Here is an interview by Vincenzo Ciaglia of Linux-Magazine Italia. The Italian version of this article is on issue number 97 of the magazine: http://www.linux-magazine.it
The English version was posted below. Happy reading everyone!
Interview in English:
[Vincenzo Caglia]: – Hi Clement, thank you for your availability. We want to introduce you to our readers. Can you tell us something about you? What’s your work? What do you do in your life and your spare time? What are your hobbies?
– Hi and hello to all the readers. I’ll try to be quick so we can move one to more interesting topics. I’m 30, married with two children. I’m French and I live in Ireland. I work as a Java developer for a telecommunication company. Apart from developing Linux Mint and spending time with my family I use my spare time to watch American Football, play soccer, Urban Terror and Europa Universalis (for which I use Windows)
– How long did you use GNU/Linux for and why?
I started using Linux in 1996. It was Slackware. It started as an experiment, a curiosity. Then I became aware of the political trends associated with it and it became a choice. Nowadays I use it simply because I enjoy technology and Linux simply is what’s best on the market.
– You are the main developer of Linux Mint, one of the most interesting GNU/Linux distribution nowadays. What is Linux Mint? What’s its philosophy and how and when was born? Why did you decide to create another GNU/Linux distribution?
Well first I started to write articles and to review other distributions. After a while I got very familiar with the major distributions and as a reviewer I had an opinion on each one of them, on their pros and cons and on what could be made to improve them. I’m a developer and I always liked to tinker and experiment with technology so it wasn’t long until I made my first ISO – Linux Mint 1.0 Ada. It was far from being as good as the other distributions but it worked nonetheless and it rose some interest in the Linux community. I decided to continue the experiment and I released Linux Mint 2. It wasn’t a nice release but this time it was usable. The interest grew again and I think it got listed on Distrowatch at this stage. I enjoyed doing it and a lot of people were writing to me and sending me feedback, so I decided to do it seriously and since the release of Linux Mint 2.1 Bea the purpose wasn’t to experiment anymore but to try and make the best desktop operating system.
– Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. Why? What are the key features that distinguish Linux Mint from Ubuntu?
Being based on another distribution brings pros and cons. It’s a compromise but it also saves a lot of work. With Linux Mint I wanted to achieve things fast and improve the user experience, so my focus had to be on the desktop. The base underneath it is just a mean to that purpose, a component in the result. The same way Gnome makes a great desktop and it wouldn’t make sense for me to develop an alternative, Ubuntu makes a great base which we can use and build upon. I see Ubuntu as an upstream project and a component of the Linux Mint desktop, the same way Canonical probably sees Gnome as an upstream project and a component of the Ubuntu distribution. Technically the two distributions are fully compatible and extremely similar. The main differences are on the desktop, the user experience, the community and the way we work.
– Linux Mint is famous also because in few months it was rated one of the top distros at DistroWatch. What do you think made Linux Mint this successful?
I’m happy it got successful so fast but I think it was for the wrong reasons. I regret the release of Barbara (Linux Mint 2.0) which added nothing else than multimedia support on top of an Ubuntu base. The mere presence of the codecs made this release extremely successful and a lot of people thought of Linux Mint as a project which purpose was to bring multimedia support to Ubuntu. Linux Mint isn’t about Ubuntu and it isn’t about codecs, it’s about using Ubuntu and codecs, and a lot of other components to make an elegant desktop operating system. We developed a lot of tools and improved our desktop with each new release and I think we’ve managed to change the perception people have of us…
– Why a new user should use Linux Mint? What are the advantages? What could he do with Linux Mint? And what he couldn’t in place of other GNU/Linux distributions?
We believe in choice and in simplicity. We like things to work out of the box the way they should. We also like to be able to customize the system but we don’t like having to. I think Linux Mint reflects that philosophy. It lets you achieve simple things that can be quite complicated under other operating systems. For example, a user shouldn’t have to know about repositories if all he/she wants to do is install an application. The repository in which the packages are stored, and even the names of these packages are technicalities. In most cases users are not interested in installing packages or adding repositories, they’re interested in installing applications. So in Linux Mint they simply install applications, and the system does the necessary work underneath to set up the proper repositories and add the proper packages. Of course, if the user wants for any reason to deal with packages and repositories he/she can do so as well. We don’t just make things trivial for novice users we make our desktop comfortable for experienced users as well. In the end we want the user to feel comfortable, to do things with ease and to have a lot of options may he/she desire to change the default behaviour of the system.
