Steve Rosenberg is playing with Xfce. He might enjoy some of these tips from my Xubuntu days.
It’s a great environment. I’m curious to hear more about his experiences.
Steve Rosenberg is playing with Xfce. He might enjoy some of these tips from my Xubuntu days.
It’s a great environment. I’m curious to hear more about his experiences.
Tom’s setup is interesting because he’s not a tech guy, although he obviously has some interest in technology. But mostly, he’s just a person trying to use computers to do his job. His setup reflects that. He’s got things he needs to do and he chooses software to help him best get everything done. It’s another great example of how Linux isn’t a novelty so much as it’s a viable alternative for “normal” (ie, non-tech obsessed) people who don’t enjoy using Windows or OS X.
For the last 26+ years I’ve fed and clothed myself primarily as a writer (mostly writing marketing/advertising copy). Along the way I built a Top 10 Writer/Copywriter’s blog and a top fly fishing blog.
I wrote my first handful of assignments on an electric typewriter (I simply wasn’t man enough for a manual), bought a 128K Mac in 1985, then moved to Windows in the 90s when my Macs refused to stop crashing.
I never really liked Windows, but my corporate clients used it and Microsoft was very good at keeping competing word processors away from MS Word’s files. Eventually I ran headlong into Windows Vista and realized I already had one mother and didn’t want another, so I decided to try Linux, which was supposed to have gotten easy.
Turns out it was easy. And fast. And uncluttered. I installed it on an old laptop, and within days it was on all my machines. That was four years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Ubuntu is a great platform for writers who are willing to tear free of MS Word.
I’m an Ubuntu guy, though the advent of Unity has pushed me to try the other Ubuntu flavors like Xubuntu and Lubuntu (both of which are running on my netbook and laptop). Xfce might just become my standard desktop; I launch everything using Synapse anyway, and Unity’s universal menus and lack of document identification don’t work for me.
Because 95% of my writing is headed for online pastures (where embedded codes only get in the way), I spend most of my writing time in programmer’s text editors like Sublime Text, Komodo Edit and Emacs.
I used Emacs for a couple months – long enough to learn the navigation key bindings (I use them on my other text editors). But getting it to perform all that magic was always just out of reach of a non-programmer. Komodo Edit and Sublime Text aren’t as powerful, but they’re far more accessible.
Despite being a type fiend, I write in monospace fonts (Inconsolata and Droid mono). I was surprised to discover it’s easier to spot misspellings and spacing issues, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Programmers spend more hours in front of a monitor than even writers, and they use monospaced fonts and low-contrast color themes – both of which I’ve adopted.
When I need to write corporate video scripts – which require specific (and odd) formatting – I use Celtx. It’s an open source product that supports the double-column “documentary” script format (few other screenwriting apps do). It’s powerful but the interface is clunky, and I just noticed the much sleeker FadeIn Pro software now offers AV format. Hmmm.
Life, it seems, is a series of choices.
After a pretty rocky start, I’ve grown dependent on Ubuntu One, though I could ditch it for Dropbox if the urge to try another Linux distro overpowered me.
I own two desktops and a netbook. My main computer is an AMD Phenom six-core, 8GB desktop. I just added a 128GB SSD, so now it’s way, way faster than any writer needs it to be.
My 24" display is huge by Old Guy Standards, though today’s wide-format monitors don’t really do writers – who need vertical pixels – any favors.
I use an upstairs desktop (a slower, older version of the first desktop) and a System 76 Starling Netbook which I use on the road (it’s great, but its wireless issues have been a disappointment).
I’m trying a Toshiba Thrive android tablet (built-in HDMI & USB ports), and while it’s a fun toy, the technology feels immature, like I’m just getting a glimpse of what’s coming. I mostly read on it.
I’m pretty happy. Ubuntu could be a little less fussy with media and I’m not sure we’re heading in the right direction on the desktop environment front, but my real want is an integrated writing platform; something that offers a powerful, configurable text editor (optimized for writers, not coders) that’s married to version control and a system that converts text files into whatever you need – manuscripts, screenplays, formatted PDF files, MS Word, etc.
