Games Interview Linux

Interview with John Knottenbelt of Introversion Software

John Knottenbelt is a Director with Introversion Software, currently leading development on the multiplayer game destined for a Linux or OS X computer near you: Multiwinia. For the better part of an hour he answers my questions about the game industry ignoring Linux as a gaming platform, postulating on ray tracing with 100 CPU cores, and proving he is indeed one of the last ‘bedroom programmers.’

Introversion Software has shipped three games in 6 years, an impressive feat for a company who hasn’t broken the magical 10 employee mark, while remaining an independent studio – being fully owned by the people who work there.

Little bit of a warning here, this is about 45 minutes of audio transcribed into text, with some minor changes for grammar and readability. It’s a really LONG read… if you prefer an streaming audio version, just hit the player. Also available to download the MP3 or OGG versions (right click, save as). It’s about 50MB.


Otherwise, if you enjoy a long read, go ahead, make my day.

Tell me a bit about yourself.
My name is John, John Knottenbelt, and I am the fourth director at Introversion Software – the first three being Chris, Mark and Tom who founded the company. I joined near the end of 2006, though I had always been on the sidelines before that. What happened is Mark, Tom and Chris founded the company just following graduation from university, and I went on to do a Ph.D. Which is why at the end of my education, I joined later.

What I started doing at Introversion was looking after the ports. Traditionally what happens is Chris comes up with some great game ideas, and he’s a pretty good coder so he gets down to it. He makes the game in Windows, this is how it happened for Uplink. Then Mark and Tom said “Chris, we think you should sell Uplink,” and they did. Thus Introversion was born.

And then they thought that Uplink might have a Linux market. People who enjoy Linux might enjoy a hacking game. Not to say that Linux users are criminals, it’s a particular kind of puzzle solving in Uplink, and it’s similar to things people do in Linux anyways.

He said to me, Johhny can you help with a Linux port. And I said “Why certainly, of course.” At the time I was using Linux as my main desktop, and was full-time hacking away at Linux.

I did the same thing for Darwinia, but for Defcon we got some help from fans to port it to Linux, while I oversaw the operation. Ambrosia Software is our partner for the Macintosh, and for Uplink they independently ported it to the Mac. Later on when we did Darwinia, we actually did that in-house. They are remarkably similar […Skype from US to Russia takes a shit] to the original games.

Porting to Mac OS X is very similar for many of the issues with porting to Linux, especially when you use libraries like SDL. So we did that for MacOS as well, we had help from fans for the

What I am doing now – my role has shifted – We are now working on Multiwinia, which is the successor to Darwinia, the multiplayer version if you like. Multiwinia is where you get to have some full-scale battles between teams of Darwinians. It will have maybe up to four players will be able to play over the internet. It has a similar style of networking architecture to Defcon. The game is much more fast paced. The games probably last about 10 minutes on average. Some games are 5 minutes, some are 15 minute long games. They’re much shorter games.

So right now what my role at Introversion is busy developing Multiwinia. We’ll be bringing it to multiple platforms. We’re going to try for a simultaneous Windows and Mac OS release. A Linux version will follow later.

We wont try for a simultaneous Linux release, because it’s hard enough to just to get the PC and the Mac version working together. When I say “PC” I mean windows. When you look at the numbers, Linux users do contribute to sales. The lions share comes from the Windows users. Then maybe 15% are Mac, then around 2 or 3% is Linux.

It’s still worthwhile doing Linux ports, we just have to focus on getting the game out first.

Linux users as a whole are more vocal and have more mind share with other “less techie” individuals. Do you think by overlooking the Linux community, other developers are loosing out on revenue and word of mouth advertising?

Yeah! That’s very true. That’s one thing that helped us hugely, because we had the Linux port. You were saying about word of mouth, and how valuable that is. We’re still a small company, you know, now we’re around 7 full-time employees. And that’s tiny. We don’t have the big budget to advertise in the conventional sense, and when we can get word of mouth support, that ends up really helping.

[Skype cuts out…]

[Dialing Skype…]

[Skype Voicemail loud and clear…]

“Well that’s not good.”

[Dialing Skype…]

[Skype Voicemail again…]

Lots of typing, jet flies overhead.

[John is offline]

[John is online]

I read that Darwinia was designed with multiplayer support in the engine, but it was just a single player game.

