The Linux Setup – Jim Whitehurst, President/CEO, Red Hat

I’ve been trying to get Jim to do this for a while, so I was super psyched when Bryan Behrenshausen reached out to let me know Jim was interested in doing an interview. I knew from his book (and his job…) that Jim had a technology background, but I didn’t expect such a detailed response. He’s a real Linux user. He’s using GNOME Tweak Tool. He’s swapping out wireless cards. He’s complaining about drivers. Jim doesn’t just run an open source company—he’s living an open source life. But his use of Linux to do data analysis at Delta is also very interesting. Jim is a great role model in terms of putting Linux into practice. And a huge, huge thanks to Bryan for putting this together.

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

    I’m Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat, the largest open source software company in the world. I’m also the author of The Open Organization, a book that demonstrates how embracing open source principles can help leaders adapt their organizations to 21st century conditions.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I use Linux because I work for Red Hat!

    Actually, I started using Linux well before I came to work at Red Hat. But having been at Red Hat for (going on) eight years now, it’s pretty much all I use.

    When I first started using Linux, I was trying to breathe life into an old computer. I was hacking around to see what it was all about. I graduated from Rice with a computer science degree back in 1989, and we used Solaris. Linux didn’t exist yet!

    The first time I really used Linux was as treasurer of Delta Air Lines. At the time, I was very curious about how our network ran. The Department of Transportation has an incredible amount of airline data available to the public. In fact, every airline must keep sample data for every 10th ticket it sells. All of that data is online and includes information on ticket pricing, routing, and more.

    I was very interested in how people flew, when they connected, the factors that influenced them to choose nonstop flights, etc., and I wanted to see if patterns existed in the data that could give me insight into customers’ preferences. But there was a problem: the file size for a year’s worth of data was more than 4GB. Back then, the Windows file size limit was 4GB. So I moved the data to a Linux machine, which allowed me to work with larger files and analyze a full year’s worth of data.

    That wasn’t part of my day job at Delta, but I was ultimately promoted because of that work. Linux enabled me to learn so many interesting things about Delta’s flight network, and I could have only done this on Linux.

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

    I run Fedora 22. And if you want to make your life easier, I recommend Fedora’s updater, FedUp. If you’re using Fedora, you can just execute a ‘fedup’ command to take you from one version of Fedora to the next. In fact, the last time I actually installed Fedora, I was using Fedora 20. Since then, I’ve used ‘fedup’ to upgrade to 21 and, now, to 22.

    I still remember back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when we were using ndiswrapper and basically attempting to get binary Windows drivers working in Linux so our wireless cards would function properly. Thankfully, that’s over. Today, you can just pop a USB stick in your computer, boot it up, and everything works. It’s phenomenal.

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

    I use GNOME 3 with GNOME Shell.

    Red Hat has been a critical advocate of this environment, and I like supporting the home team. But beyond that, I really just prefer the simplicity of GNOME 3 with GNOME Shell.

    I will say that when GNOME Shell first came out, I was a little taken aback. But I’ve come to love the fact that I can hit a single key to access everything on my desktop.

    I also use the GNOME Tweak Tool, so my desktop isn’t completely empty and I can adjust my installation to my liking.

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

    I use Thunderbird more than any other application—because I get a lot of email! I’m often on planes, and Thunderbird gives me offline access to my email, which is helpful when I’m in the sky and outside wireless range. I know people debate the merits of Thunderbird versus Evolution, but I started on Thunderbird and now I just default to it. I feel like Thunderbird lets me display more of my email at once, which is great for managing it all.

    I also use Chrome because it also makes working offline very easy. I use LibreOffice regularly. I even used it to write my book.

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

    My daily driver is a Dell XPS 13. I just got the 2015 edition.

    The only issue is that it uses a Broadcom wireless card, the drivers for which aren’t open source. So I suppose I’ll admit this publicly, even though I’ll void my warranty by doing so—I opened up this laptop. I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to install a 512GB SSD in it, so I had more on-board storage. Second, I installed an Intel wireless card, which has open source drivers that “just work” in Linux. I could have used the Broadcom card, but I really didn’t want to use proprietary drivers on my computer.

    So my primary computer is basically a slightly modified XPS 13. I really do love it, but I also got it because Dell has been such a great partner to Red Hat.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure. I’m happy to!

Jim Whitehurst's desktop and super secret files

Jim Whitehurst's launcher area

Interview conducted August 18, 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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