It’s possible to build something like that today using Emacs, Git and LaTeX, but not by me. A lot of it is command line stuff, which would be a tough sell to writers.
Interview conducted June 21, 2012
I’m a huge OpenSUSE fan so it’s great to have someone from SUSE labs. Michael’s work seems to require more power and processing than your average desktop Linux user. Hopefully, hardware will catch up with Michael’s work needs and the price points for organizations that don’t have insanely huge budgets. Especially since the work of Michael and his colleagues helps improve LibreOffice, which so many of us enjoy.
I’m Michael Meeks, Christian, Husband, Hacker. I work inside SUSE labs, primarily on LibreOffice. I’m a board member of The Document Foundation, and do a diverse set of hacking and development tasks around our exciting and rapidly improving code-base.
Primarily openSUSE 12.1. Normally I’d run SLES11, but I had to do some hackery recently for our LibreOffice online prototype, which uses the very latest gtk3 and infrastructure. It was easier to switch to 12.1 at that stage.
For my daily work, I use Emacs, Firefox, Evolution, Xchat, gnome-terminal, VirtualBox (for our windows builds), and that’s about it. Of course, that is the end-user visible software—really I depend very heavily on the excellent work from the SUSE gcc/binutils team without which our lives would be very much harder: LibreOffice is a substantial piece of C++ software and tends to exercise the compiler quite hard. Similarly we like to link and use most Linux desktop infrastructure, so really a lot of dependencies.
I have a Lenovo W500, which combines a rather nice big, wide screen for multiple side-by-side Emacs buffers with a reasonably fast Core 2 Duo CPU. I run a near identical backup setup on an 8 core desktop machine next to me that provides more compilation grunt. Using that to share compilation via icecream takes my from-clean build times down to 45 minutes from several hours before it arrived. Another nice feature of this setup is Intel’s kind provision of an SSD sample, which not only makes it perform excellently, but removes the fear of losing data by dropping a hard-disk that plagued me in the past.
Working on one of the most challenging, and exciting projects out there in Free Software at the moment, and doing large scale code changes just now, I need speed. So, anything with a lot of parallel CPUs is great for me. There are lots of (lame, two disk) NAS boxes in the world, but really my ideal Linux seutp would be a (cheap) network attached CPU box with no disk that would run icecream, and provide a plug-and-play build accelerator. If we could specify and buy those cheaply, the Document Foundation would probably fund sending some to our best volunteers to improve their productivity. Unfortunately, it seems a cheap, disk-less, network-attached beefy CPU machine doesn’t exist. That’s a shame, since we can now build our software with a parallelism measured in the thousands of modules.
My desktop generally looks quite boring—I tend to hide it behind lots of full-screen windows on a 3×4 virtual workspace grid, which I flick through fast, in a two dimensional/spatial way. This muscle memory (e.g., my mail client is at the top-right) is one reason why I’ve not been able to move to the new GNOME 3 shell. So, you’ll notice I’m using the under-advertised fallback mode, which (if only more people knew about) might make the over-busy, power-user fringe a lot less annoyed with GNOME 3.
Interview conducted June 25, 2012
Another (tentative) GNOME 3 fan!
I first connected with Durand on Google+ (which actually has a fairly bumping Linux community). He had some interesting insight into Linux in academia, which he discusses below. Also, he’s one of the seemingly increasing number of Unity fans, which is becoming an interesting phenomenon.
Durand has a great software list, that includes a few non open source tools, which is fine, because as he points out, work is often about picking the best tool, not the most open one.
I’m Durand D’souza, an astrophysics master’s student studying in the UK and Germany. For the past few months, I have been researching the evolution of very massive stars which lose a lot of mass though dense stellar winds. Astrophysics is probably one of the few fields of academia in which Linux actually dominates on the desktop, a fact that I am very proud of! 🙂 Outside of astrophysics, I also do some desktop and web programming, graphics and photography.
