"To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer." - Paul Ehrlich

Interview with Zenwalk's Jean-Philippe Guillemin

Interview with Zenwalk's Jean-Philippe Guillemin

Tuesday 11th July 2006

Categories: GNU/Linux, Opinion, FLOSS

How many developers work on the distribution?

The Zenwalk support team is composed of nearly ten people working on packages or development as well as approximately ten testers. For example, Sebastian Jauch is responsible for GTK and Gnome libs as well as several apps such as Gnome Office, Peter Faasse maintains KDE. John Coghill deals with Enlightenment. Michael Verret builds all of our games packages. Filippo Mesirca builds our server packages.

Other contributors handle website and forum administration. Stijn Segers is our forum administrator as well as building application packages. Vincent Kergonna is our webmaster and is also responsible of setting and maintaining mirror's synchronisation with the main software repository and some packages. Stefano Stabellini maintains netpkg dependency database. Artwork is designed by Fred Broders. Of course this is an incomplete listing, so please take a look at the contact page on zenwalk.org.

I personally do most of system tools development although some contributors recently proposed me their help and are now working with me on these subjects. I also keep the task of final ISO Assembly and everything related to the base system such as the Linux kernel, hardware detection and also the XFCE Desktop.

What is the target group of Zenwalk?

There is no true answer to this question. At first I thought that it was possible to answer this with something like "developers and Internet users". Zenwalk is used by SOHO companies to build file servers, people migrating from Microsoft Windows, developers, artwork designers, mathematical researchers and the list goes on. Everyone searching for a rational operating system can adopt Zenwalk.

What will Zenwalk be in the future?

Zenwalk will stay as it is and will only become more "mature" as a multipurpose Operating System:

Zenwalk "combined" objectives will remain the same : be modern (latest stable software), fast (optimised for performance capabilities), rational (one mainstream application for each task), complete (full development/desktop/multimedia environment) and evolutionary (simple network package management tool).

What do you do when you don't work on Zenwalk?

My time is shared between my family (I'm married and have a 4 year old son, who loves Supertux, by the way), my house (I bought this big old house last year and it's a lot of work to restore it), my job (I work for a firm called Telindus - a group of companies offering ICT Solutions and Services - as security engineer and project manager), and my guitar (I play Jazz and Bossa-nova on a classical nylon Spanish model).

I live in a small town near Nantes but my job often requires to move everywhere in France. I try to do a 10km jogging twice a week, it's the only sport I still practise.

Much of the news has recently surrounded the next incarnation of Windows, Vista. Do you, as with some, perceive it as threat to the uptake in GNU/Linux? And do you believe that there is anything that can be learnt from Vista, or even other versions of Windows, or any other OS?

Microsoft Windows is the result of a marketing programme, not a conceptual idea. It begun as the graphical user interface for MS DOS. Still running on a 16 bits monotasking kernel, it was then hacked to become a family OS with some multimedia capabilities. It was then hacked again to become a file server OS with its GUI (strangely) included in the kernel.

The result is a monster! Two years ago, I wrote a Windows 2000 Security guide for a customer at my job. I can tell you that the security design of Windows 2000 and XP is very powerful, but so complex that very few users or administrators can understand it.

I know few things about Vista, I must admit, I'm not really interested, I have just heard from friends who have tested it that it requires a very powerful machine. I am not sure that enterprises will change all their computers to run Windows Vista (as many enterprises are still using Windows 2000). Windows Vista just might present a chance for GNU/Linux to quickly gain ground on the Desktop.

On most sorts of servers: Linux has already won the battle.

Support for GNU/Linux, both on the software and hardware side, is far from complete. Although the situation has improved, there is still room for improvement, such as printer support and support for games. Is there any way in which you believe GNU/Linux can garner more support?

Supporting thousands of different hardware devices is very difficult. Take for example IBM AIX or Apple MacOS: these operating systems are certified on a very limited number of hardware platforms. This makes it possible for the developers to provide drivers with excellent hardware support.

Supporting all devices available for PC is another story, as long as some hardware manufacturers choose not to contribute to the Linux kernel, not to share their source code or even provide specifications for drivers (especially Wifi manufacturers). Linux hardware support won't be as complete as those of Microsoft Windows, until GNU/Linux has a comparable user base size.

Yet things are improving. Some devices are now better supported on Linux. People easily forget that many Windows drivers are third party software that needs to be downloaded and installed. Linux provides support for most hardware out of the box. Linux hardware support is already so good that Linux users cry when they need to download a driver, for example, nVidia's proprietary drivers.

Windows is clearly the main competition to GNU/Linux, and is still easily dominant in terms of desktop installations. Do you believe that GNU/Linux still has to move forwards technologically, or is it simply a case of needing more awareness and marketing?

Linux, and GNU, were not designed to be a marketing project, but rather as an attempt to build a collection of quality computer programs.

You are right to say that there is not enough desktop GNU/Linux users, and not enough marketing around Linux as a Desktop.

However, the French government has already stated to its administrations its preference of free software over proprietary software, and I believe that enterprises will follow. Applications are not the real problem in my humble opinion, practices of the users and market monopolies are.

Jean-Philippe Guillemin, thank you for your time. Good luck with Zenwalk in the future - I look forward to many more releases.