The Linux Setup – James Gifford, Student

James is a semi-regular commenter around here, so it’s nice to hear what he uses. I’m always interested when people say they use a fairly stock distro, too. I used to spend days, weeks, months customizing my machine. Now, I usually just change the wallpaper. I think customization is a cyclical act for a lot of us.

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

    I am many things. Software Developer, Systems Administrator and DevOps are all hats I wear, depending on what I’m doing. However, I would consider myself primarily a student.

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

    On my primary laptop I run Ubuntu 12.04, pretty close to stock. I tend to stick with the plain vanilla stuff that works with my somewhat finicky hardware (ATI graphics card) out of the box, and Ubuntu does an excellent job of handling hardware support for my laptop, while still delivering me fairly recent versions of software. It’s a nice balance between bleeding edge and stability, which is hard to get elsewhere.

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

    I primarily live in the terminal, but I do have a few exceptions:

    • Sublime Text 2. Excellent text editor with IDE-like features, but without the bloat. I’ll also swap places with Redcar, a jRuby-based editor. Both are nice, and I use them interchangeably.
    • gnome-terminal. My favorite terminal emulator.
    • Firefox. I recently made the jump from Chrome to Firefox (after many years as a devoted Chrome user), which is something not many people do (or so I’m told). However, it’s worth it for the performance, specifically how it handles loads of tabs easily on my secondary, “mobile” laptop (with only 2GB of RAM).
    • VirtualBox + Vagrant. This lets me handle my virtual machines easily and (somewhat) painlessly. It’s a very nice way to run a mini infrastructure locally, and it has a nice reset button. It also integrates with Puppet, which brings us to…
    • Puppet. I use Puppet (a configuration management system) to manage my systems (even my laptops!), and to install all the *other* software that I won’t mention here (build dependencies, things like that).
    • Byobu with tmux backend is a lifesaver for when I’m using my primary laptop at home. I’ll toss a terminal with byobu up on one screen and have it show my tests and/or logfiles. It makes life a lot easier. I
      recommend that you look into it.

    I also use the excellent Faenza Iconset, one of the few things I change in terms of the user interface.

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

    I run it on a ThinkPad T61 with a 2.1GHZ CPU, 2GB RAM, and 250GB hard drive. A fairly vanilla system there, with my primary “workstation” laptop being a HP 2000 of some flavor (I forget the exact model number), with a 1.6GHZ CPU, 4GB of RAM, 15" display and a dedicated AMD Radeon Graphics card. The HP (when at home) spends its time hooked up to a 19" external display I got off Amazon. I also have a S3 bucket for backing some things up and a 500GB Western Digital drive that I have for local backups.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    Money is no object, right? Right. Ok, get ready.

    My ideal (as in, dream) setup would be as follows:

    Home server cluster (you’ve gotta have something to run all my VMs on!) would be two HP ProLiant MicroServers maxed out with 8GB RAM each, and then shoved with hard drives. I have no idea what I’d put on those hard drives, but hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

    Then, probably one of those fancy, shiny, unavailable-as-of-right-now
    Project Sputnik machines, or if that’s not available, then a tricked-out System76 Gazelle Professional, which would primarily be a SSH and web browsing machine (which is, uh, shall we say overkill) but would also serve as a VM host or development platform for those few times I’m not able to access my ‘cloud’.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Here is my primary machine. As you can tell I don’t change a lot of visual things. I use Unity, but that is more because it fits my workflow (and is the default on the install, saving me time) than anything else.

James Gifford's desktop

Interview conducted June 30, 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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