The Linux Setup – Andrew Powell, The Linux Rain

Andrew gives a great overview of Vim and why he loves it, but for me, the treat of the interview is learning some new GNOME tricks. I had no idea you could maximize and minimize windows with the Super key and arrows! Andrew also makes a great case for GNOME in general, which I always appreciate.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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

    I’m Andrew Powell, editor and publisher of The Linux Rain, a small site for a-bit-of-everything-Linux, as I like to say. News, reviews, tutorials and that sort of thing.

    In real life I work in the tourism sector (in Australia, being that I hail from the Land Down Under), while being a web developer on the side. What little spare time I do have goes toward, naturally, tinkering with Linux and/or writing or publishing content for The Linux Rain.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    As a young lad I was always into tinkering with computers, even back in the days of MS-DOS and Windows 95. Well actually MS-DOS and Windows 95 were already well outdated by the time I got my hands on them with a couple of hand-me-down machines, but I was young and appreciated the freedom to tinker and learn how things worked. So I got a taste of a command line environment early on in MS-DOS and also came to grasp the concept of a graphical shell running on top, with Windows 95. When the time came that we had computers typically running Windows XP (argh, memories), which didn’t exactly have a usable CLI running underneath like Windows 95/98, I actually found I missed the command line and the ability to tinker around and learn, so I played around with things like FreeDOS for a while, and of course DOSBox, along with old classic DOS games that wouldn’t run natively in XP.

    Then, one day, I was playing around with some extra hardware that was laying around and suddenly had the thought, “if things like FreeDOS exist, I wonder if anyone has made a free alternative to modern Windows as well?” So I Google’d (or Yahoo’d or whatever it was back in the early 2000s) and I came upon Ubuntu. The rest is history. Linux, in a general sense, gives me everything I need and nothing that I don’t want. As someone who likes to tinker, have a little extra control and have more of an idea of what’s going on under the hood, it’s a no-brainer for me.

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

    For the last couple of years my laptop has taken over from my desktop (and admittedly has more grunt until I get around to upgrading the desktop…) as my main machine. It runs Ubuntu GNOME 16.04 at the moment. My desktop, on the occasions I actually use it, still runs Arch Linux with the good, old-school MATE desktop.

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

    On my main laptop, running Ubuntu GNOME edition, I’m using GNOME 3.18, of course. It’s rather funny actually. I was never the biggest fan of GNOME 3 and in fact used KDE heavily for a couple of years. However, I did something for The Linux Rain that I called “The GNOME Shell Challenge,” which was basically an exercise I set for myself to use GNOME for a month and document my experience and thoughts on it afterwards. Whether it was some digital form of Stockholm Syndrome or I just got too used to GNOME during that month, I found myself not wanting to change at the end of it!

    But to be honest, GNOME has improved a lot the last couple of years and has become a lot more performant and stable. It’s pretty enough, has a nice window preview system in the Activities overlay and the use of the Super key to quickly open the Activities or used in combination with other keys (such as Super + up arrow to maximize a window, Super + down arrow to minimize, etc.) is surprisingly addictive and really gets into your muscle memory. It feels tight and cohesive. Or at least that is my experience.

    In saying that, I only run a few particular GNOME extensions that I need and otherwise leave it fairly vanilla. I feel the more extensions I throw in there, the more potential for instability (I’m possibly also a bit OCD in that regard). For the most part it gets out of my way and I do my work, browse the internet, or play games without any issues.

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

    This will sound a little cliché, but it’s the Vim text editor. I don’t engage in the time honored Vim vs Emacs debates or anything like that, I never really even learned Emacs properly and it just seemed that I found Vim easier to learn with its form of keybindings. Plus it seemed more lightweight and didn’t have all the bells and whistles I’d never use that Emacs seemed to have.

    But Vim, whether it be writing code or just writing a TODO.txt, is my tool of choice. I love its integration with the shell, meaning I can run a Bash command from within Vim if I wish to or even pipe something back into Vim itself from the shell without even going to another terminal window, meaning you can do all sorts of things by combining typical CLI tools with Vim, in true Unix-y style. The other thing is navigating and editing text or code. I want to delete an entire string that is nested between quotation marks? No problem, I just move to the start of the string or end or wherever my cursor ends up and press the D, I and ” keys (Delete Inside “) and kaboom, it does exactly that. I found Vim to be surprisingly intuitive and efficient, once I figured it out. I tried many alternatives to Vim, even those that try to implement Vim keybindings, but to be honest nothing can replace that program for me, even if it is kind of old and clunky, especially in its configuration and plug-ins system.

    The great thing, of course, about being familiar with Vim is even if I get onto a new Linux machine or server that only has Vi installed—and most do have Vi out of the box—I have a fair idea how to use it. I’m well aware I probably still haven’t scratched the surface of everything Vim can actually do, but I love it anyway.

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

    My laptop is running an Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 8GB RAM, with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 850M. Of course it is actually a Primus machine (hybrid graphics), so in Linux I do often have to use Bumblebee, which works surprisingly well, but isn’t totally ideal for the likes of gaming. But it works for the most part. One day I’ll get to doing a proper upgrade on that desktop machine for Linux gaming…

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Absolutely. It’s pretty much regular old GNOME Shell and so it isn’t terribly exciting, but it is what it is! Still, one can see that I’m one of those slightly weird people who enjoys a pretty and modern looking desktop while still spending ample time in a Bash terminal and/or Vim at the same time! I like to think of it as the best of both worlds 🙂

Interview conducted October 9, 2016

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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