That’s interesting, because if you read about the history of Darwinia, you’ll remember that there was this idea just to use the point sprite support in gfx cards to try and render as many of these sprites as possible, and have BIG, BIG BATTLES with them. The game originally started out with more realistic fractal landscapes, and yes – you’re absolutely right – it was originally designed with multiplayer support in it, but it never saw the light of day.

I think the reason for this is at the time, Introversion was going through very hard times. We ran out of money. I think Darwinia took three years to complete, and two years into it, we ran out of money. I think probably because we were concentrating on making the game, and not watching the books, to be honest. What we decided to do was to make a great single player game, and not worry about the multiplayer.

The whole idea behind Darwinia’s multiplayer engine carried across to Defcon’s networking code. Defcon made it work, there’s a lot of states in Darwinia, Defcon, and Multiwinia as well. And there are alot of characters doing their thing. In Darwinia internally, discrete event simulation. You sending changes to the world state. This Darwinian has died. At the coarsest level, this player has selected this unit. Everything else is simulated.

What this means is that your protocol can be very low bandwidth because you’re only sending very high level events. Everything else can be simulated. For example, if you have 2000 Darwinians, and they’re not actively doing anything, if there’s no input, everything can be simulated. This is the same thing that happens in Defcon. Internally, there is a client server architecture used locally so the client is kept busy maintain the world state. It’s also the same with Multiwinia.

So it’s a good architecture if you want to minimize bandwidth, but it also has problems. For example in a shooter, in a death match, you just broadcast the position of all the players. If you’ve got four players with four characters, just broadcasting location, you’re OK. When you have 2000 Darwinians on the screen, or 200 units you’re controlling, you have to be smarter than that.

[Skype dies again, I give up at this point and purchase SkypePro and call his landline at a rate of 0.0211 cents a minute…]
On a side note, This interview cost $0.74 of SkypeOut credit. Not bad.

Let’s talk about Steam. I’ve been a long-time fan of Value, and I think Steam Distribution Network is a way to kind of cut out the middleman, as far as publishers go. How does Steam differ from a regular “publisher?”

Well, I suppose the main difference between Valve as a publisher, Valve doesn’t consider themselves to be a publisher. They consider themselves to be a distributor. They aren’t actually placing any requirements on your game. A publisher will say “here’s some money, go make your game to our standards.”

Say they want to have a game in Wal*Mart, they have to take out the blood, nudity, etc?

Exactly. So Valve is much more interested in distributing games to people who also have Steam. There is a certain amount of “publishing” that they have to do, because they are such a big name. For example, when you get a game onto Steam, there is an advert on the front page for awhile, and so that’s kinda like publishing in the sense, that they’ll see it, they’ll investigate and maybe buy the game. It’s not publishing in the worldwide sense, only in the sense that it’s distributing to Steam users.

They’re a very easy company to work with. They’re not (for example) like trying to bring a game to a console where you have to meet a bunch of certification requirements, which are designed with preserving that platforms’ certain types of games in a certain style, in a PC it doesn’t really make sense.

I’ve Heard Some Rumors that Introversion Software is going onto Xbox Live, the Playstation Network, or the Wii Virtual Console, is that something that is going to happen?
That’s not something that I can say directly, what I can say is that we are very interested in bringing our games to the console world, and that’s about all I can say.

Just as speculation, it would make sense for Defcon and Darwinia to be on a console. It would be a really great fit.
I think that Defcon, Multiwinia and Darwinia would make great console games, but I’m not so sure about Uplink since it’s so text based, but never say never. It’s not that you can’t make a text-based console game. But Defcon, the idea is very easy to comprehend. That would be a very good bet on a console. Multiwinia as well, when it comes out. You will agree that it will make a good console game too. I think because Defcon and Darwinia are relatively small games, if you’re a good gamer, you’ll finish it in a say a day. I think there’s 10 levels in Darwinia. In a console perspective, you couldn’t just put it on there because the content isn’t there. If you start to look at platforms like XBL Arcade or Sony and Nintendo, they have downloadable titles, it makes a lot more sense.

When you download a game, you’re not quite expecting a AAA title with 40 hours of content kinda thing.

It’s more a casual, “I’m bored and 5 bucks to spend, what’s on?”