– How do you coordinate your works? How many developers are involved in the project?
There aren’t many developers but there’s a small team of motivated people, maintainers, moderators, testers, and other team members. We coordinate our work via a private section on the forums and eventually via email or IRC.
– Linux Mint and hardware support. How does Linux Mint work with old and new hardware? How do you want to define the hardware support of your distribution?
Appart from a small collection of wireless drivers which come with mintWifi, the hardware support in Linux Mint is the same as it is in Ubuntu.
– What are the main tools you had to develop to power your GNU/Linux distribution and what languages did you use?
Most of the development is done in python using GTK. We’ve developped quite a lot of tools and some have been replaced with upstream components (mintConfig and mintDisk for instance). At the moment the three most popular tools are mintMenu (an advanced Gnome menu), mintInstall (a software manager) and mintUpdate (an update manager). Each Linux Mint release comes with detailed release notes with screenshots and descriptions of the new features and new tools. For instance, Mint 6 comes with a lot of improvements in mintInstall and mintUpdate and with a new tool called mintNanny. The release notes detail this: http://linuxmint.com/rel_felicia_whatsnew.php
We also publish a User Guide which describes our innovations and how to make the most of the Linux Mint desktop: http://ftp.heanet.ie/pub/linuxmint.com/stable/6/user-guide/english.pdf
– Linux Mint has a great look-and-feel and many things looks like Windows. So it’s a really “user-friendly” distribution. But could Linux Mint be the right choice for users who want a friendly Linux? And what do you think about Ubuntu, Fedora or Mandriva?
Well, I don’t think it looks like Windows. It’s got a single panel at the bottom instead of two to save screen estate and an advanced menu which at first sight might look a bit like the Vista menu (I think I actually hate the Vista menu as much as I love the Mint one…) but that’s about it.
I really like Fedora. They’re true to themselves, they’re very innovative and they produce the most beautiful artwork there is. I think they’re way ahead of anyone else in that regard. I also like the way they interact with their community.
Ubuntu is a model of success. They do also innovate a lot. Sometimes I wish they would innovate less and focus more on consolidating what’s already there, but that’s because we use them as a base. They’re by far not only the most used distribution but also the fastest growing one. If Linux manages to efficiently compete with Mac OS and Windows on the desktop market it will be mostly thanks to what Canonical did with Ubuntu, not only the distribution, but the documentation, the community, the momentum, the buzz and all the infrastructure around it. Ubuntu is a great project and it’s going to be extremely successful. I think we’ve only seen the start of it.
I don’t really know what to think of Mandriva. I feel uneasy with an organization that gets rid of its own identity… Gael Duval, Adam Williamson among others. It seems their reality is driven by money and they put themselves in a situation where the people making the decisions are basically interested in the financial health of the company more than in the distribution itself. You can appreciate how much wider projects such as Ubuntu or Fedora don’t compromise on this kind of things. Having said that, even though they’re not consistent in the quality of their releases, they do manage now and then to come with brilliant innovations. There certainly are talented developers at Mandriva but I don’t think they’re always involved in the decision process.
There are also a lot of other choices for users: SUSE, Debian, Slackware, PCLinuxOS, PCBSD..etc. Choice is good and if all these distributions continue to release year after year it’s simply because they satisfy a certain category of users. Each project is different, it comes with its own culture and users prefer some distributions more than others for very different reasons. Linux Mint is popular mostly among novice users because it simplifies their migration to Linux but it’s also popular among experienced users because it makes it faster for them to configure things the way they want.
– Gnome or KDE as default desktop environment? Why? Do you plan to use KDE4 as default DE for the next major release? What do you think about the development progresses at Gnome and Kde?
I think both desktops are fantastic and driven by very good developers. I love what KDE is doing with KDE4 even though it was a mistake to advertise KDE as an API rather than a desktop and to give it a 1.0 version while it was still ALPHA… As for Gnome, I like the way they do incremental improvements to what is a really functional and elegant looking desktop. We’re planning to release Mint 6 KDE CE with a KDE 4 desktop and the reason why Gnome is the default choice for the Main Edition is simply because it lets me get closer to my idea of a perfect desktop without much hassle, it’s compatible with our vision of simplicity and choice and it comes with a very good GTK library which makes developing Gnome application very easy.
– Will you ever create a netbook suitable version of Linux Mint?
If I manage to work full time on Linux Mint and to hire other team members, sure. There’s a lot of things we don’t do at present, which are easy to do but which require time. I’m the only team member to actually get money out of Linux Mint and none of us work full time on the project, so we need to focus on what is important and unfortunately we can’t maintain more than a certain amount of editions.