At home, I usually run a bleeding edge version of Ubuntu with Unity. When Unity was first introduced with Ubuntu 11.04, I avoided it like the plague but after using it during the Precise development cycle, I was extremely impressed by its stability, speed and innovative features like the HUD and Lenses and I now feel very attached to it. And no, I’m not getting paid to say this!
I also occasionally use Fedora (with GNOME Shell), Gentoo (with Openbox), Crunchbang, and have been recently experimenting with Elementary OS. I am a bit addicted with trying new things and I have probably tried most of the relatively popular distributions at one time or another. Of course, I also have a dusty copy of Vista installed but that is very rarely used.
At work, our desktops run Ubuntu Lucid (10.04), soon to be upgraded to Precise. Using such an old version of Ubuntu has really made me appreciate how far Ubuntu and Linux has improved in just two years, something that no proprietary OS can claim to have managed. I’ve also realized that I actually miss the Unity global menu and the HUD, which I did not expect at all.
Ooh, that’s a long list! The Opera web browser is what I depend on most. Its RSS reader, mail client, tab stacking features and web development tools are unrivaled in my eyes. While I prefer to use open source software as much as I can, I am a pragmatist and if I prefer a proprietary app over open source alternatives, I will use that instead.
At work, I am lost without Zim, which is a desktop wiki that allows me to keep track of my research using graphs, LaTeX equations, images, and plain ol’ text. I also rely on Mendeley to organize my collection of highlighted journal articles. I use the fish shell along with Terminator, a terminal emulator powered by magic whose pane-splitting feature lets me run pyxplot (a graphing program similar, but much cleverer, to gnuplot), Vim, several analysis tools and simulations all in the same window with no clutter. I also use Sublime Text 2 for programming in Fortran because I need all the help I
can get with this language 😉
On my laptop, I dabble with 3D graphics in Blender, vector graphics in Inkscape and digital painting with MyPaint and The GIMP. I also use RawTherapee and Hugin for processing photographs and I depend on MPD and Spotify for my music fix. And because this list isn’t already long enough, I also depend on Dropbox for collaborating with others and Sparkleshare for storing my graphics projects and letting me revert to previous versions when I screw up.
Finally, I depend enormously on Compiz for both my work and my hobbies. The scale, colour invert, grid and window transparency plugins are essential and they are a big reason for me to stick with Unity (which is based on Compiz) rather than switch to GNOME Shell (which is not).
My laptop is a 17" Dell Vostro 1710 with a nice, high resolution screen, a 2.4GHz Core2Duo, an insufficient 4GB of RAM, Nvidia graphics (8600M GS) and a 250GB hard drive filled to the brim with several operating systems.
My work desktop is some five-year-old machine with a 22" LCD, 1.6 GHz Core2Duo processor, 2GB RAM and a 1TB local hard drive with another 7TB NAS. It doesn’t sound like a powerful machine but I can run up to six stellar evolution simulations simultaneously without any noticeable slowdown which I think is quite impressive!
Based on my current frustrations with trying to render large 3D scenes, I’d say a 17" laptop with a fast Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, a top of the range Nvidia card and a SSD/HDD combo for storage. I might also throw in a Bluray reader for luck 😉 As it is right now, I am very pleased with my current laptop and probably won’t upgrade for at least another year and a half. I prefer to buy a good laptop that will last me at least five years than a cheap one which constantly needs to be replaced.
I use multiple desktops a lot to organize my work so to get a true picture, I really need to show them all.
Interview conducted June 1, 2012
Chris’ interview is interesting in that he’s considering the move to Gentoo, which seems to be a natural progression for many users as they get more comfortable with Linux. The thing about Linux is that there’s really not much in the intermediate experience space. Most things are either easy or expert. This very old Ask MetaFilter thread explores that idea a bit. I hope Chris checks in after he moves to Gentoo.
I’m Chris, a six-year veteran user of the Linux desktop and developer of open source software. I’m a freelance software developer/problem solver with a very free schedule, unfortunately! I live in Sweden with my girlfriend. I enjoy playful cleverness, which is what drives me to hack on software and play intellectually stimulating games like chess. I think that should be enough background by now!