Introversion hasn’t really gotten into the casual game space, but the casual game distribution method suits us very well. Now I wouldn’t say that Uplink or Darwinia was a casual game. Defcon – the concept – is very easy to understand, but actually getting into it, looking for strategies, I think that’s not really quite a casual game. It’s harder than Tetris.

Is everyone in Introversion supportive of Linux ports?

Oh yeah. I think that certainly Chris and Mark and Tom are very supportive of Mac and Linux ports. I think that we need to prioritize what order we do these things. We need to manage the cash-flow as well.

Mark for example uses a Mac. We use Linux for our servers extensively, and to run the game matching server for Defcon, and so on. I don’t actually use Linux as a desktop platform anymore. Although I have a Linux machine running at home, now that my job has shifted from somewhat to be more focused on Windows development while I’m doing Multiwinia. I would very much like to see and expect a Mac version and a Linux version to follow.

Do you guys just go Windows > Mac > Linux development stages?
Oh yes, that’s it. That’s what we try to do, broadly. Usually we try to do English first, then German or French and then other languages as well. Once you have a game out there, you want to bring it to as many platforms as you can, as long as those platforms are justified.

It has always been justified to bring it to Linux, it has always paid for itself – the Linux ports. It just hasn’t brought in the same degree of revenue Windows does. It just gives me a good feeling to see yep – we got the credit… to check the boxes… Windows? Yes. Mac? Yes. Linux Yes.

It’s appreciated. There aren’t too many companies that do Linux titles. The list is very short.
The biggest problem that we have with porting to Linux, is the growth. Linux is growing very quickly. We not in a position to give away the source code for our games – yet. What bugs us is the rapid evolution of the operating system. The way that core libraries changing over time. The libc library has gone through two major iterations since Uplink was released. And it’s bundled with an installer that relies on a GTK+ library, and as time marches on, new versions of GTK+ come out, version 2 – and Linux distros don’t include the original version for our installer, it’s quite difficult to keep it up to date all the time, whereas Windows and Mac try very hard to preserve backwards compatability.

When I was looking at buying Darwinia (through Steam), one of the boxes that wasn’t checked was Windows Vista. I was running Vista at the time and didn’t buy the game. It’s kinda one of those things that as Windows progresses, that it looses compatibility with older titles.

Right, right right. I must say that the other thing about Windows, it’s probably just marketing for you. Mac did it with OS X, and Microsoft did it with Vista, to provide features that are only available in the latest version, which they want you to use of course – such as DirectX 10, or the latest version of Java in Mac OS X – they didn’t port it back, otherwise they don’t give you a reason to upgrade. You’re right that backwards compatibility is not always preserved. Microsoft is very concerned about pushing it’s own technology any of the others, partiarly apparent with OpenGL. When Vista shipped, they made sure the DirectX drivers worked very well with the vendors. But the vendors were out on their own they tried to get OpenGL working in Windows Vista.

According to a core developer at Epic Games (Tim Sweeney) I read that DirectX 10 is going to be the last 3D API, because the CPUs cores are getting smaller, and faster, and more of them are going on a die.
That’s interesting! Yeah, whoa. That’d be very interesting as we get more cores to play with, I remember someone was suggesting to me that we can do real-time ray tracing with 100 cores, using all the old tricks of rasterizing polygons, now we can raytrace.

When I was browsing through your forums, one of the first things I found was your company mission. One of your goals as a company is “to be the Kubrick or Tarantino of the games industry.” That’s pretty high up there.
What this means is we want to maintain creativity. Kind of a creative independance to create very high quality games. I guess the best example of this is Darwinia is where we focused on just making the game. Everything we did for Darwinia was to keep with a particular style, and maintain a certain type of iteration. It was a challenge. We didn’t have the answers. That’s our dream, we want to create new and interesting games, and that people will know that if Introversion makes a game, it’s going to be something fresh and high quality. We don’t rehash the same game over and over again.

When you do this, when you give creativity such a big role, how do you make sure the risk isn’t too great. You’ve gotta be careful, on one hand you create great times. On the other hand, you gotta think about how this fits in, before you run out of money.

What’s your favorite film from either of those directors?
Tarantino would be my favorite. I’m a big fan of Pulp Fiction, but Jackie Brown is my favorite at the moment.

