The Linux Setup – Sam Tran, NBC News/OMG! Ubuntu!

I love that Sam works for OMG! Ubuntu! but uses Arch. It’s almost like a romantic comedy, although without the romance or the comedy. Regardless, I’m currently using it as the premise for my Meg Ryan comeback script. Sam’s reasons for using Linux should be familiar to all of us: the ability to see why things aren’t working and to customize your desktop experience. I also like that Sam uses the term joy when discussing Linux. Linux is fun to use and to play with. You’re getting things done and you’re learning things and it makes for an enjoyable, fulfilling experience.

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

    Hi, I’m Sam! I’m a senior software engineer at NBC News where I work on editorial tools for our digital editors on the NBC News, MSNBC, and TODAY websites. I’m also the developer at OMG! Ubuntu!, working on themes, plugins, and the occasional article, over the last seven years.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I feel much more productive when I’m working on personal and professional projects on Linux and I have a lot of fun while I do it. All of my tools for web and desktop development feel at home on the Linux desktop more than any other platform. I’ve used macOS most of my professional career, but every release leaves me less optimistic about its future as a usable development environment. Windows Subsystem for Linux has been an interesting experiment on Windows as well, but I never feel particularly comfortable with the rest of the system.

    I also enjoy being able to try out different desktop environments, themes, toolkits, and whatever else seems interesting to play around with. I’ve found perfect setups in very different environments over the years and I love being able to quickly switch between desktops and mix-and-match pieces from different parts of the Linux ecosystem without too many issues.

    It’s not a perfect experience by any means, but knowing I can peek under the hood when things go wrong and that there’s a vast free and open source community creating tools for everyone to use brings me a lot of joy that no other operating system has matched.

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

    I run Arch on my desktop. I discovered Arch, ironically, during my early work on OMG! Ubuntu! and immediately fell in love with the Arch Wiki, the extensive Arch User Repository, and the surprising stability of an always up-to-date rolling release distribution. I run Ubuntu and Debian on servers around the apartment, but I’ve used Arch almost exclusively for Linux desktops since 2014.

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

    I’m currently using GNOME. I play around with other desktop environments when I get the chance though. I like the overall cohesion of my current GNOME desktop and the quality of the themes, but I had a great time with awesomeWM a few years ago and I’d love to get used to tiling window managers again, and switch to Sway full time.

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

    Probably htop. It’s the one thing I install anywhere I possibly can: desktops, servers, networking equipment, anything that blinks and inexplicably runs Debian. I’m a sucker for system monitoring with lots of pretty colors and htop is happy to provide it on top of easy sorting and process killing.

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

    I recently built my first workstation in over a decade. I used a 24-core AMD CPU with a Radeon VII GPU. It’s a little overkill for casual work, but it’s been great for compiling larger projects and playing around with Blender on the side. It’s also my first AMD hardware and I really enjoy being able to use open source graphics drivers without sacrificing performance.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure! My desktop is usually just a grid of editors, browser windows, and terminals, but it’s nice being able to see my Firewatch-themed wallpaper every once in awhile.

Interview conducted October 19, 2019


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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