I’ve never seen a setup like Simon’s. I love the Zen of it. There’s no attachment to a distribution. It’s just whatever is felt in the moment. I found Simon via this post on Linux usability. I don’t necessarily agree that the original Mac was the gold usability standard, but there’s definitely room for most, if not all, desktop environments to improve, Linux and otherwise. Something is always at least slightly broken. But what fun is a system that doesn’t sometimes drive you a little crazy?
- Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Simon, but I’m probably better known as probono in the Linux world. An early Mac user converted to Linux, I’ve been trying to help make desktop Linux more like the Mac over the last few years, starting with the klik project over a decade ago, and with what is now named AppImage. AppImage is, basically, a self-mounting filesystem that contains an application and its resources, not unlike an .app inside a .dmg on the Mac. The advantage is that you get “one app = one file,” which you can easily handle without a package manager. And the applications run on most desktop Linux systems.
Why do you use Linux?
Linux allows me to decouple the operating system from the hardware, and the applications from the operating system. Which allows me to mix and match the three. To allow for this, I am running a quite unusual setup: I keep hundreds of different Linux distributions (and versions) as live ISO files on a bootable SSD using SystemImageKit, and all of my applications in AppImage format. This means I can just walk to just about any machine, plug-in and boot from my SSD into any of the Linux distributions, and use just about every application. This makes for a great setup to reproduce and debug issues. I also like this setup because using live ISOs means you have a “factory new” setup each time you boot (also known as “stateless”). Furthermore, OS updates are trivial and can be done within seconds.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
Every time I boot my machine, SystemImageKit shows me hundreds of live ISOs to choose from.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
None comes even close to the original Macintosh user experience so far, but on the Linux desktop I currently run Xfce most of the time, because it stays mostly true to the desktop metaphor. From time to time it still drives me crazy. I’ve written a six-part series of articles about Linux usability and why we as a community still have a lot to learn and improve.
What one piece of Linux software do you depend upon? Why is it so important?
The web browser, because I practically live in it.
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
A Dell tower from a decade ago with lots of RAM. An Acer mini PC from a couple of years ago. Some Retina Macs. A cheap Acer netbook-type notebook for travel. And a couple of self-built boxes.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
There is not one desktop I could share—I make a point of booting into various, different live ISOs and checking out their desktops. So I’ll share this screenshot from my boot menu instead:
Interview conducted December 2, 2018