The Linux Setup – Tom Chandler, Writer

Tom’s setup is interesting because he’s not a tech guy, although he obviously has some interest in technology. But mostly, he’s just a person trying to use computers to do his job. His setup reflects that. He’s got things he needs to do and he chooses software to help him best get everything done. It’s another great example of how Linux isn’t a novelty so much as it’s a viable alternative for “normal” (ie, non-tech obsessed) people who don’t enjoy using Windows or OS X.

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

    For the last 26+ years I’ve fed and clothed myself primarily as a writer (mostly writing marketing/advertising copy). Along the way I built a Top 10 Writer/Copywriter’s blog and a top fly fishing blog.

    I wrote my first handful of assignments on an electric typewriter (I simply wasn’t man enough for a manual), bought a 128K Mac in 1985, then moved to Windows in the 90s when my Macs refused to stop crashing.

    I never really liked Windows, but my corporate clients used it and Microsoft was very good at keeping competing word processors away from MS Word’s files. Eventually I ran headlong into Windows Vista and realized I already had one mother and didn’t want another, so I decided to try Linux, which was supposed to have gotten easy.

    Turns out it was easy. And fast. And uncluttered. I installed it on an old laptop, and within days it was on all my machines. That was four years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Ubuntu is a great platform for writers who are willing to tear free of MS Word.

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

    I’m an Ubuntu guy, though the advent of Unity has pushed me to try the other Ubuntu flavors like Xubuntu and Lubuntu (both of which are running on my netbook and laptop). Xfce might just become my standard desktop; I launch everything using Synapse anyway, and Unity’s universal menus and lack of document identification don’t work for me.

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

    Because 95% of my writing is headed for online pastures (where embedded codes only get in the way), I spend most of my writing time in programmer’s text editors like Sublime Text, Komodo Edit and Emacs.

    I used Emacs for a couple months – long enough to learn the navigation key bindings (I use them on my other text editors). But getting it to perform all that magic was always just out of reach of a non-programmer. Komodo Edit and Sublime Text aren’t as powerful, but they’re far more accessible.

    I often work in the Markdown text markup language (I’ll code in HTML for short posts), and use Pandoc to convert text documents to PDF, LibreOffice or MS Word formats.

    Despite being a type fiend, I write in monospace fonts (Inconsolata and Droid mono). I was surprised to discover it’s easier to spot misspellings and spacing issues, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Programmers spend more hours in front of a monitor than even writers, and they use monospaced fonts and low-contrast color themes – both of which I’ve adopted.

    When I need to write corporate video scripts – which require specific (and odd) formatting – I use Celtx. It’s an open source product that supports the double-column “documentary” script format (few other screenwriting apps do). It’s powerful but the interface is clunky, and I just noticed the much sleeker FadeIn Pro software now offers AV format. Hmmm.

    Life, it seems, is a series of choices.

    Other software includes Firefox (using the Firemacs extension), GIMP, Audacity (audio editor) and the OpenShot Linux video editor.

    After a pretty rocky start, I’ve grown dependent on Ubuntu One, though I could ditch it for Dropbox if the urge to try another Linux distro overpowered me.

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

    I own two desktops and a netbook. My main computer is an AMD Phenom six-core, 8GB desktop. I just added a 128GB SSD, so now it’s way, way faster than any writer needs it to be.

    My 24" display is huge by Old Guy Standards, though today’s wide-format monitors don’t really do writers – who need vertical pixels – any favors.

    I use an upstairs desktop (a slower, older version of the first desktop) and a System 76 Starling Netbook which I use on the road (it’s great, but its wireless issues have been a disappointment).

    I’m trying a Toshiba Thrive android tablet (built-in HDMI & USB ports), and while it’s a fun toy, the technology feels immature, like I’m just getting a glimpse of what’s coming. I mostly read on it.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    I’m pretty happy. Ubuntu could be a little less fussy with media and I’m not sure we’re heading in the right direction on the desktop environment front, but my real want is an integrated writing platform; something that offers a powerful, configurable text editor (optimized for writers, not coders) that’s married to version control and a system that converts text files into whatever you need – manuscripts, screenplays, formatted PDF files, MS Word, etc.

    It’s possible to build something like that today using Emacs, Git and LaTeX, but not by me. A lot of it is command line stuff, which would be a tough sell to writers.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Tom Chandler's desktop

Interview conducted June 21, 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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