The Linux Setup – Sebastian Feiler, Student

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but a few years back, I went to a university-wide Linux event which had vendors and speakers from across the Linux world. One of the speakers, from a Linux-friendly company, said Linux would never make inroads into enterprise desktop computing as long as people relied on Microsoft Office. He said the OS wasn’t the issue — the office software was. Sebastian explores a similar thread in discussing why Linux is a tough fit for the legal community. But, like so many others, he sees the cloud as a way to potentially open things up.

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

    I am Sebastian (@Gerion80 on Twitter, +Sebastian Feiler on Google Plus), a legal trainee and Ph.D student from Cologne, Germany. After finishing my legal studies at University of Cologne, I am now in the
    last stage of my legal traineeship (“Rechtsreferendariat”). In Germany, in order to become a lawyer, judge or legal practitioner, you have to take two state exams, the first one at the end of your university education, the second one after completing a two-year traineeship. In addition, I am working on my Ph.D disseration in private international law.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    While I have no history in information technology or programming, I am a tech-savvy person. Some might even call me a nerd or a geek or whatever name they wish to attribute to “techies.” Nevertheless, I have been a Windows user for a long time, but after the “Windows experience” got more and more uncomfortable, I decided to switch. This was in 2011, and it has been an amazing journey since then. Although I
    am writing my dissertation in LibreOffice, I still need Windows for my reference/citation database software, so I went ahead and set up a multiboot system and started to dive into Ubuntu Linux. I like the way
    Linux and Unix work, being very adaptive and stable, powerful and capable of solving every IT-related problem and adapting to a million different workflows. Although I have to admit that there is a steep learning curve if you want to understand the system. And with Linux, you have to.

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

    I currently run Xubuntu 12.04 LTS on my machine. I think that it perfectly combines the reliability of a long term support release and the sturdiness of a no-nonsense desktop environment. However, I like to test new distributions. I carry a thumb drive with a few distros nearly all the time (Fedora 18, openSUSE 12.3 and Linux Mint 15, currently). I have also been tinkering with Arch in a virtual machine.

  4. What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?

    At this moment it’s Xfce 4.8. I like that it’s customizable, but at the same time it still delivers a full desktop environment experience.

    I tried LXDE but was not completely satisfied (but that might be because I messed up my system by installing too many desktop environments). It turned out that Unity and Compiz are not ideal for my somewhat aging machine (see below), although I have to say that I enjoyed Unity quite a bit. I like the OS X-like arrangement of menus, although I find its gray-orangeish colors to be rather disturbing. I started to use Ubuntu after the 11.04 switch to Unity, so at first Unity seemed the way to go. But after wiping my hard disk a few weeks ago, I am now completely happy with Xfce. Everything I need is accessible via simple key bindings or is just one mouse click away. I would be interested in trying out a tiling window manager, though, like awesome or i3.

  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    I guess there is no particular software that is exclusively tied to Ubuntu. I rely heavily on Chrome (and the vimium extension – I like keyboard shortcuts!), Thunderbird (and the nostalgy extension, since I like…you get the picture), LibreOffice, TrueCrypt and the usual set of text editors. One outstanding piece of free software that I admire is GNU Emacs. I got to know its power through the excellent Org-Mode. On the other hand, I also do like to use vim a fair bit. All things considered I must say that the whole idea of a powerful command line and the beauty and simplicity of Unix commands, bash and its tools simply amaze me every day. I can still remember the first time I realized the advantages of screen (I used to use irssi then), and the first time I prepended some notes to a text file by simply echoing into the file from the command line. I guess it’s those simple things that make me enjoy the Linux computing experience most.

    In my field of practice, due to the overwhelming force of Microsoft,it will be very difficult to go Linux-only. The only way this might work would be for solo practitioners or in small firms, and even then you would need a Windows or Mac partition to use MS Word and its advanced text revisioning and commenting features (Wine does not seem to be very reliable when it comes to current MS Office versions). No legal practitioner will risk ruining or missing an important comment because he used LibreOffice instead of Microsoft software. That’s the simple, dirty (and sad) truth. Since I love the modularity and power of Linux/Unix systems, I think I might try Apple in the near future. OS X and its Unix core seems to be quite customizable under the hood (or so I’m told), and I could use Office there and go for OpenSUSE or Arch on the Linux partition. No matter what happens, Linux will stay on my computer(s). Maybe there will be a time when all relevant computing and applications have moved to a (private) cloud and you will be free to use whatever OS you desire. This has already started with the advent of Google Docs, but it takes time for legal professionals to adapt to these services — and for the services to adapt to the usage cases of lawyers (especially when it comes to privacy and data security). We’re not there yet.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    My main and one-and-only machine is an old, trusty Lenovo Thinkpad T60. I love this piece of hardware. It’s as close as you can get to a sort of “fanboy experience” without buying Apple devices. A rock-solid piece of hardware! I maxed out the memory (3 GB) and upgraded the hard disk several times now. A few weeks ago I finally started using an SSD drive. It was amazing. I will never switch back. Even though my old hardware won’t support the new iterations of SATA, SSD still boosts the overall performance and speed of the system. Unfortunately, when I purchased the T60 back in 2007, I made one mistake: I did not opt for the high-resolution display. Now I can only use 1024×768 pixels, which gets more and more painful. Guess what a revelation Linux’s virtual desktops have been for me!

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure, there you go! Nothing exciting, I guess…

Sebastian Feiler's desktop

Interview conducted June 13, 2013


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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