RedMonk reports and blog posts are always a treat in that they tend to focus on coders rather than corporations. It’s no surprise their work seems to gravitate around open source projects. And it’s no surprise that RedMonk’s Stephen O’Grady uses a lot of open source projects in his day-to-day work. All of that is great, but O’Grady’s ideal Linux setup is what really caught my attention. Like him, I wish there were more of a way to access certain parts of my desktop remotely, but also easily. As O’Grady points out, a lot of desktop functions are cloud-syncable, not everything.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Stephen O’Grady, and I’m the co-founder of RedMonk, a developer-centric industry analyst shop. We believe that developers are increasingly setting technology agendas, and our job is to understand what they use and why.
- What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
When I initially switched to Linux from Windows, I was a Gentoo user, and I still recommend that distribution for anyone looking to learn more about how Linux actually works and is built. These days, however, I’m an Ubuntu user (12.04), simply because it mostly just works. I’m not in love with Unity, but then I’m not really a fan of any of the desktop user interfaces these days, OS X included.
- What software do you depend upon with this distribution?
Because I use a variety of platforms (Android, Linux, OS X, and occasionally Windows), many of the tools I use day to day are SaaS based — we’re a Google Apps shop, for example. But I use a few native clients as well. Most of my work consists of some combination of research, analysis or writing. For research, I generally rely on Chrome. The performance is excellent, and some of the features like tab sync are excellent, particularly if you’re an Android user, as I am. As far as writing goes, things I’m collaborating on with colleagues are created as Google Docs, but all of my own research is composed in Emacs, leveraging the MarkDown plugin. My analysis is generally done in R, and lately I’ve left the command line for the Linux builds of RStudio, a rather nice environment for R research.
Other native tools I use regularly include Dropbox for file sync—it just works, on any platform — and VirtualBox. VirtualBox maintains all of my virtual images of Linux, Solaris and Windows variants. One relatively recent application change was my abandonment of native music clients like Banshee or Rhythmbox. Tired of maintaining separate playlists on separate machines, today I generally just stream my music from Google Music and maintain playlists there.
- What kind of hardware do you run it on?
When I’m on the road, I use a MacBook Air 11″ running regular old OS X and the new Nexus 7 tablet. But most of my actual work is done in the office, where I’m lucky enough to work off of a Dell T7500 workstation that they loaned to me for testing purposes. It’s an absolute beast. Connected to it are 30″ and 24″ monitors (Dell) and a couple of 1.5 TB hard drives for larger datasets and backups. I’m particularly fond of my keyboard, which attempts to replicate the feel of a Thinkpad keyboard for desktop machines, complete with trackball. Interestingly, Ubuntu supports it just fine, but Windows does not.
- What is your ideal Linux setup?
We’re pretty close to my ideal setup these days from a compatibility perspective; it’s very rare these days that I use hardware that isn’t supported by Ubuntu. Even more obscure hardware, like screencams, generally just work when plugged in. But I wish that Linux distributions would embrace online services more fully, a la the Google Chrome desktops. Given how heavily users rely on services like Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google Apps, Twitter and so on, it seems strange that they’re not more fully integrated into the desktop experience; particularly because Apple and Microsoft would likely not replicate those abilities for strategic reasons.
In a perfect world, I’d also have more integration with the cloud. It’d be nice, for example, to have my R workspace accessible from any given machine, in the event that I need to work away from my workstation. Not full VDI, as I’m not comfortable with those tradeoffs, but some portability of workloads. I feel confident this will be arriving soon, however, at least in the use cases I care about. It already has for music, as noted above.
- Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
Interview conducted July 29, 2012