The Linux Setup, Noah Lorang, 37signals

Noah’s on my radar because of this post he wrote about how operating systems are becoming irrelevant. The piece points out how Noah was able to effortlessly switch from OS X to Linux. I appreciated the post because it wasn’t about the politics of free and open source software. Instead, he was writing about getting to choose the best tools for the job, an idea that sometimes gets misplaced in our conversations about Linux.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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

    I’m Noah Lorang (or @noahhlo on Twitter), and I’m the data analyst for a company called 37signals ( We make web-based productivity software — project management, contact management, group chat, and things like that. We also have a few other products and a popular blog called Signal vs. Noise (, for which I occasionally write pieces.

    I work on basically anything that has to do with numbers in some way—I analyze customer behavior, marketing campaigns, financial stuff, application performance, how our support team is doing, and everything else in between.

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

    I recently switched to using Ubuntu 11.10 for my main desktop (I also have a Macbook Air running Mac OS X, but I only use it for traveling, which I rarely do). I’m using Gnome 3, but not because I dislike Unity (as many people on the internet do) — I just never used any of the features it provided, and my system runs at a much lower load without it.

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

    I basically only interact with four pieces of software: Chromium for web browsing, Empathy for jabber/chat, Terminator as a terminal, and SublimeText2. I actually was a long-time Vim user who only recently switched to SublimeText; with Vintage mode, I get most of what I liked about Vim in a more polished exterior.

    Those four things let me use the R statistical programming language, Pine for email, Ruby (and Rails), our soon-to-be-release project managment tool Basecamp Next (, and our web-based chat tool, Campfire. I work remotely from home, as does almost two-thirds of the company, so Campfire is our office for most purposes.

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

    I’m using a pretty basic home-assembled machine: Intel Core i7 processor, 32 GB RAM, SSD for applications and 3x 1TB HDs in a RAID for data, and some mid-range AMD video card I don’t remember. I’m not a gamer, so all I cared about with the video card was that it drove the 3 monitors that I use (27" Apple Cinema display, 23" Acer, 22" Samsung). I do care a lot about comfortable interactions, so I use a Filco Majestouch mechanical keyboard and an Evoluent mouse.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    I’m pretty close to it — I never have to worry about RAM, even doing pretty intensive data crunching with datasets in memory, and everything “just works.” I’ll probably put Ubuntu on my laptop pretty soon, at which point I’ll be completely satisfied.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure, but it’s utterly boring—just plain black with some screenshots that are lying around. I never see my desktop; I just look at whatever I’m editing or doing in a terminal.

Noah Lorang's desktop

Interview conducted February 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.

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