It's time for a fresh interview. Today I have Aaron Honeycutt from System76, makers of Linux distribution Pop!_OS and various hardware, who talked a little about their work.
GOL: Could you please introduce yourself and what you do?
Aaron: Heyo! I’m Aaron and I work at System76 as a Happiness Architect.
GOL: How did you get started with Linux? What attracted you to it?
Aaron: I started around Ubuntu 10.04 LTS or so and I wanted to try something different from Windows (or macOS since I couldn’t afford the hardware). In the early days I was dual booting like most folks and this helped when I broke something in Windows and I fixed it from Ubuntu which was amazing to me at the time!
GOL: What does being a ‘Happiness Architect’ actually involve? How the heck do you land a cool job title like that?
Aaron: A Happiness Architect is pretty much Tier 2 for our support though currently I’m the only one with the title. I work in our support system, Slack, Discord and social media to help folks get up and running or fix issues.
I pretty much created the title as we don’t actually have a Tier system in support but since I’ve been here the longest other than Emma of course I wanted a title that fit my experience and the internal/external joke of the fact that I run Arch.
GOL: What’s it really like to work for System76? What’s your work setup like?
Aaron: It’s pretty fantastic! I work in the warehouse as the only support person there as we are all remote (in other parts of the country as well). We also have a few office doggos from time to time though my dog Onyxia is in the office every day.
I’m the main point of contact for when something is shipped in or needs to be shipped out. I can also test something for customers using QA systems.
GOL: System76 is a hardware vendor as well as a software vendor with desktops, a mini-PC, laptops, servers — and now a keyboard too (my review here). Why a keyboard?
Aaron: The keyboard felt like the next step as it gives you even more control of your hardware and shapes your experience with your OS. You can also configure the keyboard on either Windows, macOS or Linux depending on what you use to unleash your potential.
GOL: Since you’re a Linux vendor, do you ever see much interest from the Windows crowd?
Aaron: While in support I do see quite a few people need to use Windows on our hardware usually for some software/hardware that they need. A lot of them apologize that they are even loading Windows on our hardware which is not needed!
GOL: I’ve seen the CEO, Carl Richell, share some quick videos of your hardware production on Twitter (example) and it’s kind of mesmerizing. Do you ever find yourself sneaking off to watch it all?
Aaron: Since my partner works in Production I often find myself out in the factory either watching them finish the coat on a Thelio veneer before it is put on the side of the chassis, watching a 3D printer run a bit or someone making a bottle opener with our rocket logo on it.
GOL: Why should someone pick Pop!_OS over something like Ubuntu or Fedora or even Arch?
Aaron: Pop!_OS includes a lot of the packages/software that folks add/enable during or after the installation of the OS. For example having flatpak/flathub installed and configured out of the box saves you a reboot and allows you to install your favorite packages out of the gate.
I myself install Slack, Mattermost, Discord and a few others this way. One of my favorites is Pop Shell which enables titling of windows which I use every single day.
GOL: Any plans to bring the Pop experience to other desktop environments (and other distributions?), or will you be sticking with GNOME?
Aaron: We have been actively encouraging other distros add features like Pop Shell and provide documentation for building our software such as this support article:
We are also working on making sure that the COSMIC DE (not based on GNOME) will be easy to port to other distro so that everyone can enjoy it and help improve it as it evolves.
GOL: Back in 2020, System76’s Principal Engineer Jeremy Soller put a poll on Twitter to see interest in a rolling release of Pop!_OS. Are there any plans for it to happen, what are your thoughts on it?
Aaron: Pop!_OS is currently a semi-rolling/half-rolling release. We push out newer versions of core packages that improve gaming like Mesa, the kernel, Steam, Lutris and many others.
While we don't plan to change our approach yet, we are considering options to offer an always fresh archive to our users.
GOL: Linux packaging is a little, dare I say it, messy right now. You have deb, rpm, AppImage, Snap, Flatpak and more. What are your thoughts on this, what do you prefer?
Aaron: I personally prefer flatpaks no matter what distro I am using and I even use it on my Arch install. One of the neat things is that if you install them with the –user option they are installed in ~/.local which means backup programs like Deja Dup will back them up and they will be installed when you restore from that backup.
GOL: A little while ago, a certain big YouTuber (hi Linus) destroyed their install of Pop!_OS. What was it like to see such breakage be done so publicly, what have you learned from this?
Aaron: I think this has reinforced the direction that OSTree (Immutable file systems) are going and certainly proves that Steam is right going that direction for the Steam Deck.
GOL: Anything in Pop-land that you’re particularly excited about right now?
Aaron: I’m very excited to see the COSMIC DE come out and how folks will use it! I think it will strike a balance between awesome and useful features and control of your desktop as you want it.
GOL: What’s your personal opinion on what Linux really needs to get more user share on the desktop? What are the roadblocks here?
Aaron: Introducing them to the OS is certainly difficult and having more hardware with it pre-installed certainly helps which is why I’m always happy to see more and more companies offer it.
When I introduced my partner to Pop!_OS it was because Windows just would not update and I tried fixing it but failed. Their main concern was if they could play WoW as that is what they used the laptop for mainly.
I showed them that they could pretty easily then backed up their files. They have been happy ever since! We built a custom desktop for them and I loaded Windows on another drive just in case for some games but they haven’t even booted into Windows for months since they can do everything they need in Pop!_OS most often without even asking me!
GOL: Can you tell us your top 5 favourite games right now?
Aaron: That’s pretty tough!
- DOOM Eternal
- Mass Effect Legendary Edition
- Halo MCC
- Horizon Forbidden West (PS5)
GOL: What’s your own personal computing setup like?
Aaron: I have a custom desktop at home that I use for pretty much everything. It’s most likely overkill for what I need but it’s always nice to have that power when it is needed. All of my coworkers say I need a new GPU but they are aware of the current prices!
I have more spec info here:
GOL: Will you be buying a Steam Deck? What is your opinion of it at the moment?
Aaron: My partner and I both ordered ours on the same day a few weeks ago (512GB models). I think it will affect so many parts of gaming outside of just Linux Gaming and I think we’ll see more studios work towards having their game work with Proton.
Big thank you to Aaron for joining me on this.
I'll have more interviews to come this month, stay tuned! Get in touch if you want to be interviewed.