Arun Dunna Computer Science PhD Student

Daily Drivers for a Graduate Student

It’s important to me to optimize for efficiency, with some room for aesthetics. To that extent, I maintain a running list of all of my daily drivers, and why I use each one.


  • Ubuntu 16.04 LTS: Ubuntu is easy to install and use, yet still retains customizability. I can set it up and not worry about massive configuration, but in the same breath, I can tweak it as I please. 16.04 will maintain support until 2021, so until I feel more confident in application maintainers resolving compatibility issues for 18.04, I will stay with 16.04.
  • i3-gaps: A tiled window manager (TWM) allows for me to use my system significantly faster than with a regular interface. Once you get over the hump of learning keyboard shortcuts, the power and ease of use is astounding. i3-gaps is essentiall i3, just with a bit more aesthetic quality; both work well.
  • Gnome Terminal: I’ve used a variety of terminal emulators, but I keep coming back to this one as it functions well and looks decent while not being a huge resource hog (looking at the emulators built with Electron, cough cough).
  • ZSH and fish: I use fish on my laptop and zsh on my desktop. Any particular reason for use of both? Not really. I started with fish first, so I am in the transition process to zsh, but I believe both are great. Fish is more user-friendly out of the box in my experience, so if you want something that “just works” then try that. If you want something with more power and you have some time to burn, go with zsh. Either way, they provide more features than bash; not just eye candy, but actual features, such as better autocompletion.
  • rofi: By default, i3 uses dmenu. Rofi is an alternative that looks a bit prettier and allows for a bit more functionality, hence my usage of rofi. It’s mostly a stylistic choice, but it does have plenty of features.
  • Thunderbird: This is a useful mail client that supports a variety of integrations/addons. Most importantly for me, I have it setup with all of my mail accounts, and include addons to support PGP usage and require me to verify the addresses by checking off each one. In this way, I am also less prone to mistakes. Don’t want to mess up by sending an email to the wrong person. Oof.
  • FileZilla: Some people like it, some people don’t. I don’t particularly care, but I’ve always used it so I will continue to unless I run into issues. It’s a good FTP/SFTP client for me, and I can maintain multiple connections and manage sites easily in a decent UI, so why not?
  • LibreOffice: I mostly use the Spreadsheet Editor here, and occassionally the Word Processor if I need to do some quick document and don’t have time to craft it in LaTeX. But mostly it’s used as a quick replacement for Office, which is really just better overall.
  • Atom: Ahh, the classic Atom vs. Sublime. I’ve used both, I prefer Atom as I like the extensive addons/themes available. I have a variety of addons and will soon create a post detailing what they are. But, in short, I use Atom for my all-inclusive IDE - I have since uninstalled TeX Studio.
  • Rambox: I found Rambox a while back, and while I don’t like the direction with the pricing scheme and pushing people away from the Community Edition, it still works - so I’ll use it until either it doesn’t, or I no longer like it. It’s an all inclusive client for web services, such as Slack and Telegram. While it can be a bit of a resource hog, I mitigate that by only keeping the necessary tabs - lab Slacks, Telegram, and Pushbullet (for SMS) mostly.
  • Calibre: Managing eBooks is quite important, so while the UI sucks, the functionality of Calibre is unparalleled. It more than makes up for the lackluster UI. Once you get used to it, I guarantee it will become one of your favorite pieces of software. I’ve set mine up to watch a directory, scan and add books from it, scrape the metadata, and send a converted version to my Kindle - all in the background. Isn’t that awesome?
  • Shutter: I use Shutter to do easy screencaps and crops. It’s most useful in that I can screenshot a portion of the screen, copy it to the clipboard, and post it to Slack/other services. But, it can also do uploading, which is incredibly useful for sharing things quickly. Ultimately it is a large timesaver for me.


