The Linux Setup – Leah Neukirchen, Void Linux

I found Leah through a fascinating tweet where she charted out her IRC activity over the past 10 years. Leah’s setup is just as interesting, mostly in that there’s no desktop environment. Leah also helps maintain Void Linux, which is a rolling release built from scratch. It’s a little too hardcore for me, but it seems pretty beloved on Reddit. So this setup is technical and intense, but also a lot of fun.

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

    Hi, I’m Leah Neukirchen. I’m a maintainer and long-time contributor to the Void Linux distribution. I wrote some popular Ruby libraries such as Rack and bacon, created the first musl-based Linux distribution Sabotage, and the mblaze suite of tools for dealing with mail, as well as a dozen other unixy utilities which you can find on my Github. When I find the time, I try to contribute to other open source projects as well.

    I also publish the link blog Trivium.

    I studied math and theoretical computer science, but professionally I now work as a consultant specialized on back-end, cloud, and infrastructure topics.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    I started using Linux around 1999 when I was picking up programming and I liked that it had many of the languages I was interested in already included. I didn’t have internet on my own machine back then, so the Debian CD set was a very good investment to get a lot of software easily.

    For a while, I used Apple products and OS X, as it was called back then, which was unixy enough to get along with, but later I switched back to Linux on my notebook as well, and immediately enjoyed it more, and finally could tweak all the things again.

    I also use BSDs on servers occasionally, but I found Linux most suitable and convenient for use on physical machines I sit in front of.

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

    I use Void Linux on most machines, and also have a few servers also running Debian, Arch and various BSD. Even though it’s a rolling release distribution, Void Linux has proven to be very stable as a daily driver, and in the rare cases something breaks, we are quick to fix it.

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

    I don’t use a desktop environment in the typical sense of the word. I use OpenBSD’s cwm as a X11 window manager, and the majority of my windows are simply urxvt terminals. I tend to have lots of open windows, so the search function of cwm is essential to me. Most of the programs I use otherwise are GTK-based (e.g. Dino, Firefox).

    I never felt a need to use a desktop environment, since my setup works very well for me, and I do most things on the command line anyway.

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

    I guess it’s Emacs. I edit most of the text and code I write with it, and also use it to read mail and newsgroups. It has good support for many (and even obscure) programming languages I use. However, on remote systems, I do most sysadmin-style editing with Vim.

    Now and then I try other editors (lately acme, kakoune, or vis) and then I realize how many small features Emacs has that make my life a lot easier.

    Second most important software is zsh, which I have extensively tweaked to my tastes.

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

    I’m typing this on a Lenovo T480 which is my daily driver and work machine. It has 16GB RAM, but an empty slot left which I really should fill. Together with a Logitech MX Ergo trackball and Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT headphones it’s the core of my current home office setup.

    Other systems I use are described better on my wiki.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?


Leah Neukirchen's desktop

Interview conducted January 6, 2021

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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