The source code for Uplink is available?
Oh yes. You can buy it as a developer CD. That’s not to say that it’s free. It’s for all people of interest to play with it, to learn how the game is made, to modify it, and a few friends have purchased the code. They wrote us emails and said they learned some coding techniques from it. And I say “oh there are some of the coding techniques in the original Uplink sources are quite frightening to be honest.” [laughes]

Does that come with the actual content, audio, video, artwork, and other Intellectual Property. Yes it does. It comes with everything really needed to make the game. It’s not like “Here’s the developer CD, all the IP is yours.” It’s more like, here’s everything we have, you can make your own version, but you can’t sell it, and you can’t give it away to anyone who doesn’t already own the game.

I’ve watched the video of Subversion, with the Procedurally Generated Content, and that is pretty damn cool. Is it going to be a Real-Time-Strategy? Something Different?

I’m not really the right person to talk about it. Chris is leading the development and the project, and he is keeping it very close to his chest. So everytime he makes a Development Blog post, I am one of the interested parties. We’re way off from the final game.

What kind of visual upgrades are people going to see from playing Darwinia to Multiwinia.
I think it’s going to be very close to Darwinia. The main differences are going to be in the game itself. Of course there will be new elements, but I can’t reveal them now. But it’s going to have multiplayer, short games. Darwinia is a fairly serious game in the way it comes across. One of the things we aim for in the multiplayer is if you’re sitting in the same room with 3 other people, you should hear screams of “oh no you bastard, how did you do that?”

I went to LAN parties every other weekend for months at a time, and one of the draws towards coming back week after week was the “Oh you fucking bastard, you’re gonna get it now!” It breeds friendly rivalry. It would be fun to play a game like that. In Defcon, you can kinda see the end coming


Or breaking alliances and killing your former allies. I think that’s about it. Thanks for your time.
Thanks Wayne

If you’ve gotten this far, you might want to take a look at my article on Defcon, their latest video game that has demos available for Windows, Linux, and OS X.

Interview Linux

Interview with Ken VanDine of Foresight Linux

A few weeks ago, I saw that Foresight Linux was going to be pre-loaded onto Shuttle computers at an amazing price – just $199. “That’s interesting, another Linux distribution I haven’t heard of.”

The last time this “I’ve never heard of distro X” thing happened to me was when I got an email advertisement for the “gOS developer kit” – I ended up looking into gOS, and they started selling computers in Walmart shortly after I scored an interview with David Liu. That was a pretty big deal, if you haven’t heard about it. By the way, I’m HUGE in Japan.

I was able to catch up with the very busy creator of Foresight, Ken VanDine. He’s got some really interesting answers to thing plaguing my mind, like which pie is best – I only hope that you can also appreciate the internal debate that’s finally been settled by this fine gentleman.

Without more from me, here’s Ken.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
– I am a dog person, *NOT* a cat person. I grew up on the outer banks of North Carolina, spent 6 years in the US Air Force. After getting out I spent some time in the Bay area, San Diego, and Los Angeles before finding my way back to NC. I am now an engineering lead with rPath, Inc. I am also the proud parent of two great kids, and married to a wonderful woman that allows me the time to spend my evenings working on Foresight ๐Ÿ˜€

The deal with Shuttle appears to be a huge win for Foresight Linux. How did it come about? Who were the major players?kpc.png
– Back in September 2007 I was talking to someone from about selling the future versions of Foresight 2. Then in January, she was contacted by Shuttle looking for suggestions for a disro to go with. She got us talking, and things progressed quickly. The first time I talked to them, I tried to get a feel for what they wanted, hard to do with a brief phone call. I then spent an hour customizing Foresight, changing the syslinux menu, splashy theme, gdm login theme, default wallpaper and changed the gtk theme. And… drum roll, I had installable isos available for them to test. The tools we use to maintain the distro, are designed from the ground up to make managing derivative distros easy.

Would you say that Linux (in general) is making good progress towards becoming a household name?
– PC makers and systems integrators letting Linux play with the big boys.

Which is better philosophically: Apple, Pecan or Pudding Pie?
– Apple pie

What is the relationship between rPath and Foresight?
– Foresight was created just over 3 years ago, using tools developed by rPath. Foresight was actually the first distro derived using the tools. Since then, I have joined the rPath team as an engineering lead. Foresight is great for rPath, it proves the tools work and gets plenty of exposure. rPath doesn’t control Foresight, but does benefit from it.

