The Linux Setup – Steven Rosenberg, Los Angeles Daily News

Steven Rosenberg is one of my favorite Linux writers. He’s great at big picture Linux stuff, but he’s equally compelling when he’s writing about making his local machines work. If you’re not already reading his work, you should be.

As you’ll see from his interview, Rosenberg gets a lot of work done using Linux.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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

    My name is Steven Rosenberg. I am the online editor for the Los Angeles Daily News, and I blog on technology in a number of places, including

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

    Debian Squeeze amd64. I use the Debian Multimedia repository and the Liquorix kernels (, currently 2.6.37, as it handles my hardware better than the 2.6.32 that ships with Squeeze.

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

    I use the standard GNOME desktop. I have used Xfce in the past (and still use it on another Debian Squeeze laptop), and I recently installed Fvwm2 on my main laptop. The automatic Debian menus make using window managers frustrating at times because not all applications end up in the menus; I’ll eventually create my own menu for Fvwm2 in Debian.

    GNOME runs so fast in Debian that I am happy to use it.

    Photo editing – gThumb (the best app for journalistic photo editing because it doesn’t ignore/erase IPTC caption metadata in JPEGs) with GIMP as backup (which DOES erase IPTC caption metadata; the workaround is to call GIMP through gThumb when needed. Gthumb is my No. 1 app).

    Text editing – Gedit when I don’t need to search/replace changes across multiple files, Geany when I do. Vi in the console (I don’t care whether it’s Vim or Nvi – I use BSDs, too, and generally Vi is Nvi in those). I use text editors 95 percent of the time, OpenOffice/LibreOffice the other 5 percent.

    Office suite – OpenOffice in Squeeze, LibreOffice everywhere else (Windows XP and 7). I’m doing a lot of work with spreadsheet data, and I’m in OpenOffice Calc quite a bit. I use Writer for reports (saving in .doc format), and occasionally Impress for presentations.

    Browsers – I use an in-house CMS that is accessed via web browser, and it pretty much requires Firefox, so I use Iceweasel, which I recently upgraded from the 3.5.x that ship with Squeeze to 4.0.x from I also use Chromium (the version that ships with Squeeze). I’ve been using Iceweasel/Firefox 4.0.x for about a week (in both Debian and Windows XP), and thus far I do consider it an improvement over 3.5.x and 3.6.x.

    I rely on the Firebug and Web Developer extensions in Firefox/Iceweasel, and I like the built-in Firebug-like feature in Chromium.

    Mail client – After managing my mail through Gmail for a while, I went back to traditional mail clients for my main work account. The mail server I use does IMAP but does it very poorly. As a result, I’m having trouble with all the clients I’ve tried – Claws, Evolution and Iceweasel/Thunderbird.

    By far, Thunderbird performs the best, and I recently upgraded from 3.0.x to 3.1.x via My extensions no longer work, but none of them worked that well to begin with (Lightning/Iceowl and sync with Google Calendar), so I don’t miss them.

    I’m trying to get away from having a mail client do anything but handle mail. That said, I’m still using Google Calendar sync with Evolution in the GNOME desktop, and it works well. It’s very baked-in to the GNOME desktop.

    Audio editing – I do a bit of audio editing, and I use Audacity. I have the Debian Multimedia repository hooked up so I can output mp3 files, which fortunately or not I must do.

    Video editing – Pitivi crashes like crazy in Squeeze. I used OpenShot (I think it’s 1.1.0) to edit a video recently, and it was OK, not great; I ended up with a few rough transitions. I’m eager to try OpenShot 1.3.0 to see it it has improved, and I’m thinking of trying KDEnlive. I’d love to edit video in Blender, but I can’t figure it out. I do need to edit video, and I’d love for one of these solutions to float to the top and stay there.

    FTP client – I use FileZilla on this machine because I have it across all platforms (Linux, BSD, Windows, Mac) and know how it works. I do have gFTP on one Debian Squeeze laptop, but my “main” client is FileZilla.

    Music – I don’t listen to a lot of music on the computer, but I use Rhythmbox because it does what I need it to do, and it plays very well with my Centon Craze MP3 player (which plays oggs, by the way, and costs <$30, which is good because it’s worth about $20) and my circa 2005 iPod.

    Video – I use Totem. It seems to do well. For the most part I stick with the GNOME defaults because they work.

    Podcasts – I use gPodder.

    IM – Empathy. It works well enough. I have Pidgin installed but don’t use it.

    Graphics – I mentioned above that my No. 1 image editor is gThumb, followed by GIMP. I use Inkscape sparingly but would like to get a whole lot better at it.