  • Google Chrome and Firefox: Why use one when you can use both? They both have usage for me. I’d say I use Chrome more, as I don’t have a need to conserve resources and I like the design and cross-platform easy synchronization. It’s helpful to continue browsing on a different device, for example. The wide availability of web addons is also great, and I’ll make another post on which ones I use soon.
  • VLC: Whenever I need to watch a video for whatever reason, VLC has my back. I highly recommend this software, which wipes away any competition. It is one of the first pieces of software I install on any device. Along with ffmpeg, that is.
  • Spotify: I’ve used Google Play Music and Tidal, and I can say with certainty that Spotify is just the best. Its client works on all platforms, is beautiful, and allows for easy offline syncing. It’s cheap for students, too. Music is a huge part of my routine, and helps me work.
  • NPR One: Speaking of multimedia, this podcast application is great. I listen to the news daily with this app in the morning, which helps me keep updated with a quick rundown of yesterday’s happenings. With this, I can stay informed and not waste multiple hours on Reddit trying to get the same information.
  • LastPass: For me, LastPass works really well. It has a good Android app that supports fingerprint, so I use fingerprint on my phone and YubiKey on my Linux systems. It’s pretty cheap and their encryption is secure, so even if someone gets their database it really doesn’t matter.
  • Google Drive / Docs: While I don’t use Drive a whole lot, I do use it sometimes. I use Docs to coordinate on projects for quick notes and brainstorming, which is helpful. As a student, you can also get unlimited Drive storage through your school, so I’ve set mine up to store encrypted backups.
  • Office (Online/Apps): The main applications I use here are OneNote and PowerPoint. OneNote for taking notes and syncing them across platforms (namely writing them on my Surface Pro), and PowerPoint for crafting slides with engaging animations. Office Online works well enough, though I do wish a native Linux implementation existed.
  • Hangouts: Hangouts is mostly used for video conferencing in my case, which can be pretty often when collaborating or traveling. I prefer Hangouts as most everyone has a Google account, so it’s pretty quick to start a call and has decent quality and cross-platform support.
  • Telegram: I mostly use Telegram for encrypted chat that works on multiple platforms with a good UI. The good cross-platform support is incredibly useful, which is why I use this over any other alternative at the moment.
  • Slack: This is pretty self-explanatory. If I had my choice, I’d use Riot or something. But everyone else uses it, so I must use it as well. Just like fax machines!
  • Syncthing: File syncing is a necessity, and this decentralized platform is great. If I own a device and have storage and bandwidth to spare, I set this up on it as another node to keep a bunch of backups handy. I can work on a project on my desktop, and check some numbers on my phone as I walk outside. I also use it to sync my music between my devices with excess storage.
  • GNUCash: This utility is pretty useful to keep track of my assets/expenses/liabilities/income/whatever else. Get in charge of your finances earlier rather than later. Makes the whole process easier.
  • f.lux: Often times, I find myself working late night. This keeps my eyes from dying. I recommend it or a similar solution (RedShift, Twilight, etc.). I use this one because RedShift doesn’t work for me, and this has always worked for me.
  • Mendeley: I’ve used both this and Zotero as a reference manager, and I prefer Mendeley solely for the mobile support. I can add a paper on my desktop, have it pushed to the cloud, and downloaded in PDF form to read on my tablet or phone. That “it just works” philosophy is very helpful. Really though, it comes down to preference. I use the free form of Mendeley and it’s worked for me so far.
  • Monica: It’s incredibly difficult to keep track of everyone, where I met them, their affiliations, birthdays, etc. so I use Monica for this. I can create tags for universities, departments, education level, etc. so that I can easily filter/sort. If I want to see the PL group at Cornell, I can do that with an easy filter.
  • Google Calendar: Perhaps the most-used on this list. Without it, I would legitimately not be pursuing this degree right now. Well, maybe that’s a bit overstated as paper still exists. But, this is definitely a must-have tool for keeping organized.
  • Todoist: Similar to Google Calendar. I keep all of my tasks on here, and sync them cross-platform. I do pay for the premium version, and for me it is worth every cent. Whenever I think of something I need to do, I just add it as a simple task. I can tell my smart NSA devices (Alexa or Google Home) to add a task to the todo list, and it’ll add it to Todoist. Which will then sync to all of my other devices. Amazing. Collaboration support is also fantastic, and got me through a particularly rough project.


  • Notepad: I don’t think the utility of this will ever be fully appreciated. Regardless of medium (pen and paper, gedit on Linux, notepad on Windows, etc.), I can quickly open one and jot down whatever I’m thinking. That is actually amazing. Highly recommend using notepads.
  • Dell XPS 15: This is my daily laptop, which is very light and has a long-lasting battery. It wasn’t too expensive for me, and has good hardware. It does everything I need, and has since I got it, with no issues. Screen is beautiful in 4K (makes coding easier), and is a fairly large size with a small footprint as well.
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 4: This, along with the Surface Pen, is what I primarily use in taking digital notes (good for syncing) and reading/annotating papers. I mostly take notes in talks and discussions with this, and stick to pen and paper for messy course notes (such as math courses).
  • Kindle: I love my Kindle, and I hope it loves me as well. It can hold more books than I would ever need, but like f.lux, prevents my eyes from dying. I recommend getting one with a backlight for better dark reading, such as at night. The battery lasts me for a week at minimum, which means it’s one less thing to worry about.
  • Standing Desk: Well, it’s not exactly a standing desk but is an adjustable height desk. But, a standing desk works just as well. The point is that you need to stand up and move around, not stay in a chair all day. Standing also allows me to be a bit more fidget-y, which can be helpful for some people.
  • Tea: A good cup of tea to start the day. I like black tea mostly, but to each their own. I don’t like coffee, so caffeinated tea is best for me to get me going.

I hope you all found this helpful. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Last updated: 11/21/2018