The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

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Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers

TED speaker, founder of CD Baby

Posted

Who are you, and what do you do?

Derek Sivers. Founded CD Baby in 1997, sold it in 2008. I speak at TED, wrote a book, moved to Singapore, and am now starting some new companies.

What hardware do you use?

That's all. I've been living out of a carry-on bag for a few years, until recently, so the less, the better.

Best feature of the Lenovo T400s laptop is its DVD bay can be removed with a switch and replaced with an easy 2.5" drive bay that you can just pop drives in and out of, with no screws. So I have everything backed-up twice on two cloned 2.5" terabyte drives. And two cloned drives filled with the entire collection of Roger Ebert's "Great Movies".

And what software?

I love love LOVE Arch Linux. I used to be an OpenBSD fan, but it was sometimes a drag for day-to-day laptop use. I switched to FreeBSD, which I still love, but missed having Flash for YouTube. I used Ubuntu for a while, but it felt too hand-holdy, too much stuff pre-installed, like those awful Windows computers where the manufacturer has installed a bunch of crap in advance "for your convenience".

Then I found Arch Linux. Ahhh.... SO nice. Starts with nothing. A bare command-line prompt to install the core. That's it. A minimalist's dream. Everything that gets installed past that is something you chose to install. They do "rolling releases", so the software is just updated every few days. It's always cutting-edge current. Love it.

By default, I boot into raw console mode. No Xorg. No graphics. It keeps me focused and writing, keeps me away from a web browser. I think my best work is done in this mode.

When I do startx, I use the Ratpoison window manager, which I also love. Everything full-screen always. No menu-bars or anything else.

Then I just use xterm and Firefox all day.

I do almost everything in the terminal and Vim. Even email, I run my own Postfix mail server and SSH into Mutt to check/send mail.

I have an aversion to installing a big GUI software when my little terminal is good-enough.

Music or movies? Mplayer. Accounting? Ledger. Image editing? ImageMagick. PDFs? xpdf.

But two GUI apps I'm happy to use:

For learning Chinese, I use the awesome Wenlin.

For learning anything, I use the awesome Anki, which I love so much I donated $500 to. (The author wrote me back, thinking it must have been a PayPal mistake.) For learning Chinese in Anki, I use the great Pinyin Toolkit.

Lastly, I also use Skype, but hope that someday I could use a command-line VoIP app instead. (Know of any? I guess it's not much of a market, huh.)

No apps on my phone. When I'm away from my computer, I enjoy being pretty disconnected. But I do use its built-in Google Maps + GPS, since I'm usually in places I've never been.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm very happy with this. Any shortcomings are my own, not my gear's.

I wish I could piece together laptops like I can desktops. I'll take this shell, this keyboard, that display, this CPU, that GPU, this drive, that mouse, etc. I could upgrade certain parts when needed, but keep the rest as-is.