Ubuntu 11.10 with an Xfce4 desktop. I like Ubuntu, but I’m thinking of changing to Gentoo now that I’m experienced enough to handle it. I’ve tried it out in VirtualBox a few times and am fairly confident I could install it on real hardware now. Over the years I’ve tried out: Gentoo, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint, Knoppix (my cherry-popper, if anyone’s interested), DSL, Puppy, Mandrake/Mandriva, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, Haiku (recently), OpenSUSE, Debian, all the Ubuntu variants (Edubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and Ubuntu Studio Edition), Arch, Slackware, CentOS, and a few more that have passed out of memory. I’m quite the adventurer! My favourite was probably Gentoo, although I am also partial to Arch. Ubuntu has long been my favourite but has passed somewhat from favor since the launch of the Unity interface.
Web browser: Chrome
Email: Chrome also (Gmail)
Terminal emulator: xfce4-terminal
Text Editor: Kate
Development tools: make 3.8.1, gcc 4.6.1, gdb 7.3-2011.08, valgrind 3.6.1
An eMachines laptop with 1.7GB of RAM, an AMD V160 which apparently clocks at 0.8GHz (according to /proc/cpuinfo) and a 250GB HDD. It’s a bit of a donkey but it gets the job done and I feel a bit mean when I
criticize it because it was a gift from a very caring father to his beloved daughter (my better half).
Money is no object? This is where I could go a bit crazy, so bear with me!
Home compilation/rendering server: nVidia Tesla-powered personal supercomputer running Gentoo (not listed as a supported OS but I’d want Gentoo for its speed and development tools).
Desktop/workstation: Custom built with Intel Xeon 3.0 Quad, 16GB RAM, twin 500GB hard drives (RAID 0) and a 128GB SSD for the OSs and applications, dual-booted with Gentoo and Windows 7, with an even split of the SSD, twin 21" 4:3 displays and a Dell silver-framed keyboard (I don’t know the model name, but they’re the standard issue keyboards with modern Dells and I just love them) and a generic 2-button scroll-wheel mouse, because mice aren’t all that important. Oh, and I’d put an nVidia GTX 520 in the desktop machine for 3D
modeling (and gaming, naturally).
Interview conducted May 28, 2012
I definitely want to give Sabayon another try. The LXDE spin grew a little buggy over time, but I wonder if that’s because it wasn’t a fully supported desktop environment.
I hope OpenSUSE works something out. I love 12.1 and wouldn’t mind a less aggressive release schedule. I’m still a bit gun shy about rolling releases, but OpenSUSE has earned my trust. I’d be willing to see how they handle it.
UPDATE: More on this.
I recently installed Ubuntu 12.04 on my T43, just to take it for a test spin, and because I had heard a lot of really nice things about the release. I’m still totally in love with OpenSUSE 12.1, which is my day-to-day home OS, but the vast Ubuntu repositories are always a selling point for me. I was curious if Unity was workable for me down the line.
The T43 is a great machine but its lack of a super/Windows key is always a bit of a challenge since more and more desktop environments map cool functionality to that key. With Unity, I had a tough time mapping a new shortcut to the Dash. However, I was eventually able to remap a shortcut to the launcher, because I try and avoid using the mouse as much as possible.
I’m still shocked by how complicated Unity is. Like how is the Unity plugin not its own application? And how is it not installed by default? Is this poor usability or is Canonical trying to dissuade users from making changes? I think it’s the latter given the warning from the CompizConfig Settings Manager, but all that warning does is make me wonder why making changes is so potentially dangerous.
Once I got the Unity shortcuts working, I felt like I was using GNOME 3, so I decided to install it, just to see how different it is in Ubuntu. GNOME 3 was also shockingly challenging to make function without a super key. But what I had working in my favor was understanding the GNOME 3 concept, and knowing what the different parts were called. I was eventually able to remap the super key, which calls up the search/application launching area, using dconf and changing the keybindings in org > gnome > desktop > wm > keybindings.
In general, the experience made me realize what a huge fan of GNOME 3 I’ve become. It works effortlessly for me. I use it fairly stock and don’t feel the need to make many changes, although I did install the shutdown button extension. Once I had the super button remapped, it felt just like home. I don’t think of it as a desktop environment so much as I think of it as the launcher I’ve always wanted.
