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An interview with Alan Pope

Well, it’s that time again folks–time for another Ubuntu Community Interviews. We have a special interview this time around. Alan Pope, sometimes known as Popey, is a systems administrator, an Ubuntu Member, a member of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Membership Council (as am I…). Departing from our tradition in these interviews, he is someone who does not enjoy using web forums. He is smart, opinionated, a wonderful member of the overall Ubuntu community, and a good addition to our interview series. Enjoy!

1. Tell as much as you’re willing about your “real” life – name, age, gender, location, family, religion, profession, education, hobbies, etc.

I’m a British 36 year old atheist married father of two, living in the South East of England. For the last 13 years I’ve been working as a system admin on some evil proprietary software. In my spare time I do what I can for Ubuntu and Linux.

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

My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 which I got for Christmas back in ~1981. I managed to get hold of an old black and white TV which was setup on a bench in the kitchen. I spent pretty much all of my spare time glued to the ’81, either writing my own games, typing them in out of magazines, or trying to keep the RAM-Pack from falling off and crashing the machine.

Later computers include the Sinclair Spectrum 16K (which I upgraded to 48K), a Sinclair Spectrum 128K +2, Amstrad CPC 464, and a few consoles. I eventually made the switch to PCs with an Epson 286 PC with a 10MB
hard disk and mono text only display! I later upgraded it to Hercules (720×576) mono graphics.

I discovered a small company selling shareware, and regularly bought floppy disks full of public domain, shareware and freeware. I recall getting a cheap Pascal compiler and taught myself the language by writing simple games and utilities for DOS.

My first encounter with Linux was when I worked at a local College back in the mid 1990s. One of the students mentioned it to me, and how it was going to be the next big thing. At the time I’d only used DOS and early versions of Windows. I wasn’t convinced about this Linux thing so didn’t really pay it any attention and dismissed his claims out of hand 🙂

Some years later I started playing with Linux using CD’s in books. I think the first Linux distro I tried was Corel, but my memory is not what it was :). I eventually used Linux semi-permanently with a server in my garage running my website ( on Red Hat. I also tried Red Hat on my desktop PC and used it through various releases up until version 7.

Around this time I started getting involved with my local Linux User Group in Hampshire, UK. One guy had mentioned a few times that Debian was a good distro, so I thought I’d give it a go. Once I got my head
around apt I wondered what the hell I’d been doing for years on Red Hat!

I switched to Debian on the desktop and server until Ubuntu Warty came out. Once I switched to Ubuntu that was it, no going back. Since then I’ve used every release since Warty on my desktop and laptop. I’ve also converted my Xen virtual server(s) to Ubuntu.

3. When did you become involved in the forums (or the Ubuntu community)? What’s your role there?

I’ll be honest here and say outright, I really hate forums 🙂 It’s not the people, it’s the technology. And it’s not specific to Ubuntu forums. I like mailing lists because the content comes to me. I can wake up in the morning, open my mail client and go through thousands of threads over 100 mailing lists very quickly. The combination of keyboard shortcuts and locally hosted mail on my server make for a very quick way to navigate around my mail.

With forums being a “pull” system rather than “push” (as with email) I find it incredibly time consuming to get up to date with forums, despite the RSS capability. In addition I can easily reply to mailing lists offline which I can’t do with a forum.

The other thing that frustrates me is finding how-tos in the forums. I personally think that how-tos and instructions should be in a place that is collaboratively editable – the community wiki. That way if they need updating or fixing its possible for people to do that. As a great example I started a basic page about VirtualBox with a bunch of screenshots and some simple details. Since then many other people have taken it and modified
it with extra info. I haven’t really touched it since, yet other people have made it what it is. It seems the right way to go in my opinion.

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

I got my Ubuntu membership in November 2006. I’m the contact person for the UK LoCo team, a member of the LoCo Council who approve and assist LoCo teams, and a member of the EMEA Membership Council who approve new members of Ubuntu.

I started the Screencasts team, and made a few screencasts. More recently I’ve been heavily involved in the Ubuntu UK Podcast. I helped start a new team to transcribe audio content like podcasts.

I also try to get involved in Software Freedom Day each year, to help promote the use of
Free Software. I am also one of the sponsors of the UK LUG project – providing hosting and other services to Linux User Groups in the UK.

I’ve attended the Ubuntu Developer Summit a few times where it’s been great to discuss what goes into the next release of Ubuntu. It’s a great way to get more involved and also see how the distro is put together.

I’ve answered quite a few questions on the launchpad answer system, and on IRC, and via around 100 LUG mailing lists in the UK.

Unfortunately I can’t really code, but the good news is that there are so many other ways in which to contribute, which works for me!

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

I use Ubuntu 8.04 on most of my desktops and laptops. I have a few Asus EEE PCs which all run the stock Xandros install. I have tried Ubuntu on them but found it slower and a bit flawed compared to Xandros. I’ve got
Ubuntu Studio on one machine which I use for audio and video editing. Recently I switched from 32-bit to 64-bit Ubuntu on the two machines I have that support the 64-bit O/S.

As far as favorite applications, that’s a really tricky one. The apps I use all day every day are screen and irssi for being on IRC all day, it’s great, but not sure it’s “favorite”.

Other apps I really like are Liferea (news reader), gnome-do (launcher) and Evolution (mail client that everyone else seems to hate) & mutt (mail client).

My least favorite thing is the lack of a decent video editor on Linux, we have quite a few that are nearly there, or new, but none that are really comparable with iMovie on the Mac or other similar apps on Windows. After meeting the guy behind Pitivi at LUGRadio Live 2008, I am confident things are getting better though.

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

Fondest memory of Ubuntu has to be at the most recent Ubuntu Developer Summit in Prague. The Canonical All-Stars (a band made up of Canonical employees) played in a night club to an audience made up of Ubuntu
developers and community members. There was a great atmosphere which really captured the feel of that UDS. Oh and free beer too.

The best thing overall about Ubuntu is the people. We have some fantastic people in the community who are highly motivated, bright and co-operative to the extreme! Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.

It’s also the worst thing. The people who feel it is okay to attack others online in blog posts is sad, and we’ve seen a lot of that recently. The people who feel they are somehow ‘better’ than others because they wrote some app, manage some part of the community, or have control over some aspect of Ubuntu is quite disappointing.

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

I’ve had numerous mails from people who have watched the Ubuntu Screencasts and have decided to switch to Ubuntu as a direct result.

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

Hardware vendors taking Linux seriously ensuring there is driver support for all models in their range, and then selling every model of their computers with Ubuntu pre-installed. More support companies providing professional quality support for Ubuntu. More computer professionals realising that there is a world outside Windows.

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

“Free does not equal crap”.



  1. John.Michael.Kane

    Another interesting interview.

    @Matthew, with the amount of members the forums currently have, do you think the forums could support a mailing list function, as it once did ?

  2. JMK: No, unfortunately. We are barely making it on the resources we have. Plus, that did interesting things with our database which required frequent surveillance.

  3. John.Michael.Kane

    I understand.

    Thanks for the answer, and the interviews.

  4. Dr Small

    Great interview. I was wondering when you were going to post another one. 🙂

    I myself personally like mailing lists too, but I don’t like to subscribe to the ones that leave me with 300 emails a day that I have to sift through.

  5. ayenack

    Fantastic interview. Checked out popey’s web site to. Very good.

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