The Linux Setup – Matthew Miller, Fedora Project Leader

I met Matthew at LinuxCon 2013 and have been hounding him for an interview ever since then. He’s worth the wait, though. He really gets under the hood of his GNOME setup and he has some great things to say about the power of open source software. Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: Fedora has been great for me lately. I know there have always been Fedora fans, but my experience with it was always that there were one or two annoyingly broken things in each release. But 21 is solid. Like Ubuntu solid. And that’s thanks to the work of people like Matthew.

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

    I’m Matthew Miller, computer geek and…generalist geek, really. I’m a parent and amateur photographer—I mean, everyone’s a photographer these days, but I try to put in several hours a week learning and trying new things. I’ve got other hobbies too, but I mention this particularly because it has relevance to running Linux. Parenting, too—doing my best to raise free software hacker kids!

    For my day job—where “day” is something a lot more than 9-5!—I am the Fedora Project Leader. I help coordinate, cheer for, talk about, represent, and enable the awesome community who put together the Fedora Linux-based operating system.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I love it—the whole thing of a community building a whole operating system better than anything you can buy. When I was in high school, it was all about downloading shareware (at 2400 bps!) from local BBSs, and I wanted to make my own with something better than basic. I couldn’t afford a commercial compiler, but a friend of my parents’ gave me a copy of DJGPP on floppy disks. That’s a port of GCC to DOS, and it blew my mind: not only was it free, it came with this crazily-clever copyleft license—the GNU GPL, of course—which put the hope-to-strike-it-rich idea of shareware to shame with the idea of making the world a better place by really sharing with everyone. Wow! Not just a license, but a whole subculture.

    That was a year or two before Linux, and it wasn’t until college that I really got into it. In 1995, my friend graduated and found himself without college-provided email, and lacking other options in the middle of the midwest, we started our own ISP. Originally we ran our services on Windows NT, but that wasn’t cutting it, and we switched to Linux. Of course, Linux is the operating system of the Internet, and I’ve stayed with it ever since—not just because it’s better (and of course, it is) but because it comes with this whole culture of openness and sharing which is also better.

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

    I hope you are not surprised to learn that it is Fedora. I use Rawhide, our rolling development tree, on my main desktop system, and keep my laptop at the latest stable release for the (increasingly rare!) cases when it’s a little too raw.

    I’ve dabbled with other distributions over the years. I started with Slackware, but switched to Red Hat Linux pretty quickly. I’ve also tried Mandrake, Debian, Gentoo, and Arch—oh, and of course CentOS and RHEL—but I keep coming back to Fedora as my favorite, both for the technology and for the community. And now, of course, I’m fortunate enough that it’s part of my job!

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

    I use GNOME, and I really love it. Like many people, I found the 3.0 release to be a bit choppy, although not necessarily for the same reasons many other people did. I never really liked the Windows 95 UI model, and didn’t enjoy the desktop environments like GNOME 2.x and KDE which follow it. For a while, I used AmiWM,an Amiga-inspired window manager, and then (mostly because AmiWM is not free software), switched to WindowMaker.

    I’ve tried highly-customized Xfce and recent KDE too, and I can see why people like them, but I’m most happy with current GNOME, and you’ll see why from the screenshots. What I want most is for the environment to get out of the way and for my actual various windows to be my primary experience. GNOME does that very well—it’s really one of the key design principles.

    But, perhaps most importantly, everyone’s idea of what “getting out of the way” means is a little different, and everyone’s idea of what should be primary is a little different. So, the neat GNOME thing is the extensions architecture—it’s like in Firefox, where you can change a whole lot of the functionality with hundreds of little customizations. For me, there are a number which are essential, but I bet most other users have a different set they feel the same way about. The great thing is that everyone can have what they want.

    (For the record: Native Window Placement, Dash to Dock, Impatience, and Hide Top Bar are at the top of the list, followed by a number of nice-to-haves like Always Zoom Workspaces, AlternateTab, Media Player Indicator, and so on.)

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

    Oh, it’s going to have to be OpenSSH. It’s the transport I use to connect to everything I do. But Firefox is close behind, followed by Mutt and WeeChat (although I’d trade out another command-line IRC client if need be). All of these things are essential because my job is about connecting and interfacing with the Fedora community, and that’s how we do it: email, IRC, and web. And of course, I use the same (with somewhat less IRC) to interact with my family and friends (both far away and, I admit, sometimes right across the room).

    For photography, the GIMP is indispensable, although I feel like recently they’ve moved a lot more towards digital image creation and graphic design. I use Rawtherapee for RAW conversion, although I keep watching Darktable. And I’m a big fan of Lightzone—here’s a help-wanted plug for any Java experts who want to help clean that up so it can go in Fedora!

    And, since I mentioned parenting: it’s pretty much all about Minecraft for kids these days, and that runs beautifully on Fedora. Of course, it’s not open source, and when my eldest came to me in tears over rumors around the Microsoft acquisition, I introduced her to Minetest, and she declared that to be even better in many ways. She’s done some Scratch programming before, and we’re going to work on Lua scripting for Minetest…it’s the perfect gateway drug.

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

    Nothing special. Two Lenovo ThinkPads. One is an X230 which I take around with me, and the other serves as my desktop system. I’ve got a whole treadmill desk setup thing and do a lot of walking while I work. I have a wall-mounted monitor and keyboard shelf, with the USB ThinkPad keyboard so I can use the TrackPoint pointer. It works great.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Yes—two, in fact. First, a single-desktop screenshot showing my typical workspace: Firefox and a bunch of scattered terminals connected to several different remote machines. You can’t really see anything but windows and and a bit of gray background, though, so I’ve also included one of the GNOME Overview, showing multiple workspaces.

    With the Impatience extension, this comes up almost instantly when I push the Overview key (the one conveniently labeled with a picture that looks like tiled windows). You can see how Native Window Placement spreads out the various windows in an intuitive way that relates to their position in the regular view. Like I said, I’d have a hard time living without that. And Hide Top Bar is configured to show the Overview when the mouse hits the top of the screen, so it’s easy without the keyboard too, if I’m in that mode.

Matthew Miller's desktop

Matthew Miller's workspaces

Interview conducted October 28, 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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