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Author's profile photo Nigel James

7 More great reasons for Ubuntu

I wrote a blog last month (in July) on just how much I have been enjoying Ubuntu as a desktop machine.

I can’t see myself going back – I am a total convert.

So just in the chance that I might win some more to the cause here are 7 more reasons why you might find Ubuntu to be your next OS choice.

7. Wobbly Windows

Oh this is available for other operating systems but having a few great window effects makes development life much more fun. Given I am running pretty standard Gnome Desktop, I use the compviz plugin to get this working for me. The Wobbly Windows adds a little stretchy and snappy effects to desktop windows but the best part is that compviz comes with other effects to snap windows into different parts of your desktop. So with a couple of keystrokes I can setup a browser window on one half of the screen and an editor (like sublime) on the right hand side of my screen

I can also quickly get several terminals up and snap them into the four quarters of the screen and ssh into a different server in each one. Although you can achieve the same thing with …

6. Terminator

These things can start to be a little ‘my-terminal-is-better-than-your-terminal’ but after I was introduced to Terminator I rarely use the standard terminal.

The best feature about Terminator is that you can have many windows and tabs open within the app to then replicate what I was doing with separate terminal sessions and snapping them to different corners of the screen. To take this to another level (because that is not the killer use case) you can link windows together and issue the identical command to all windows. This was invaluable to me on a recent project where I was managing a cluster of servers and I wanted to issue the same sql query to each of them simultaneously to determine if they were all in sync.

5. Cowsay

Again this is a pretty minor item, all things considered, but it does make logging messages that much more fun.

I have been doing a lot of work with Ansible an open source provisioning tool. I will have more to say on this in a future blog but for now lets if you are not familiar with it, then consider it a way to script your server deployments so that is easy to deploy new servers with identical configuration.

Ansible uses cowsay to output many of its messages to the screen as they the playbooks run. Given some playbooks take time it helps break up the monotony as the cows mooove across the screen.

Just to give you a feel of how cowsay can immediately improve your life:/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/cowsay_541792.png

4. Multiple virtual desktops

I don’t know how I will be able to work on 1080×768 again. I have grown used to multiple screens and not just multiple screens but multiple virtual screens. Ubuntu and Gnome make this a no brainer and you can easily have 4 virtual screens with real estate of 3840×2160. By splitting this into a virtual screen of 1920×1080 I can easily put different types of work on different virtual screens and focus on one particular type of work at once. I like to have a little PHP going on, with a little SAP UI5 here and perhaps email and other messaging on another. I can set up each screen with all the resources I need for that work and then leave it until I want to come back to it. This saves in context switch time as it is no trouble for my machine to leave an project or two open with the virtual machines that it needs and come back to it as I can.

I might restart my machine once a week if I need to, so to be able to set this up and then leave it all running is a great timesaver.

3. A Better understanding of your computer

In my last blog I mentioned that the command line as one of the great benefits of Ubuntu. Now I love great user interfaces as much as the next person. In fact I am passionate about creating great user experience for my clients. One of the best ways to do this is to simplify, simplify, simplify and remove all the complexity that does not affect the transaction at hand.

As a developer and as a DevOps’er you need to be familiar with what is going on with your servers. There are many great graphical programs that enable this but by using the command line I feel like I am operating at a much closer level to the computer and after a while of doing this the muscle memory kicks in and it becomes second nature. Also things like $ and ^ that are part of regular expressions have identical meaning in vi (yes vi). Knowing basic vi is also handy for when you are ssh’d into your headless server and guess what sublime isn’t installed but vi is. Nano probably is too but I’d rather not talk about that.

2. Alias you, Alias me.

Whilst Jason Bourne is flying around the world with half a dozen passports an alias or two can be a great things to stick in your back pocket or or .bash_alias file.

An alias can take a long command line sequence and reduce it to a couple of easily typed letters. For example I have a scripted vagrant box that I used to have to get to the correct directory before starting it but with a simple and short script that I have aliased to two letters I can start that virtual machine and with another alias I can ssh into the machine and I am away.

Also the .ssh_config file is a winner. As you can define easy to remember aliases to all those servers you are managing and specify which user you want to log in as. There is also a trick about use ssh_config to differentiate your github accounts if you have multiple accounts for multiple clients.

1. Configurability

Yes, I saved the best for last. The best part of Ubuntu or any other variant of linux is it’s configuarability. If you don’t like the UI or pretty much any part of the OS you can switch it out for another. This is one thing that MacOS and Windows don’t have to a large extent. While most of the tips and tools mentioned here can be applied on those OS’s you can’t swap out your UI.

This sort of discussion about editors, terminals, OS’s can get a little bit heated for no good reason and I am not saying what I run is best and there is no other. Work out what works for you. In fact I run all these OS’s (Linux, MacOS and Windows) and they all have advantages but for my main machine – ubuntu is where I am staying.

So why do you run what you run?

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      Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer
      Tom Van Doorslaer

      Been hooked on Ubuntu ever since my windows XP kept crashing on my old laptop... And that was about 7 years ago

      Since then, things have changed significantly.

      My Home theater runs on ubuntu. It's hooked up to my tv, internet and stereo. A push of the button brings my media center in seconds on to my tv, ready to watch films, listen music, search on youtube...

      A couple of keystrokes on my wireless mini-keyboard later, I'm in Steam choosing my favourite game, switching to a controller and racing through the woods.

      My home laptop is in dual mode, (ubuntu/win8) and the only reason it's not just pure Ubuntu, is because I actually payed for MS Office and don't want to throw away the investment.... (burrrr..)

      Now I'm eagerly waiting for the Ubuntu Phone 🙂