This is a great interview. David has a very interesting setup, creatively using KDE, Ubuntu, and ChromeOS together. It’s obvious he’s put a lot of thought into what works and what doesn’t. I also appreciate his efforts to insert Linux into schools. In general, American schools have money for hardware but usually not enough, or anything, for personnel to implement and customize technology. As a result, a lot of stock hardware and software is purchased, with the idea that it’s easy to get up-and-running, even if the tools are imperfect. Linux offers the opportunity to spend less on hardware and software, and instead, spend the money on programmers to create something that works for an individual institution. This is covered much more elegantly in Decoding Liberation, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the economics of open source software. David is a pioneer in terms of getting educational institutions to rethink how they use technology. I look forward to hearing about more of his projects.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m David Burke. I run a small IT consulting company, Burke Software and Consulting LLC. We work in schools and non-profits doing everything from our own open source Django-based school information system to setting up a LTSP thin client lab. I started out as a Jesuit Volunteer (think Americorps style year of service) for Cristo Rey New York High School. The school has a unique work-study program which is where I volunteered. As a programmer, I didn’t like seeing paper timesheets so I automated it with Django. That turned into a full school information system and some spin-off tools, all open source on github.
- What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
ChromeOS with Ubuntu 12.04 in a chroot environment using crouton. This is pretty recent. Before that I was using stock Ubuntu.
- What software do you depend upon with this distribution?
I’m using KDE because I think it has good ultra high DPI support and touch support. I still think GNOME looks prettier, but that said, I’m glad to have a normal task bar in KDE.
I had an xmonad phase once, too — doesn’t everyone?
Firefox lost me when they introduced that sync system they have where you have to keep track of some huge key. Chrome’s sync implementation is easier to use, and now I’m using ChromeOS some of the time. I’ll stay in ChromeOS if I’m just reading email or watching a movie.
For coding I use Komodo IDE and vim. I’ll usually fire up Komodo if I need debugging or profiling tools. That stuff looks better in a GUI. I use Dropbox for file syncing. I really made an effort to switch to an open source sync program, but I couldn’t find anything as fast and reliable as Dropbox when dealing with the fast edits in programming.
At work I use Crossover, a commercially supported version of Wine, because clients just can’t give up their MS Office. I personally can’t stand Office but I need to make sure it runs smoothly for them.
I do some occasional gaming and am pretty happy Steam for Linux is out. I refuse to purchase Windows-only software to run via Wine. I feel like a vegetarian at an all-vegetarian restaurant suddenly presented with overwhelming choice.
- What kind of hardware do you run it on?
The Chromebook Pixel in developer mode. The screen resolution was a big selling point for me. I also have a Samsung Android phone and Nexus 7. I’m excited to try Ubuntu out on one or both once it’s more stable.
Ed. note: Here is David’s review of the Pixel.
- What is your ideal Linux setup?
Something that works and annoys me as little as possible. I love ChromeOS auto updates. I can be pretty sure they will just work. Then I just maintain an Ubuntu 12.04 chroot. Not having to worry about drivers is great. Suspend even works!
- Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
Interview conducted April 22, 2013