Foresight Linux seems to have an interesting release cycle, can you explain it in-depth?
– Our package manager, Conary, follows many of the principles found in version control systems. Not only does it maintain the source of our packages in the same place as the binaries created, but there are branches. So we have development, QA, and release branches. We are able to do our development on the development branch, without affecting our users. We then promote packages to our QA branch, and test them as a group. The entire operating system is defined in a group, and the packages are built together for optimal compatibility. We test the group of packages together, as a whole, when the QA cycle is complete the entire group is promoted to the release label for user consumption.

When did you come to realize that Foresight Linux was needed?
– Well mostly frustration with existing distros. At the time I was working for a large enterprise where we managed a very large scale linux infrastructure. We struggled with maintenance and deployment issues, as well as the “we have to customize red hat mentality”. I always hated rpm spec files, and hated that our environment was never easily reproducable. At the same time, I was involved in GNOME Marketing and was frustrated at how long it took distros to provide never releases of GNOME to their users. We would get lots of hype over a new release, but the buzz was over by the time people that didn’t want to build all of GNOME from source could actually use it. Using Conary, I was able to very quickly build a distro that was made up of what I defined as of proper desktop OS using the latest GNOME. There was also some emerging technologies that really improved usuability of the desktop, specifically related to hardware. HAL and udev to name a couple, relative new comers to the scene and being included in distros already, they weren’t really heavily relied on yet and no where near current. Foresight intregrated the absolute latest versions of many things like these and made a really great OS (imho). Desktop Linux has been emerging so quickly, and improving even more rapidly. Six, eight, or even 12 month release cycles just can’t cut it for a desktop. We need continuous improvement, so a rolling release distro is the way to go. Releases for Foresight is really just deciding when we want new isos to cut down on the number of updates a new install my get.

How important are bug reports for open source developers?
– We couldn’t survive without them. Fact is, we don’t have a team of professional QA folks beating on our work reporting bugs. So we rely on the community to file issues. We do try to encourage people to run our QA branch of Foresight and report bugs before people running the stable branch see them.

How does Conary differ to other popular package management systems (such as dkpg, Portage, and Yum) and why is it a better method of doing things?
– Whew… where to start ๐Ÿ™‚ Conary does so much more than legacy packaging systems such as apt(dpkg) and yum(rpm). Conary melds version control concepts into package management. Not only on the build/packaging side of things, but even for system maintenance. Conary stores sources with the binaries, in the same package, supports branching, merging, etc. On the flip side of that, Conary does some other very nice things. For example, every operation is a transaction. So you can actually rollback your last update or even all the way back to when the system was installed. And, these rollbacks contain local changes that get merged. Also being transactional, Conary breaks updates into smaller “jobs”. These jobs are dep complete, so if at anytime an update fails Conary will rollback to the previous job leaving your system dep complete and fully functional.

Conary also breaks packages down into manageable components, :runtime, :lib, :devel, :devellib, :doc, etc. So unlike other packaging systems, where you might have 2 packages, firefox and firefox-devel, Conary would have one package with the devel headers split into firefox:devel. This is a great thing, you no longer end up installing -devel packages from random repos in your sources.list just because it looks like a newer version. The devel headers are just part of the same package, you just don’t have to have them installed. These components combined with rich dependancy information really shines. If you need to install an application that needs to be able to talk to a mysql database, only mysql:lib would get brought in as a dependancy. Not all of the mysql package, so you just get the libraries. Not the command line client, etc. You get just enough for your app to work. Apply this concept to say a dependancy that might have an initscript to start a service, you now have less services running. The initscript to start a service would be in the :runtime component which wouldn’t be installed (unless it is needed).

Could you explain a scenario in detail where Conary is a better solution?
– Of course as I described above, Conary is extremely powerful and works well in many situations. Let me touch on something I didn’t mention above, deriving. Lets say you have a need for customizing Linux systems for a large deployment, personal use, corporate standards, etc. You could very easily derive the distro and only maintain your changes and define exactly what packages you want included. The tools make this very easy, as I described the situation with Shuttle. You can also control when updates go out to the users. By deriving, you not only have the flexibility to change the distro, but you can control releasing updates. You can test updates we push out along with your changes on your own devel or qa branches. When you are ready to push these changes out you simple “promote” the group that defines your distro. This is a single atomic operation that puts the updated packages on your release branch for users to update from.

