The Linux Setup – Beth Skwarecki, Science Writer

Beth’s Linux journey is a lot like mine. I don’t like to get under the hood or tweak too much but I love that I can if I have to. And just as Beth likes Linux because it stays out of her way, I also like that it’s something I don’t have to think about. Unless something isn’t working for me. Then, I can change it, and never think about that thing again. That sort of responsiveness is becoming less and less of a core part of desktop operating systems. And it’s why it’s great Beth has the freedom to choose the right desktop operating system for her workflow.

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

    I’m Beth Skwarecki, a freelance science writer. I cover the science behind health for Lifehacker, and I’ve written for other places like Medscape and Scientific American.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    At first (15 years ago), it was because I could run Apache and have my own web server to play on instead of trying to run my HTML and Perl through the likes of Tripod. I liked that it was free as in beer and free as in freedom. The command line was a great tool, and having multiple desktops was amazing.

    As my hobby turned into a career (I majored in biology but did sysadmin, programming, and DBA stuff for my first few jobs out of college), I appreciated more and more that with open source software, you’re rarely stuck when a bug gets in your way. If anybody else has had your problem, they’re likely to have fixed it already; if not, you decide if it’s worth your time to diagnose and fix. The few times I was stumped by proprietary software, I’m just thinking, ‘how do people live like this?’

    Today, I mostly keep my hands out of my machine’s innards. I spend my days researching and writing, so my software just has to get out of my way and let me get things done. I rest easy knowing that a larger community is transparently fixing my problems while I’m too busy to do the coding myself.

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

    I do all my work on a single, small laptop. It runs Ubuntu—whatever version is reasonably current. I like Ubuntu because it Just Works.

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

    Unity. Having my apps on the side of the screen is a good use of space, and helps me navigate between tasks. I typically have one app maximized (like a browser, an editor, or a PDF reader) on each of four workspaces. I don’t do desktop icons.

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

    LibreOffice, because a lot of my job involves receiving and sending edits with Track Changes. I also make slides for classes I teach. I used to keep track of small notes in text files or with lightweight note-taking apps, but since I have LibreOffice open all the time, I finally just started doing everything there. Minimizing the number of tools I use is a more efficient life hack than trying to optimize the footprint of each tool.

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

    An Asus Vivobook X202E.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Here it is, minus the maximized whatever-I’m-working-on:

Beth Skwarecki's desktop

Interview conducted February 22, 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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