The Linux Setup – Michael C. Pagnotti, Student

Michael, like so many of us, wants an operating system that isn’t Windows or OS X, that he can tweak and control, and that doesn’t require a lot of effort to keep running. For him, that’s Ubuntu. He’s not a developer or a package manager. He’s just a regular person doing regular work. There are lots of us like that. This is a big shift in computing that the mainstream world doesn’t seem to have caught on to yet. It might be because our numbers are small, but as mainstream user interfaces get worse (I honestly feel like Windows 8 is deliberately working against me sometimes), I have to believe more users will be interested in a desktop experience they control. Desktop Linux has been seen as the domain of the technically-inclined, but I think it will gradually shift to the domain of people who want to use their computers for serious work.

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

    My name is Michael C. Pagnotti (universal handle: @screenhugger). I am a graduate student at University of Central Florida’s College of Education researching independent online learning, how open source models and crowd-sourced data affect education online, and some other fun things. I am also an advocate/activist/optimist for free culture, FLOSS, user rights, open access, and futurism. At the moment, I’m attempting to outline a book about DIY Learning Online. My personal site is over at

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    Linux is so customizable and powerful. I’ve been using various distros for close to 10 years now. I generally stick with Debian-based distros these days. I use GNU/Linux, and really, all free and open source software, because I believe in the open ecosystem. I never want to be trapped in a stack (as Bruce Sterling calls them), such as Google or Apple. I don’t mind using a Google product here and there, but I never want my data to be stuck. I never want anyone’s data to be stuck!

    I won’t get too political, but there’s also the issue of security, the NSA, encryption, backdoors, and surveillance.

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

    I know it isn’t the Linux geek thing to do, but I run Ubuntu 13.10 these days. The reason is that I am so productivity intensive right now that I really need a distro that just takes care of itself and continues to maintain indefinitely. I also sometimes have to run Linux-unfriendly software and Ubuntu seems to handle that better than most distros. Ideally, I’d be running Debian Sid, but I just can’t put in the time and awareness that I would need to keep it running well.

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

    Here again, not the popular answer, but I use Unity right now. I have a good reason… sort of… I guess. I use a 13-inch screen and every other environment that isn’t a tiling window manager has too much wasted space. Unity is out of the way and perfect for my screen size. I just disable the Amazon search lens and make sure all my stuff isn’t being logged. GNOME is in a close second, but it’s not installed right now. If they keep up their security and privacy rhetoric, I’ll be giving it a try sooner than later.

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

    I really depend heavily on Mozilla Firefox for most productivity stuff. So, if I had to pick one, that would be it. Being in eLearning really means being online all the time. I use Firefox, and not Chrome, because of the wealth of add ons and the stability under pressure. As of right this moment, I have 24 tabs in one tab group, 46 tabs in another tab group, and 8 tabs in a second session window.

    Some other important programs: gedit, LibreOffice, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Rhythmbox, and Brackets.

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

    A 13" ThinkPad X230 with 8GB RAM, Intel i5 processor, with a 500GB hard drive.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Yes! I love my background!

Michael Pagnotti's desktop

Interview conducted January 25, 2014

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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