Do you smoke a pipe or have a beard?
– I do have a “Van Dyke”, usually confused with the term goattee. My former boss pointed that out when I was interviewing, and sure enough he was right.

rBuilder and rMake are important pieces of the puzzle. How do they work? What other tools are used in creating a platform?
– rBuilder is what hosts our software repositories, builds installable and live images, hosts our downloads, and much more. rMake is a build tool we use to build the distro. It builds packages in a pristine environment, specifically your target environment. We can do very large builds, even the entire distro and rMake will determine the build order and do the right thing. rMake can then take the resulting build and commit it to a repository in one operations.

rBuilder Online seems very interesting. What does it do?
– It is the online (public) version of rBuilder. rBuilder online is free for use for anything that you can freely redistribute. Our repositories are on rBO, we manage our user accounts (for committers), build images, and provides downloads all via rBO.

Does Foresight Linux fall into any “niches”? Is it for end users who are familiar with Linux? First time users?
– This is a tough question, I really want that niche to be new Linux users. I try very hard to push things down the path of “it just works”. I think we are there now, which makes me quite happy. Foresight is of course ultimately configurable for those power users… you know how Linux users [are].

Where do you see Foresight headed in the future?
– Shipped pre-loaded by more vendors and of course used.

Lastly, how can interested parties get in touch and lend their support?
– IRC and our mailing lists,

Thanks for your time Ken, it is appreciated!

I’ve tried out Foresight Linux 2.0 which was very recently released. It’s pretty damn fantastic, if I say so myself. The entire 1.1GB DVD was a really fast installation, thanks to their new TAR-based installation. After answering the basic installation questions, it was completely setup and ready to reboot in about 6 minutes flat – that’s freakin FAST for an installation! I remember reading awhile back that Windows Vista was supposed to have something like this, they called it an “disc image based installer,” but last time I installed on this same machine it must have taken 45 minutes to complete.

If you’re looking for a user-friendly distro that your uninitiated father, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend can use, I agree with Ken that Foresight should be on your short list of distributions to consider. If you’re interested in specs and ordering a Shuttle KPC pre-loaded with Foresight Linux for yourself or someone you love, hit the Newegg banner on the top right, and search for “Shuttle KPC”


Interview Linux

Interview with Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of OpenMoko – Ninjas *ARE* Better Than Pirates

Sean Moss-Pultz was kind enough to answer a few questions with fsckin w/ linux. He’s got some pretty interesting answers to questions plaguing geeks and non-geeks alike, such as the eternal debate on which is better – Ninjas or Pirates? Keep reading for some candid responses from the CEO of the company behind the Dash Express GPS device and the in-development OpenMoko phone. Dash was recently named one of the top 10 startup companies to watch in 2008 by Wired Magazine.

0. How did the name “OpenMoko” come about, and does it have a meaning behind it similar to the Neo1973?

โ€œMokoโ€ is short for Mobile Kommunikations. Think of the โ€œKโ€’s as a tribute to all hackers around the world that build software that drives our platform forward.

โ€œOpenโ€ is obvious. But what we mean by “open” perhaps is not. We’re not just talking about software. It’s really the entire business model of our company. For example, this coming week we will release the full mechanical CAD drawings of our Neo’s case. We want people to remix our work. We want to be open from the iron to the eyeballs.

OpenMoko started as a project inside FIC (Taiwan) and has recently been turned into it’s own company. So, we’ve had to build a open software stack, build a team, build a product, plan a future, and build a company, while everyone gets to watch.

Most of the challenges, I would say, are philosophical in nature. Not technical.

In an closed company you go through various stages of hardware development. These stages are hidden from the general public. Prototype hardware is built and passed out to a few select internal developers. Later, more hardware is built. In a pilot run. This is distributed internally to more engineers in the company. Finally, it’s presented to the public like it just came out of the oven.

OpenMoko is inside out. Our prototype are shared with developers around the world. Why? because our engineers are outside the company as well as inside.

In some ways we are like a reality TV show. Showing how one builds a gadget of the future. It’s like a cross of Survivor, Dirty Jobs, and Ice Road Truckers.

