The Linux Setup – Jason Ryan, Strategy and Relations Manager

Jason’s setup is very detailed. His email setup is amazing, using around 15 separate programs to keep everything together. It’s the Unix philosophy at work. Jason points out it’s way more work than using an email client, but for him, it’s worth the effort. Is Jason’s setup going to work for the average user? Probably not. But his interview shows the power, beauty, and potential of desktop Linux. It’s inspiring.

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

    I am the Strategy and Relations Manager for Catalyst, a FOSS company based in New Zealand.

    Outside of work, I try and contribute back to open source; principally in the Arch Linux community, but I also work on Sufraw and have provided patches, mostly documentation as I am not a developer, to a range of other projects.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    First and foremost: freedom. In a world increasingly mediated by technology and computing, I think it is critical that people have the freedom to be able to ensure that their technology serves them, not exploits them.

    Secondly, in my experience (and I have used Windows and OS X for extended periods in the past) it is simply much better quality software.

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

    Arch Linux is on all but one of my machines (a Debian server). Arch is a great distribution. The software is as vanilla as possible, it is the most up-to-date and, contrary to the myth, is incredibly stable (even using testing). Arch, for me, is about minimizing abstraction and just providing the building blocks I need to construct a customized working environment.

    This starts from the ground up; I compile my own kernels, use full disk encryption on all my boxes (LVM on LUKS) and for my desktop and server, that sits on RAID 1 arrays.

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

    I don’t (see above comment about abstraction). I use a lightly patched dwm as my window manager and a selection of lightweight tools to provide the workflows that I need. For example, I manage email/productivity with:

    Reading this list, you might think, “Fsck that: why don’t you just install Thunderbird and be done with it?” It’s a valid point. My rejoinder is that I have far more fine-grained control over every aspect of the workflow here: I can easily work out what has broken if something does fail and I am free to swap any tool out for another. That more than makes up for the purported convenience of using a single, monolithic application. I am also exposed to far more projects and the communities involved in them—diversity is the key to any ecosystem’s health.

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

    Vim. Not only because I write a lot and Vim is the most efficient and powerful way to do that, but because the Vi{,m} design pattern can be extended throughout the toolset that I use: my browser is Vimprobable, I use vi-mode in Bash and Zsh and most of the other utilities that I use have Vim keybinds. I think it is quite telling that the modal model of editing that came out of Vi and then Vim has not really been improved upon over the last 40 years. In terms of software, Vim is like the Tuatara: it just abides…

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

    None of my machines is particularly highly-specced. My desktop, for example, has 8GB RAM and my work and personal laptops only 4GB. I don’t have any processing-intensive needs, I don’t play games, so I’m happy with standard hardware that uses open source drivers.

    Where possible, I will always purchase devices that come unencumbered by proprietary licensing. I prefer to support those people who are willing to sell hardware with either a FOSS operating system or none at all.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    There isn’t much to see, but here is a shot of my laptop with a tmux session as the active tag.

    For the morbidly curious, there are quite a few more on my Flickr account.

Jason Ryan's desktop

Interview conducted January 8, 2015


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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