An interview with

Once a week you should get an e-mail from — you should, and you do if you’re subscribed to the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter. Nick Ali, who also goes by the delicate pseudonym of, began his pilgrimage to Ubuntu (and Arch!) after seeing Sun systems in action. Now an Ubuntu member, the editor of the weekly Ubuntu news briefs and a mover and a shaker in LoCo team circles, Nick’s computer experience goes all the way back to the 386 … and two classic games of that era. Here’s more, from the man himself.

Tell as much as you’re willing about your "real" life — name, age, gender, location, family, religion, profession, education, hobbies, etc.

Hi, I’m Nick. I’m 29, living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, in the U.S. Married with no kids. Of course the wife thinks Ubuntu is a second wife, but that is a whole different matter!

For my day job, I’m a software architect at a Fortune 500 company working on a gigantic web platform. I moved up to Atlanta, from Orlando, Florida, to go to Georgia Tech. While majoring in computer engineering (which focused mainly on hardware), I took a part-time job in the Industrial Engineering department doing light sysadmin work.

I realized I liked tinkering with software, so I decided to head in that direction career-wise. Interesting (well, that’s debatable) tidbit about me: I have recently developed an unhealthy fascination with LolCats. I’m thinking of getting a kitten just so I can post pictures of it at 😛

When and how did you become interested in computers? in Linux? in Ubuntu?

Growing up, I had some fuzzy plans of becoming a doctor. And then my father bought a Dell 386SX, with the excuse that it would help him finish up his doctorate thesis much faster. It didn’t. But that 386SX was an eye-opening experience for me. The first game I bought for that PC was Microprose’s F-19 Stealth Fighter. Since my parents did not think it was educational, I was also given Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? Oddly enough, I think I ended up playing Carmen Sandiego a lot more.

The Dell machine came with MS-DOS 3.something, eventually I upgraded it to Windows 3.1. My next computer was another Dell, with a Pentium Pro 200 in 1996, running Windows NT. It ran OK enough, but I had become enthralled by the SunOS workstations in the computer labs at Georgia Tech. I wanted something similar for my desktop.

After some research, I bought a copy of Red Hat 4.2. Of course, it did not include drivers for my 3c90x ethernet card, so I had to download the source code for the driver, and learn the wonders of ./configure, make, and make install.

Since then, I’ve done plenty of distro-hopping between various Red Hat releases, Fedora, Slackware, and Debian, mixed in with some forays into FreeBSD and Solaris x86. After running Debian Woody and Sarge on my main desktop for a while, I decided to try out some new-fangled distro called Ubuntu. Breezy was my first venture into the Ubuntu world. I will admit that I’m not an Ubuntu puritan, I am running Arch Linux on my Asus Eee 😛

When did you become involved in the forums? What’s your role there?

Like many, the forums were my main support line when I stared using Ubuntu. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent much time contributing back to it. I only have 121 posts! Mostly I post the UWN to the forums.

Are you an Ubuntu member? If so, how do you contribute? If not, do you plan on becoming one?

I am an Ubuntu member. My involvement in the community started in January 2007. My initial work was trying to get the Ubuntu Georgia US team off the ground. Guys like vorian were incredibly helpful in providing direction on what needed to be done to get LoCo started and active.

In November 2007, the Georgia US team was officially approved. I’m a mentor for the US Team project, trying to help out LoCos getting started or stuggling to gain footing.

Interestingly, one of the first people I met at a LoCo face to face meeting was compiledkernel. Word of caution: never click on a link compiledkernel sends you! 😛

Most of my contributions involve the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter. I started contributing back in March 2007 and am now the editor. The hard work of johnc4510, Tyche, bapoumba, and many translators every week, make it a fun and worthwhile project. We are always looking for more people to help out, so if anyone is interested, let me know, or drop by #ubuntu-news!

I’m also an editor on Fridge, trying to post content that is interesting and helpful to the community. Although there isn’t much work for it, I’m also part of the LoCo Hosting Admin team. It basically involves updating DNS records for LoCos and various Ubuntu projects.

I do have a small piece of advice of individuals for who are interested in contributing or becoming members. Dive in! Yes, there are so many different projects going on inside the Ubuntu community and it can be frustrating trying to figure what to do, but you just have to make a concerted effort to get involved. I was never invited to join in any of the projects. I simply asked if there was a small task I could do to help out. Eventually you take on more and more responsibility and make a much bigger impact on the community.

