The Linux Setup – Brian Rainey, Software Engineer

Brian’s interview is one of those where I nodded my head the entire time I was reading it. He’s right that closed, black boxes are bad for privacy reasons. But I also find it frustrating from a technical perspective. If I’m on a slow Linux machine, I can throw on something like i3 and suddenly it’s flying. I don’t have that option with Windows. Linux is only limited by my imagination. Other operating systems are limited by my imagination, and then by closed code. That’s a lot of limitations. And Brian is right—Ubuntu does fonts very well.

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

    I’m Brian Rainey, a Northern Irish Software Engineer, living in the Greater Boston area.

    My day job sees me implementing admin user interfaces for a popular e-commerce engine. On my own time, blogging, coding, learning new programming languages and tinkering with Firefox add-ons all keep me busy.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    Today’s personal computers are increasingly perceived and marketed as “black box” consumer appliances. We depend so heavily on our machines that it isn’t right to surrender this much knowledge and control over our hardware and software. Attempting to swim against that tide, running a free and open OS on a machine purpose built from scratch, really does seem like the right way to go.

    On a more practical level, Linux provides the least friction when setting up the wealth of compilers, editors, command line utilities and server components that make me feel like I can rule the world from our spare bedroom.

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

    In common with many Linux enthusiasts, I’ve always been an eager distro-hopper. My wife often rolls her eyes at such such virtual infidelity, so recently I’ve settled on Ubuntu in an effort to keep the peace. Luckily, Ubuntu’s also where I’m at my most productive.

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

    The desire to experiment is what attracts many users to Linux. True to that spirit I’ve spent time with all of Xfce, GNOME, Cinnamon, Openbox and even some of the tiling window managers.

    All have their merits, but for the past year or so, Unity has been my first choice. Any rough edges that may have contributed to its initial poor reputation are at this stage, very polished.

    Support for keyboard shortcuts is extensive and its implementation of Alt-Tab window switching (something I rely on a lot) is one of the best I’ve seen. It also has the best font rendering of any distro; somehow that’s important to me.

    Small details contribute to a smooth, coherent experience and Unity gives them the attention they deserve.

    Put simply, it’s an attractive desktop that integrates tightly with the way I naturally work.

  5. What one piece of Linux software do you depend upon? Why is it so

    Assuming the terminal can be taken for granted: Firefox. Of course that’s not exclusive to Linux, but it carries with it such a strong sense of openness and community that it sits very comfortably at home there.

    Really though, with apt-get providing such easy access to an entire universe of tools, there’s no need for anyone to limit themselves. My other current favorites include Clojure, Rust, Jekyll (which runs my blog) and Django.

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

    A common gripe against Linux is that getting it to work with certain hardware can be troublesome. I prefer to approach that situation from the opposite direction; custom building a machine using quality, known good components provides a workstation that’s exceptionally fast and stable.

    My current desktop consists of these components.

    Thankfully, Linux also runs great in a virtual machine, so even when working on Windows or OS X, a real environment is only ever an SSH command away.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    The wallpaper is Northern Ireland’s own eighth wonder of the world: The Giant’s Causeway. The busy screen shows me working on an add-on, using Emacs…my other favorite operating system!

Brian Rainey's desktop

Brian Rainey's showing off Emacs

Interview conducted May 25, 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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