part to make sure my government always has someone to answer to. Plus, if we don’t pay for publications we like, the publications tend to go away.
The Athletic: This is a new sports site (and app!). It has nothing to do with Linux or technology. I just really enjoy their reporting. And I want to support alternatives to mega conglomerates, like ESPN, which aren’t always interested in reporting news, but instead seem more interested in generating clicks and revenue.
Trello: I haven’t written about my use of Trello (although I touched on it here), mostly because I’m not using it in a particularly interesting way. I use it to keep lots of lists and for project management and it’s been great. My girlfriend and I used it to plan a housewarming and a move and it was amazing for that. I still use Google Keep for a digital junk drawer, but I use it less and less. I couldn’t tell you the difference between free Trello and Trello Gold, the paid tier. I just wanted to support a project I enjoy. And yes. I tried the various open source Trello alternatives, and they’re just not as good as Trello. Yet!
There’s also some of the same products from last year’s list:
- Remember the Milk: AKA, my brain.
- LastPass: It’s just so convenient–especially across multiple computers.
- Newsblur: The best RSS reader. I’ve tried them all. Literally. Newsblur is well worth the $24.
- Dropbox: The product is great. The company is super annoying. They’re constantly launching new products that seem like the current one, removing functionality, and, in general, acting like they’re improvising a business strategy. But the tool itself works and they have an effective Linux client, so I’ll keep paying until someone else comes up with something better (that I don’t have to host myself).
This is an interview with Boone Gorges for my podcast. Boone is a developer who understands the importance of free and open source software, and in this episode he articulates why it’s so important. He also talks about how the term ‘coding’ makes computers seem more magical than they actually are. I think readers here will enjoy Boone.
I read Linux Journal for many years but actually bailed when they went digital-only. Still, it’s sad to see a once-beloved publication go.
I don’t understand the particulars of this situation but it’s weird. My only comment is that I donate to Software Freedom Conservancy every year and if you want to support lots of great free and open source software projects, you should consider it, too: https://sfconservancy.org/supporter/#annual (the t-shirt is great, also!)
I know Kyle through my book. Kyle was kind enough to reach out about his own love of Linux and agreed to be interviewed here. Kyle is using OpenSUSE Tumbleweed which I’ve been using on an old laptop for a few months now, and I agree with him that it’s pretty great. It’s always up-to-date but it’s not that hard to manage.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Kyle, and I do lots of stuff. Much of the time I work in production support for a major tech publisher helping authors and staff get books published. Publishing has long been dominated by Microsoft Word, but authors are driving a shift to other formats, like Asciidoc, and writing in Linux environments. It’s a change I’m personally happy to see. Before that, I helped design and build industrial ultrasonic scanning systems. In my spare time I do some voice over work, mess about with code, and play bass guitar (poorly). For all of these things, Linux has been my workstation of choice.
Why do you use Linux?
Choice! I can do what I want with Linux. I can choose a distribution that suits my style, skill, and workflow, or I can build one from scratch if I want (I don’t want. I’m lazy). I can customize the look and feel, disable this, enable that, all the way down to the kernel if I need to. Vendor-lock and walled-gardens are easy to avoid for the desktop Linux user.
Another reason is transparency. As an open source project, the community-at-large can get under the hood and see what’s going on. I can be reasonably confident that my operating system is secure and is just an OS, not another corporate data mine. I’d add stability to the list, and that’s probably true for most users, but I like to tinker and I think I’m always on the verge of breaking something. Luckily, though, if I can break it, there’s a good chance I can fix it too.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
Like many Linux users, I tend to bounce around a bit. I’ve tried most every major distro, and a number of smaller, more obscure options. Right now, I’m pretty stuck on OpenSUSE Tumbleweed. It’s rolling release, so it’s always up-to-date, and YaST is a great administration tool for lazy users like me who can’t remember where such and such is configured. And it’s incredibly easy to add/remove community repos and packages, and switch package vendors.
Slackware has a special place in my heart as the only distro I tried to install (and failed, damned drivers) from 3.5-inch diskettes, and I go back to it from time to time.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
I’ve used most of them, from the most minimal window managers to the most bloated desktop environments. I run KDE/Plasma, mostly, because it’s easy on the eyes and easy to configure and customize. KDE has a fantastic suite of applications too. I also love the stark simplicity of WMs like Openbox and Fluxbox.
What one piece of Linux software do you depend upon? Why is it so important?
Really? Just one? For my audio work I’d have to say Ardour, and by extension, JACK. Ardour is a multitrack digital audio workstation whose workflow just fits me. I’ve tried using expensive DAWs from major commercial vendors only to find myself frustrated every step of the way. JACK lets me route audio from almost anywhere to almost anywhere. I can even route my effects chain through various VOIP programs to annoy my coworkers. Other software (c’mon, you didn’t really mean just one, did you?) I can’t live without includes Vim, Emacs (Org-Mode!), Kdenlive, pandoc, asciidoc, Inkscape…
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
I have an older Dell laptop with a second-gen i5 and 8GB RAM, but most of my work is done on my home-built desktop. It has an AMD FX-6300 CPU, 16GB RAM, and a dual-24″ 1080p setup. Nothing too exciting, really. Linux runs so efficiently, generally speaking, that older or mid-range hardware gets the job done with plenty of headroom. I ran my last setup for eight years.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
Sure, but I warn you, it’s boring.
Interview conducted January 25, 2017
When I look at Mac laptop users today, they seem cornered by Apple’s design decisions. I hope that the next generation of MacBook and MacBook Pro models show a little more diversity—designs with their own personalities and strengths and weaknesses. The more diversity in design, the more opportunity Apple has to make bold product-design decisions without cornering its most loyal users.
A great sentiment, but there’s no financial incentive for Apple to do this. Which is why so many of us choose Linux—so we’re not dependent upon the magnanimity of businesses.
Christopher Shaw writes about moving back to Windows from Linux. It’s interesting how Windows Subsystem For Linux is lightening the line between Windows and Linux. If WSL continues to improve and evolve, Windows will almost be just another desktop environment.
The difference between the latest version and the Unity one isn’t apparent at first, but once you start logging in, you will see that Ubuntu has switched to GNOME’s display manager.
The problem with Unity in a nutshell—it just wasn’t that different from GNOME.
This project makes me proud to be a librarian. A library doesn’t like a vendor, so they’re building an open-source product for everyone.