Unity is fine to work with, but it still feels very similar to GNOME 3. I’m not sure why Canonical has spent so much time and effort making an environment that feels subtlely different from an existing one, but I appreciate that they seem to have resolved a lot of the technical issues I saw in 11.10. The lenses are an interesting concept, but I prefer to browse content through a web browser, rather than an application launcher.
Unity has the new HUD feature, allowing users to access application menus via typing. It’s an interesting concept, but because there’s no formal application nomenclature, users need to remember things like which programs Close to shut down versus which ones Quit. As much as I try to avoid the mouse, it’s usually pretty quick to just user the X button to close out of applications.
I was thinking a lot about the point of Unity when I had some interesting usability experiences over the past few weeks.
The first was using my friend’s MacBook to test some apps for work. I didn’t get the Finder area and had trouble identifying some programs along the dock. I made a comment along the lines of “This isn’t very intuitive, is it?” and my friend immediately disagreed and said he finds it effortless to work with.
Just a few days later, Linus Torvalds let loose with his now infamous rant against GNOME 3, which made me immediately realize that GNOME 3 is not working for everyone.
It seems painfully obvious to write this, but it bears repeating: not everyone uses computers in the same way. Any time anyone proposes there’s a magical, singular desktop experience that should work for everyone, we should all brace ourselves for failure.
And that’s really where I take exception to Unity. It’s not that it’s inherently bad — it’s that Canonical pushes it so hard on its users. They make it tough to customize Unity. They eliminate desktop competition. If a desktop environment isn’t customizable, there should be a variety of desktop environment options for users. In other words, if users can’t easily tweak an environment, it should be easy for them to choose a different one.
I can see how someone trying to tweak GNOME 3 might be frustrated by it. And for people who like using menus, it must be especially frustrating. But as someone who hates to touch the mouse, the GNOME 3 experience is fantastic. I feel no need to customize it because I only interact with it for the brief moment it takes to type the name of the program I need. Then, it disappears.
Windows 7 is actually shockingly receptive to this kind of workflow, with an amazing file search algorithm that seems to rate frequently used files above others. In that workflow, I hit the super key, type a file name, and Windows 7 shows me what matches. Right now a lot of my files begin with something like spring12, but Windows puts the ones I work with the most at the top of the list, making it easy to select and open, all from the Start menu. It’s a real time-saver, and is one of the few things I do in Windows that I wish I could do in GNOME 3 (GNOME 3 remembers recently-used files, but the search is not as comprehensive as Windows.’ Unity has a very nice search, though). Alas, it seems like this Windows 7 infatuation has an expiration date.
It’s important for distros to not only support different desktop environments, but also to curate them. Although OpenSUSE is known as a KDE-centric distribution, its GNOME implementation is fantastic. People seem to love Voyager, which is actually based on Xubuntu. Sabayon supports a number of desktop environments, too. That’s the way Linux distributions used to behave, before the emphasis on getting everything to fit on a single CD. It’s a tradition distributions should return to, making it very easy for users to choose and experiment with different environments.
GNOME 3 runs just fine on Ubuntu 12.04, but it’s a stock implementation. It’s great that Canonical believes in Unity, but it would also be nice if they threw some resources behind other desktop environments, too. Improving other desktops can only help improve Unity. Choice continues to be a core value in the Linux world. Canonical doesn’t inhibit choice with Ubuntu, but they could probably do more to promote it. As leaders within the Linux community (whether Canonical or the community likes it or not), promoting choice, even at the perceived expense of Unity, is very important.
It’s fine that Canonical has a vision for Unity that doesn’t allow easy user customization. But in the absence of customization, they should at least curate other environments so users have choice. The community-driven variants are great, but they’re not the same as a Canonical-supported environment.
If Canonical really believes in Unity, they shouldn’t be scared to put it up against KDE and GNOME and let their users pick which they prefer. Competition will only make Unity stronger, and in the end, that’s what everyone wants.