in Tech

I always enjoy reading usesthis.com. Especially when it involves software / internet people.  And I am always sort of surprised when I read what hardware and software some people use (>) 8 hours a day. Some people use really old stuff. You’d sort of expect when you spend that much time working/interacting with tools you want the best (newest?) tools. But then I got to thinking. I’m probably no different myself. So, since no-one asked I’m going to do my own usesthis.com!

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Jan and I work for a national ISP (ranked among the top 🙂 ). I started as a systems and networking engineer and the last couple of years I’m responsible for the Engineering department. Where we both create ánd maintain ISP based services (mail, hosting, connectivity, IP TV, VoIP, Mobile etc.)

What hardware do you use?

My everyday workhorse machine is a Dell Latitude D820 from august 2006! It still runs the original XP installation (that will have to change soon). It is fast and stable. The only upgrade has been that I added a SSD 2 years ago. (Best investment ever. Get one. Now). I use this machine up to 8 hours a day. People often ask why XP, or why such an old laptop. But it just works. You can have all kind of fancy setups but I have never seen anyone pull up files faster, find an email, hit a link, or SSH to a host faster than myself. And if  you have a trick or keyboard combination that will do things faster, trust me, I will steal it from you.

The machine is hooked up to a Dell u2211H screen. I literally found this screen somewhere in one of our offices ~4 years ago and it has been with me since. Mouse and keyboard are also as old as I can remember. Both Logitech. Probably my 2nd mouse/keyboard in my 10+ years here.

At home I use a 2010 stock Lenovo Thinkpad SL510. Great keyboard! Windows 7 that came with it was OK. But it got slower with each month. So I have been a rather happy Lubuntu user since. But if my Dell Inspiron 6400 from 2006 hadn’t broken I’d probably still be using that. Lubuntu 13.10 is fast, the opposite of bloated and Debian based (apt). So it does the trick. (If you still don’t know what to do now that XP is going,  you should give it a try.)

I have an iPhone 4 16GB. So that’s a 4, not a 4s. I  got this because my 3Gs fell in the toilet 2 years ago. It works.

Last year I got an iPad Mini which goes with me everywhere. There hasn’t been a day since that I didn’t use it. I have a lot of meetings and this thing is perfect for that. I tried a regular sized iPad before but found it too big/clunky. The Mini is the perfect size for reading meeting notes, agendas etc.

Both Apple devices still run iOS6. Why? You guessed it: speed.

Besides that I have one prominent personal toy: Nikon D3100 (because my beloved D40 and 35mm got stolen).

See what happens when you say it’s stable?!

And what software?

Most work nowadays is done in the browser. I used to be big on Firefox but have been a steady Chrome users for ~4 years. Because it’s faster (or feels that way). A lot of our inhouse software is webbased (agenda, planning, CRM, mail) so I spend a lot of time in the browser. I also have large MP3 collections that I manage with MediaMonkey or Audicious. But creating playlists on Youtube is actually how I listen to most music now. For plowing trough a lot of (IMAP) mail I use Thunderbird on Windows and Sylpheed on Lubuntu. Thunderbird renders email a bit nicer and has great search features but is heavier. So Sylpheed is (you guessed it!) faster. And moving mail with the keyboard is implemented in the best possible way that I know. Thunderbird with the Nostalagy plugin is allright but not quite the same. But at work I have a mouse/keyboard setup so it is doable. At home with a trackpad that would be un-doable.

We manage a _lot_ of Debian servers and network devices and use Password Safe for storing passwords and keys (works on both Linux/Windows). We keep the password files in SVN. I use Tortoise SVN because it integrates nicely with the Windows shell. Or on Linux just plain old command line svn(1). We’re moving to 2 factor authentication: so a Yubikey is plugged in to my laptop.

I use a puTTY fork called kiTTY as my SSH client because it has a couple of nice extra features (duplicate sessions etc.). And on Lubuntu I use LXTerminal.

On servers the main piece of software I use is probably Vim. I know my way around Vim and even a bit Vi. But I also know I probably know nothing about Vim even after 10+ years.

For IM I use Pidgin: one IM client to rule them all (both Linux/Windows). And besides that the following software on Windows: Notepad++, Filezilla, MS Office/LibreOffice and one notable: FSCapture. I also own a mIRC license! (One of the few people I guess.)

So most times I have four programs running: Chrome, a mail reader (Thunderbird/Sylpheed), SSH clients (kiTTY/LXTerminal), Pidgin.

Pretty boring huh 🙂

What would be your dream setup?

I have two thoughts here.

1. As you might have guessed by now. I’m all about speed and efficiency (my laptops have black wallpapers.) I don’t like waiting. It breaks focus, it’s inefficient. But I also use pretty old hardware. What that says is the way I use computers hasn’t really changed in 10+ years (or that I’m pretty conservative / believe in never-change-a-winning team). But the thing is that adding hardware will not significantly add speed to my workflow. In the 90s every new CPU or piece of RAM would directly improve performance. This is just not the case anymore. Adding a SSD was the only thing to make a difference in the last 8 years. And I only occasionally wish for a multi core i7: e.g. when rendering a movie.

Also with cloud/browser software and smartphones we’re (again) moving to very smart but still “dumb” terminals (remember the 80s?). It seems we’re heading to a point where you have a single sign-on and everything is is just there. And the device or OS is not an issue (at least that’s what Google would like).

So I wish for things like: solar powered laptops/tablets/phones (or long, long, long battery life). Cheap, easy, redundant storage: because of digital stress (i.e. my ever growing personal photo and movie collection). But mostly hardware is just a tool. It shouldn’t really matter what tool you use to get the job done.

2.  Saying my way of ‘desktopping’ hasn’t really changed in some years doesn’t make me less excited about the future. I believe we live in a wonderful time. We’re still at the forefront of the IT revolution (smartphones are just a couple of years old) and I expect great things (I might blog about that). A lot of things that will be used in 100 years will be discovered/developed today. And it might not be directly so, but the ideas and dreams will be come from this era. Execution can come later. 

(I stole this next idea from Paul Graham) Throughout history we’ve seen eras of painters (Rembrandt), classical composers (Mozart, Beethoven) and theatre (Shakespeare). All 3 are fields where most of the “innovation” was done closely at the start of the revolution. And we have only been reiterating ever since. I believe we are in that era for IT now. And we can all be part of it.

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