The Linux Setup – Dustin Kirkland, Canonical Product Manager

Dustin has a detailed interview, but the one thing that struck me is when he says he just needs a desktop environment to stay out of his way. I’ve been playing with elementary OS Luna, which is based upon Ubuntu 13.04 but uses a desktop environment called Pantheon. I don’t love it or hate it, mostly because I’m using Synapse as the application launcher, so the desktop doesn’t really matter. For those of us who hate to take our hands off of the keyboard, a desktop environment is really just a means to an end, but not something we otherwise think about too often.

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

    My name is Dustin Kirkland.

    I work for Mark Shuttleworth at Canonical, as a Product Manager on the Ubuntu Cloud, building enterprise solutions and server products on top of Ubuntu. My work on open source software at Canonical often spills over into my nights and weekends, developing free software for fun as well. I have authored, and continue to maintain over two dozen open source projects, including Byobu, eCryptfs, among others.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I have been using Linux since 1997, when I was in college at Texas A&M University. For one Computer Science class, I was “required” to buy a Zip drive, which could hold 100MB on a special (i.e., expensive) proprietary disk cartridge. This seemed like an absolutely awful solution to the problem of carrying data from one place to another (and Dropbox wouldn’t be invented for another 11 years).

    I negotiated with that professor to let me use a web server on the Internet for uploading and downloading my assignments. So I bought a few hundred MBs from a web host in 1997. When I received my credentials, I quickly realized that I would need an SSH client and that I would have to learn Red Hat Linux. So I bought a book and immediately fell in love!

    I used Red Hat Linux until Fedora was released, using that until 2006 when I started using Ubuntu. My wife was an elementary school teacher at the time, and I installed Edubuntu on a couple of perfectly-working-but-old computers that her school had basically thrown away 😦 I rescued them out of the trash and installed Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake). Days later, I installed Mythbuntu on several machines I had throughout the house, and I was smitten. I never really returned to Red Hat-based systems. Everything in Ubuntu just worked, and where it didn’t, there was an abundance of quality documentation.

    Professionally, I worked at IBM in Tivoli and the Linux Technology Center in Austin, TX from 2000-2007, on various aspects of Linux security and certifications. I also spent most of 2005 working for IBM on-site at Red Hat in Westford, MA, making some excellent friends and helping enable RHEL on PowerPC. In 2008, I started working at Canonical, as one of the early developers building the Ubuntu server and virtualization platform.

    We run Linux almost exclusively in the Kirkland house. Looking at my dd-wrt router for static IP leases, I can count over 40 active Linux devices currently drawing IP addresses! A couple of laptops (Ubuntu, ChromeOS), desktops (Ubuntu), routers (dd-wrt), TVs, PS3s, phones (Android, Ubuntu Touch), tablets (Android, Ubuntu Touch), Kindles, a Chumby, a Raspberry Pi, Synology NAS, etc. I do have one Mac Mini running OS X, for a few apps that have no viable workaround on Linux (mostly crappy teleconference software used by Windows/Mac users).

    Across the board, Linux has given me the power and flexibility I expect out of computing systems, for nearly two decades. And what’s most amazing is that it just keeps getting better!

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

    Ubuntu. I am an Ubuntu Core Developer, and I tend to run the development (bleeding edge) Ubuntu Desktop and Server (in virtual machines and containers).

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

    Unity. I use Unity mostly in the interest of dog-fooding the default Ubuntu setup. Frankly, I have very little need of a desktop environment, other than for it to generally stay out of my way. Unity works fine for me. Though so does GNOME, KDE, Xfce, etc.

    Basically, I need a browser (Chromium), an IRC client (xchat2), a terminal (gnome-terminal), and my desktop manager to stay out of my way 🙂

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

    I use Byobu all day, every day. I usually run Byobu in a gnome-terminal, maximized on a 1920×1080 Samsung 40" LCD. I then use splits (Shift-F2, Ctrl-F2) to carve up my terminal into smaller panes. Some horizontal (builds or something with lots of scrolling output), some vertical (side-by-side code review), some combinations (dev + test + monitoring) — whatever makes sense for my current task. I use the keyboard to navigate around those splits (Shift-Up/Down/Left/Right). Sometimes I’ll create a new window (F2), if I want to background some work in a separate window, with its own splits. If I need to SSH to a remote system, I open a new tab in gnome-terminal (Shift-Ctrl-t), and attach to a remote Byobu session, where perhaps I’ve left some other work running in the background. I use Byobu’s status line at the bottom to monitor what machine I’m on, it’s distro and version, an updates that are available, uptime count, CPU speed and temperature, battery level, WiFi signal, system load, memory usage, hostname/IP address, and the time/date. Byobu adds hours of productivity to my work week, every week.

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

    I currently use a ThinkPad x230 with a dual-core hyper-threaded i7, 16GB RAM, 240GB Intel SSD, with a 9-cell battery.

    I absolutely love the 12" form factor, as it’s nice an compact for traveling while still offering beast mode CPU/memory. The 9-cell battery gives me 8+ hours of up time. I tend to replace my primary laptop on a yearly basis and sell my gently used model on CraigsList, or give it to a family member.

    When I’m not traveling or working from my front/back porch, I keep it in a docking station, attached to a 40" Samsung LCD (primary monitor) and a 23" Samsung LCD (secondary monitor), a Logitech c920 webcam, Klipsch THX 2.1 speakers, gigabit Ethernet, a Simtec entropy key, a Yubikey multi-factor auth, and a ThinkPad USB keyboard.

    I have used Thinkpads since about 2000, and I’m generally a pretty big fan. I simply cannot live without “the dot.” I might consider an HP or Dell laptop sometime, but it absolutely must have a TrackPoint, as I like to keep my fingers on the keyboard, in the home position, and still have access to the cursor. I disable touch pads with a vengeance, and then curse the engineers who continue to embed them in laptops 🙂

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure. I usually run my browser/terminal/IRC maximized in the 40" monitor on the left, and use the 23" monitor on the right only when using Skype or G+ Hangouts. The background is just the stock Ubuntu background. No icons on my desktop. Ever, ever, ever.

Dustin Kirkland's desktop

Interview conducted October 17, 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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