What distros do you regularly use? What software? What’s your favorite application? Your least favorite?

My main desktop always has the latest Ubuntu stable release, while my laptops have the latest alpha/beta versions of Kubuntu. Since I use the desktop when working from home, I need it to be rock solid. I do prefer KDE over GNOME and like where KDE 4 is headed, so I’m testing it out as much as possible.

On my workstation at work, I have Cent OS 4.5. While Cent OS works well for a server, its makes for a horrible desktop distro. Hopefully I’ll be able to change it soon. I do try out most of the Fedora releases when they come out, since they tend to be more on the bleeding edge. But there is always something that breaks horribly and makes it unusable for me.

For my Eee, Arch is the best option. Arch is lightweight and fast. It has a project called KDEmod, which is a stripped down version of KDE. For a machine like the Eee, which comes with 512MB RAM and a very small hard drive, its perfect.

Firefox is my life blood. I am one of those people who lives on the web (professionally and personally). The issues with Flash in every release bothers me. I hope the Gnash project keeps improving and will be the de facto standard in the future.

What’s your fondest memory from the forums, or from Ubuntu overall? What’s your worst?

I enjoy working on the UWN every week. I’m subscribed to a lot of mailing lists and idling in lots of IRC channels trying to gather information that is helpful for the Ubuntu community. Occasionally I will get an e-mail thanking me for the UWN. Little things like that keep me motivated. Through our LoCo, I’ve met lots of great people who share an interest in Ubuntu. It’s a pleasure to share a meal and converse with such passionate individuals.

One particular situation was a low point. Last year, several of the community servers had to be shutdown because a lot of the applications were missing security patches and the servers were being accessed in insecure ways. It got wide coverage on sites like Slashdot and Digg with lots of misleading information. Canonical has now taken over hosting responsibilities and is in charge of making sure everything is updated. So some good came out of it.

What luck have you had introducing new computer users to Ubuntu?

I don’t push on Ubuntu on anyone. If someone wants to know more about it, I discuss it with them and help them find out more information. Being pushy can make you look like zealot and that will make people run away very quickly.

What would you like to see happen with Linux in the future? with Ubuntu?

While smaller companies like System76 and Emperor Linux have been doing an excellent job selling computers with Ubuntu for years, Ubuntu will become more mainstream as big vendors pre-install Ubuntu (or any other distros) for the desktop.

The Dell initiative is a huge step forward. Besides making it mainstream, it helped gain mindshare for journalists who cover technology. The Dell/Ubuntu/Canonical relationship news became viral. Linux is no longer just for running a LAMP stack, its something that the average person can use. That kind of marketing cannot be bought.

More hardware manufacturers need to open source their drivers. Hopefully moves made by ATI will become more commonplace. As far as the Ubuntu goes, it needs to maintain a relatively flat hierarchy, but it’s tough with such a large community and one that is growing everyday.

The Community Council will always have the final say, but there is simply too much going on for such a small group of people to oversee everything. There is a need to delegate some authority. The new councils (like the Forums Council and upcoming LoCo Council) are an important step in making sure everything runs smoothly.

If there was one thing you could tell all new Ubuntu users, what would it be?

Use the community. It’s here to help. Use the forums, contact your LoCo. We’ve been there and can help you find the way. 🙂 keeps a blog at … where else? You can read more about Nick and his contributions to the Ubuntu machine on his Launchpad page. For more interviews with community members and staff, read Nine simple questions.


6 thoughts on “An interview with

  1. Pingback: Nine simple questions « Motho ke motho ka botho

  2. tycheent

    Why, Nick, you almost come off sounding like a real person. Word of caution, though, with respect to cats. There are many times through their lives that one can find things about them that are funny. Of course THEY don’t think they’re funny. It’s just a good thing that this is a digital age, since otherwise taking pictures of their funny moments could quickly run you out of film 🙂

  3. johnc4510

    Nick is one of the best folks that I’ve met with Ubuntu, and that’s really saying something. I first met him when I joined the UWN team, and it’s been a real pleasure working with and getting to know him. Glad to see him get a little extra recognition, he deserves it.

  4. Pingback: Ubuntu Look » Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter #86

  5. Pingback: Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu n° 86 du 6 au 12 avril 2008. « Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu

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