What systems and applications do I (cb) use?

This is a stream of consciousness (so don’t expect my usual polish) based off of some friends’ musings on the tools they use. I’m doing this to explain some of the tools I use, in the hopes of conveying my feelings on them. I doubt (and sometimes probably hope I won’t) I’ll convince you on the merits or if you should use any of these tools, but you’ll at least know why I care. As I write this, I consider the tools I use to be fairly pedestrian, but perhaps this document might have sentimental or historic interest later. Consider it like usesthis.com – and I also use a Mac!

My desktop

I’ve had the same self-built desktop since 2019. It’s got a Ryzen 5 2600 and a GeForce GTX 770; the latter I would like to replace, but the breadlines for GPUs aren’t helping matters.

On my 250 GB SSD that I’ve had since the beginning of the system, I run Fedora with stock GNOME (Well, I did have to have working AppIndicators…). I actually don’t mind it, and I’ve adapted to GNOME’s worldview well enough. (I still have some issues with said worldview, but they’re covered in another article.) As for what I run there…

  • I’ve carried the same Firefox profile for a few years now, so I inevitably run Firefox. uBlock Origin continues to be as essential as air and water when browsing the web. I use NoScript because of my brainworms, but I often think of giving it up.
  • I use Evolution for mail and calendar. It’s a crufty and shameless Outlook 2003 clone, but it’s surprisingly robust, even if IMAP support is really slow on the draw in terms of synchronizing state. The main reason I ended up using it was because I was in the hellscape of having Exchange accounts, and Evolution is basically the only game in town for that.
  • For listening to music, I continue to have have brainworms and have a local FLAC collection on an SMB share, instead of streaming or using some conventional library based software. I drag them from the file manager, then I use Audacious for playing them and it works fine – I don’t even listen to video game music, so I’m only scratching the surface of the possibilities of Audacious.
  • Say what you will about NetworkManager – it has saved me from the godawful experience of vendors’ SSLVPN clients. Fortinet, SonicWall, AnyConnect, they’re all universally terrible, especially with endpoint “security”.
  • I use VMware for virtualization. VMware’s compatibility is really good and the mouthfeel is great.

I tend to do most of my work here, because it’s where I set up things like signing keys. However, most of my work actually happens on remote systems, so it could be done from anything. Having it be Linux is mostly convenient for when I need to test software on my local machine (or if I can test it on my local machine, since that’s usually faster).

Also, I’m still using X because I’m on the Nvidia 470 drivers before fancy Wayland, because 495 drivers only support cards after Kepler. But I’m told 470 does work with Wayland, just not if you’re using stuff like Sway, so…. perhaps that might resolve some Linux performance woes.


I recently acquired a 2 TB SSD, and on that I run Windows 10 LTSC. (Through the magic of a legitimate MSDN subscription, I have this legitimately licensed.) I primarily use this for games, but I’ve also gotten back into more modern Windows development too. As for what I run there…

  • For now, I’ve been trying Edge as my browser since it was the default and I haven’t given it a chance before. I don’t hate it, but there’s some stuff I find very distasteful, like the “pay later” and rewards stuff.
  • I have Office 365 installed too. Trying to use LibreOffice when you have any kind of Office muscle memory is infuriating, because LO looks close enough to Office you mistake it for the real thing. Plus they’ve actually made useful changes (i.e. PowerPoint is much better at reflowing text). My main complaint is Outlook is actually surprisingly good, but missing CalDAV support really hurts me since work uses it – not to mention that it wants to keep putting appointments from calendar invites intended for that CalDAV account into an Exchange one…
  • I still use PuTTY for terminal emulation instead of OpenSSH in like, Windows Terminal. It’s very lightweight, very trustable, and it’s what I’m used to, though I miss some creature comforts like clickable URLs. And yes, I still use irssi in tmux for IRC. Sue me.
  • I need to do a longer rant about it, but Visual Studio proper keeps getting undersold as a solid development environment. I’ve been using it again for C# after a long period of not using it, and I was reminded how useful debuggers can be after years of gdb.
  • For playing music, while I still go for the 30 year old boomer thing of “files”, I was never a fan of Winamp nor Foobar; I always found their UIs to be a bit inscrutable. Instead, I was stubborn and foolish enough I wrote my own to fit my neurosis of what ideal Windows software would be like. (Longer takes on Windows development to come.)
  • In the rare event I need to OCR some stuff, I use an ancient version of Acrobat I have. Otherwise for PDF stuff, I use the browser’s or failing that, SumatraPDF.
  • I haven’t decided what to use for virtualization on Windows – VMware, give VirtualBox or Hyper-V another shot, or just leave it alone?
  • Whenever I need to actually manage said FLAC collection, I use Mp3tag. It’s the most reliable tagging software I’ve seen, to the point I also just run it under WINE.

It’s been a while since I run Windows, but I’m impressed with the performance over my Linux environment. The scheduler is a lot better tuned for desktop; on Linux, if very intensive disk I/O happened, the entire X server seize up. Not so on Windows, and little things like switching Windows (especially with games) is faster. People forget Windows system requirements have stabilized (except the stupid stunt with Windows 11) since Windows 8 and have been pretty low, while Linux desktops porked up.


Some stuff I use everywhere, and usually not by choice: the staple chat stuff for a variety of reasons of Telegram, Discord, and Slack. I don’t have much to say about them, other than that they do mostly work, and work on all the other platforms (enough I won’t mention them). But I’m not sure if I have much nice to say about them.

The other stuff I do use everywhere by choice? The biggest one is KeePass and Nextcloud. KeePass has never let me down in terms of safety of my data, and Nextcloud mostly does just work, though with some quirks. On Windows, it finally supports placeholders, so it’s not exactly eating up disk anymore either. The Nextcloud instance itself is hosted by a friend to amortize costs, and the KeePass DB is just a file on Nextcloud.