1. What is your favorite brain-food? Favorite beverage?

Not sure if nachos are brain-food…but I love them! As for drinks, I would say nothing is more refreshing than water. I like things that can blend in to any environment.

2. Awhile back you said “failure is not an option.” Would you expand on that statement and explain who ultimately looses if you fail?

Hehe…perhaps I was caught up in the passion of my own thoughts. Working every breathing second of the day on something for more than year will do that to you ๐Ÿ˜‰ The point that I was trying to make is that we (collectively) need the phone to be freed. It’s the only way major change will occur in this mobile industry.

3. In a philosophical sense, which is better: Ninjas or Pirates?

Oh ninjas all the way. They were artists using their art to ensure their survival in a time of violent political turmoil. Their strategies were cultural opposites of the conventional ruling Japanese Samurai class. But they lived in harmony with nature. And always kept an eye to where the future was heading.

OpenMoko has an internal ninja. You’re hear more from him later this year.

4. Due to the touch screen and lack of buttons, comparisons are inevitably made between your product to the iPhone. Two questions in one: Why is being compared to the iPhone a good thing? Why is it bad?

It’s a good thing because it brought us lots of press. It’s a bad thing because most of the press talked about us as an iPhone killer. That’s not at all what we’re trying to do.

End user freedom is our passion. Apple gives you an incredibly polished experience. Exactly how you they want you to have it. But the end user really has no freedom. They cannot change the device if they don’t like the way Apple choose to make things.

All these comparisons, unfortunately, caused a lot of confusion. But in the end it was all good. We were forced to refine our message.

5. How much can you bench press?

Not sure anymore…but I can still bench my weight. And I’m gaining weight here in Taiwan (too much good food) ๐Ÿ˜‰

6. Your device seems to pull the opposite direction in where carriers seem to be headed. Revenue streams such as ringtone purchases and other paid-for customizations would obviously be impacted by your project. Have carriers in general expressed any interest in OpenMoko despite the drawbacks?

Carriers are extremely interested. But their reasons vary as much as their responses. So I think it will be a while before see us packaged with 2-year contracts.
Right now we’re focusing on being fast and flexible. So we can react to what our customers want. This is a huge challenge because of the scope of our efforts. Most companies choose either software, hardware, or manufacturing. We’re doing all three. I’m convinced this is the only way it’s possible to making a completely open phone.

7. Is OpenMoko affected by the Year 2038 Bug?

Probably. But we’ve got a heck of a lot more serious Year 2008 bugs.

Anybody want to help? ๐Ÿ™‚

8. (As far as I know) OpenMoko hasn’t adopted GPLv3, instead opting to utilize the GPLv2 and LGPL. What are the reasons for using licenses other than GPLv3, and is the GPLv3 compatable with “doing business” in 2008?

I am not a lawyer so I only feel comfortable replying on a personal level. I really the message behind GPLv3. The loopholes it tries to close are real and destructive to the spirit of the original message. In short we will use it. But I cannot make a sweeping statement and say we will use it for everything. Besides, technically that’s just not possible. We make products and a software distribution. This forces us to work with many different licenses.

To deal with these kind of problems we have come up with something we (informally) call our “Software Freedom Requirements”. These are still being refined, but let me just state what we have now:

1) Libraries cannot be GPL — The idea is that libraries are what you use to build your house, your private space that you can control in any way you like. Our preference is LGPL, BSD/MIT less so, but still acceptable. GPL is not acceptable.
2) Everything but libraries should be GPL — The idea is that this is the shared public good, democracy. LGPL and even less so BSD/MIT would be acceptable, but not be loved. We think that those licenses defend the rights of developers, but not the rights of the end user.
3) Contributions must be welcomed back — A company that wants to work with us has to accept valuable contributions back into their mainline, without transfer of copyright, based on technical rather than political merit. This makes dual-licensing impossible. If the company has a program of buying back contributions including transfer of copyright that is also acceptable, as long as valuable contributions will indeed get bought back.

We also have “Hardware Freedom Requirements”. Equally as important, because, as Wolfgang Spraul once said, “Software is what makes hardware dangerous.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

Listed in order of priority:

1) Fully and publicly disclose datasheets, [or]
2) Fully disclose datasheets to OpenMoko and allow us to use that documentation to write a documented GPL driver, [or]
3) Fully release an existing driver under the GPL.