    Backups – I use rsync and recommend it. It runs in every Linux and BSD. I’d love to figure out Duplicity, and I’m planning to use Clonezilla.

    File sync – I’ve backed off from Google Docs in recent months and started using Dropbox to sync files across multiple computers. I’m not happy that it’s so wedded to GNOME. But since I’m using GNOME, it works for me. And it works in general – very well.

    Scripting – I’m starting to get into Perl.

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

    My main laptop is a Lenovo G555 that cost me $329 new about a year ago. It has an AMD Athlon II 2.1 GHz, 3 GB RAM, 320GB Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive (I replaced the original 160 MB WD Caviar Blue) with AMD/ATI Mobility Radeon 4200 HD video chip. There were problems with this video chip around 2.6.34 in Fedora 13, but now most distributions handle it well with the open-source drivers. When I was running Fedora 13, I tried the fglrx/Catalyst driver but didn’t like the experience at all; too much tinkering was needed for too little payoff.

    This laptop has one of the worst touchpads ever. I use a mouse most of the time. The touchpad, an Alps I believe, works better in Linux than in Windows. I’ve had Alps touchpads on other laptops that were way better than this one, so it’s not like every Alps touchpad is this terrible.

    This Lenovo is NOT a Thinkpad. It’s not priced like a Thinkpad and doesn’t perform like one, either. It’s good enough. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a laptop, which I consider a “disposable” item due to their relative lack of sturdiness and dis-ease of repair compared to desktops.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    Right now Squeeze is my “ideal” distribution, and that’s why I use it. I don’t have a multimedia-editing-optimized system with a real-time kernel, JACK audio and Ardour, and that would make my current system “more” ideal.

    I use OpenBSD a bit, and have used it as my main OS in the past. At this particular time, Linux fits my needs better for my main machine, but that could change in the future.

    I’ve used Ubuntu a lot, Slackware a little (I’m not a KDE fan). Debian fits my philosophy and use case very well. My intention is to keep the Squeeze base and upgrade individual things as needed/desired.

    For the desktop, I’m not interested in Unity or GNOME 3/GNOME Shell at the moment. I’d like the fanboy universe to torture-test them a bit before I take another look, and that’s why Debian is perfect for me. I can let this system “ride” for a few years and not worry about anything breaking.

    Having Fedora change kernels from 2.6.33 to 2.6.34 in F13 in the middle of the release cycle was a huge deal-breaker for me. It broke my video and led to a lot of extra work for me. When F14 wouldn’t run at all, I came back “home” to Debian, which I’ve run in one form or another since Etch in 2007.

    Regarding hardware, I would like a machine with more power for audio and video editing – many cores, super-fast video card. But I also prefer systems that use less electrical power and that are quiet (no fans if possible) and throw off as little heat as possible.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    I tend not to mess around with the desktop configuration. I’m running vanilla GNOME in Debian Squeeze. I actually like the SpaceFun theme, so I stuck with it. I have icons for my most-used applications on the upper panel.

    I added a couple extra virtual desktops, so you see six in the lower right panel. I like to “spread out” and keep one “major” app per desktop so things don’t get too crowded.

    Virtual desktops are my personal Linux/BSD “killer feature.”

Seven Rosenberg's desktop

Interview conducted May 9, 2011

UPDATE: Steven updates his gear:

This is Steven Rosenberg. Since this interview, I’ve dumped Chromium for Chrome from Google’s repository (the updates track through the package-management system).

The version of Chromium in Squeeze was getting a bit too old and wouldn’t work on more than a few web forms I need to deal with. Using an updated Google Chrome browser has fixed all of these issues.

Just today I switched up my Debian Mozilla repository to swap out Iceweasel 5.0 for 4.0.1, since there won’t be any more updates to the 4.x series. It passes the smoke test.

I finally moved to Openshot 1.3.0. I think I downloaded the .deb from the Debian Sid repository, but I should be using apt-pinning, something I plan to get into sooner or later. While Openshot 1.3.0 is somewhat better than 1.1.0, it’s not a huge improvement. I should probably just bite a bullet or two and try KDEnlive or figure out video editing in Blender.

Now that LibreOffice is in squeeze-backports, I plan to try it soon.

I also should have mentioned that I used the Linux Mint Debian Edition package for Dropbox. Once you install the package, you’re pretty much hooked up to Dropbox’s repository. The recent revelation of security issues at Dropbox (accounts were left unprotected over a weekend) are troubling, to be sure.

I did a Debian Squeeze LXDE installation on my old IBM Thinkpad R32 last week. It’s a very compelling setup — extremely fast and for the most part quite minimal. I added Wicd to help deal with networking. LXDE/Openbox is a very nice environment that I will definitely consider using more in the future.

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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