My laptop

After years of ThinkPads (and my disillusionment with them), I caved and got the M1 MacBook Air after the hype of Apple ARM and my previous good experience with a 2013 11″ MacBook Air. This is IMHO, the best laptop I’ve used. It gets the battery life you expect (and will probably retain it for years), while having great performance and being an overall pleasant experience.

But beside that, it’s what I tend to use for working outside, probably travel when that happens again, lounging on the bed, or dealing with really crusty video chat stuff like GoToMeeting. What I tend to use in these situations are…

  • I use Safari as my browser. Yes, really. I don’t care if web developers hate me (I invite it, considering what the web has done to us all), but it gets good battery life and has that Mac mouthfeel I come to respect.
  • I use the built-in Mail and Calendar apps; they’re robust and do CalDAV and Exchange well, since I keep needing both.
  • Preview is one of the crown jewels on Mac for a reason – it looks like a pedestrian viewer, but is highly capable and does things you might not realize at first; one is being able to sign things (not cryptographically, but literally). And I believe that’s actually something that you don’t think matter, until it does. And it means I don’t have to use Acrobat!
  • On Mac, my preference is the same for music (iTunes is less miserable here, but only just) – I just use Cog as the player instead. Mac SMB support tends to be a bit pokey, so it’s not as nice as it could be.
  • In keeping with the tradition of native mouthfeel, I use MacPass. It’s quite nice, but hasn’t been updated for modern macOS yet and has some bugs as a result. They’re gonna fix it though.
  • I use Parallels, mostly because VMware Fusion doesn’t have Windows support yet. I haven’t really used Parallels before (but I tried it when it first came out for M1), but having used it, the two surprises are the 3D performance is really good (VMware’s is a weak spot to the point I don’t bother with it), but the mouthfeel is a bit clumsy. I get the impression Parallels is more for you have a single VM and you don’t want to think of the fact applications are running in the VM (this the weird integration stuff I don’t like), whereas VMware is more intended for professionals who explicitly use virtualization.
  • I also have CrossOver, but haven’t used it much. Surprisingly, Parallels gets better results for games, but I don’t really game on my Mac anyways other than to see what it’s like, and I don’t have the necessity for it either.
  • IINA is basically mpv with a nice Mac UI. I don’t use it often, but it’s quite nice.

There’s some stuff I still want to try – Xcode is a cipher to me with a not-so-great UI (I’ve heard mixed opinions from its actual users…), but I haven’t given Mac development a fair shake yet outside of some minor OSS contributions. Plus, I haven’t touched music production stuff in over a decade, so maybe GarageBand is worth a shot someday…

My phone

I’ve had an iPhone 12 mini since May. It actually took me a long while to use iOS and Android (other than being scarred by Gingerbread back in the day). I was running the third wheel platforms for a long time; Maemo on an N900, followed by Windows Phone 8 on a Lumia 520, followed by BlackBerry 10 on a Q5. But before this iPhone, I had a KeyONE, which was my introduction to modern Android. I liked having a physical keyboard, but the mess of the Android ecosystem was too much for me despite its improvements (not to mention the size of the devices), so I switched.

It turns out iOS is actually pretty friendly to a Windows Phone refugee like me; widgets on iOS are basically live tiles from Windows Phone. I’m also enjoying some of the features of modernity like live text, which was quite nice when copying dmesg from airgapped systems.

But what do I use here?

  • Not surprisingly, I just use Safari here. Everything else is just Safari with dipping mustards anyways.
  • …and also the stock Mail and Calendar apps. They work well enough I don’t care enough to seek out alternatives.
  • …and I technically use iMessage (and SMS), but with just people IRL. Otherwise, it’s the same chat apps as elsewhere.
  • I do use Prompt for SSH, which is mostly how I access my bouncer. irssi in tmux is even more hateful on mobile, so I wish I could figure out a better solution.
  • I’m somehow still on the Fediverse, and while I use the web UI elsewhere (enough it’s not worth mentioning), I use Toot! on mobile. It works with Pleroma well enough.
  • For my passwords, I use Keepassium, which does the nice system integration thing. For OTP, I managed to have both Authy and Microsoft’s Authenticator, mostly because of the latter being nicer for 365.
  • For music, I actually don’t store music on the device (yet?)! I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I run Navidrome (Subsonic compatible; Go might not be my favourite language, but it’s better than Java), and use play:Sub as the client. It provides a nice interface for music here.

I haven’t really explored all the possibilities here – Shortcuts seems very interesting for scripting, I have but haven’t messed with iSH too much.

Also, I bought AirPods Pro like a rube, and they’re actually really good (though the battery life is a bit short) – no complaints about audio quality, and the noise cancellation and the opposite of noise cancellation is really good. And I’m sure my office chair won’t eat the cable on them either. Though the spatial head-tracking audio I’m still not sure about…

My servers

I have a business desktop I’ve been running ESXi on for a long while now. While I’ve been Proxmox curious (the lightweight container stuff specifically), I still went with VMware due to compatibility and reliability. It used to run a lot of infrastructure (and stopped because), but now it runs less important but still diverse things for various projects. Everything from NT 4 to OPENSTEP to Windows 10. It’d be even more useful if I were to go off of x86 on my desktop for sundry VMs.

I also acquired a NAS and run FreeBSD on (as explained before), and on that I run Plex (as one always does), but as previously mentioned, Navidrome. It’s got too disks, so only a zmirror instead of RAID-Z. Sob, sob.

Conclusion

I wrote of things as I thought of them. If you’re curious about anything I didn’t mention or elaborate on (or didn’t link…) , please comment and I can try to explain further.

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