– What sort of help have you received in these years (from community, from sponsors, etc)? Do you need some? How we can contribute?
There’s a lot of ways to contribute: http://linuxmint.com/getinvolved.php
I’ve received a lot of feedback from the community and most of the innovations we developed came from ideas contributed to us by users. I’ve also received a lot of financial support from sponsors, donors and partners and this has helped me a lot in allocating more time and more focus on the project. And then there’s been a lot of people who helped in various ways, translating content, helping others on the forums, documenting, promoting the project, mirrors, hosts and last but not least members of the team thanks to whom we can maintain a very friendly forum, guarantee a high quality of testing and offer community editions of Linux Mint.
– How do you define the interest in Linux Mint? What tools do you provide for users (forum, mailing list, chat)?
Users interact on the forums and to a less extent via IRC. Distributions do not have the slighest idea of how big their user base is, but they can look at many indicators and know precisely how fast they grow. For Linux Mint I look at the traffic on the website, the revenue generated through advertisement, the number of hits on the Firefox start page (which gives us an indication of the popularity of each release) and external indicators such as the Distrowatch Awstat figures.
– Do you want or expect any commercial benefit from Linux Mint?
I would do Linux Mint for free anyway because there’s nothing better for me than coding something and seeing thousands of people delighted with it. It must be my ego or something. I just love messing with computers, especially when encouraged by a lot of people to do so.
My plan is to earn enough with Linux Mint to start working full time on it. It will make me more happy, and our users too (because I’ll be doing much more in 7.5 hours a day than I currently do in 2). I also want to compete with the bigger projects out there and for this I wouldn’t mind eventually developping my own base and hiring my own team.
Of course, like everyone else, I’ll want to build a house, buy a fancy car and be a millionaire eventually… I’m interested in money so that I can be outrageously confortable in my life and I’m sure this will come in time. I’m not interested in the fast gains or in selling out, I’m planning to make this project grow and as it gets more successful then so will I and so will the people behind it.
It’s all about fun, passion, ego and even money. I get to do what I love and I’m being paid for it. What more could I want? Well, do it more and on a wider scale of course.
– What are the next Linux Mint plans? Are there any interesting initiative in progress?
We’re working hard on Mint 6 at the moment but we’ve postponed some interesting ideas which we’re hoping to develop for Mint 7. I’d personally like to replace alacarte with our own implementation to make it easy to modify the content of the menu. There are a few ideas captured here: http://linuxmint.com/wiki/index.php/Development
I also often get a lot of suggestions so I’m sure the list will grow, and people continuously contribute ideas on the forums so when the time is right we’ll have a lot of plans for the next release.
– Does Linux Mint have a future?
Yes, I think so. Because even if the project was to stop (for any reason) or if I was to die or disappear it brought a contribution to Linux, a vision and a different way of doing things. If something happens to me or to the project itself, who knows, the name might have to change, or the distribution itself… but anyone in the team or even outside of the team could take it where we left it and continue on the same basis, with the same tools, with the same philosophy and for the same purpose. That’s the beauty of Open Source, its lifespan isn’t reduced to the one of its authors.
In contrast, big companies aren’t likely to die overnight (and even that’s not true in the actual financial context) but you can be sure of one thing: they won’t continue to invest time and resource in a project if they loose their financial interest in it. And when these dying projects aren’t open, who’s to continue to maintain them? Nobody.
As for me, Linux Mint is what I want to do with my skills and my passion for Linux. If there’s one thing I want to achieve in my life, beside having a lot of fun and a great time with my friends and family it’s to do something special with it. So it’s here to stay of course, hopefully for a very long time.
– Do you think that GNU/Linux is “really” ready for the desktop users? In which way could be improved?
I think it’s been ready for quite a while already. It has pros and cons compared to Mac OS and Windows and each OS pleases a different audience, but overall I’m convinced it’s already the best desktop operating system of the three. We can still learn from other OSes and we can continue to innovate but I personally feel that we’ve already surpassed both Mac OS and Microsoft Windows.
– Our interview seems to be completed. Congratulations for your work and thank you for your time!
Many thanks for your interest in me and in Linux Mint. From what I see in our statistics Italy is very much into Linux (4th biggest country behind the USA, the UK and Germany). I hope all readers a wonderful time and a lot of distro-hopping. And of course if they haven’t tried Mint already I hope they won’t hesitate. Thanks everyone.