We’ve worked with those for almost a year now. So things are extremely concise. Hopefully we can simplify our message in the Software Freedom Requirements over time.

OpenMoko is, and will always try to be, the most progressive mobile distribution available. Like Moglen, we want to “Resist the resistance!”

9. What’s the progress on your AE86 restoration? Got any pictures yet?

Since OpenMoko started just about everything else in my life has stopped — my AE86 is no exception. Here’s a picture — about 75% done.
Sean Moss-Pultzโ€™s AE86

10. The Dash Express was recently announced and uses almost the same hardware that the OpenMoko does. I would assume that there was some significant collaboration with their teams. How much work was able to be directly integrated back into the OpenMoko project?

Yeah lots of collaboration — we’re all the same team ๐Ÿ˜‰

This was our first OpenMoko-based device that will ship in high-volume to the consumer. So naturally we’re thrilled with results.

Look for more great stuff in 2008. We’re just getting warmed up.

I’d like to personally thank Sean for spending the time to answer these questions. I for one am eagerly looking forward to progress OpenMoko makes towards launching a mass-market open source phone. You can count on at least one person (me) to ditch their locked down, proprietary iPhone when OpenMoko’s device is ready for prime-time.

Interview Linux

Interview with gOS Founder: “Linux For Human Beings (Who Shop At WAL*MART)”

My first impression of gOS is “Gee, I thought I liked Google.” To put this into perspective, on the back of my car there is a license plate frame with the words “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

This week, WalMart has begun selling a new computer called the gPC for the price of $199. Instead of using Microsoft Windows, this incredibly inexpensive Linux-based computer runs an operating system which is fittingly called “gOS”.

At first look, the systems specifications seem pretty meager, until you have a gander at the list of applications. Instead of utilizing applications on the computer locally, the gPC leverages online applications that are delivered via web browser, such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets. This is an absolutely brilliant idea. All you need is a fast internet connection (and a monitor) to use the computer.

I was able to catch up with David Liu, founder of the gOS project, and ask him some questions about his brainchild.


Using Web 2.0 applications to form the core of an operating system is genius. When did you realize this it was possible?

Well, I guess a couple things happened… I got interested in Google applications, especially docs and spreadsheets, presentations; and originally, I wanted to create my idea of what a Google OS would look like.. if there were such a mythical OS. As I started looking around at all the Google applications out there, I realized that all of our “computing” could eventually be done in the Google cloud. We just needed an OS that looked really good and pointed people to Google in a really friendly, intelligent way. After seeing this, I got excited because I saw it was also commercially viable for the mainstream end user… Google makes Linux familiar.

How long has gOS been in development?

The Enlightenment windows manager plays a big part in this, and most of our team is from the Enlightenment community. That’s been going on for a long time. gOS is a little less than six months

Why build on Ubuntu, rather than another distribution natively based on Enlightenment?

I can’t comment officially on that but there is a good reason for it. Basically it has to do with the Ubuntu community and vision. I like their mantra “Linux for human beings.” I wanted to take it further.. more like “Linux for human beings who shop at Wal-Mart” (…”and who probably have never heard of Linux”) They’ve done a great job of getting the community behind this, and productively so.

How does Faqly tie into the Operating System?

Faqly is a people powered help page. In the spirit of open source, it’s a place for the gOS community can ask and answer questions for each other. For end users, they can ask about how to do certain things. For developers, they can help answer (or ask the harder questions for fellow developers, and the core team at gOS) It’s a nice place for developers to get more in touch with end users too. I think we’re attracting developers who want to see open source into the mainstream, so everything we do has a special purpose.. even a little thing like using faqly for our “F1 Help”

Similar in theory to an FAQ wiki, except much easier to use, right?

Yes, more centered around people helping people, not just a page of information co-authored by the community… essentially the same, but the interaction design and feeling of it is just more community. Faqly is still in alpha mode, and we’re the first and only group to use it yet. They’ll launch in the next month or so probably. I think faqly can hit it off with the open source community pretty well, but will be open to working with other websites too.

Why did you place Facebook on the desktop instead of another social networking site like MySpace or Orkut?

We liked the developer platform and because we just use Facebook more in our community. Everex partnered with Facebook on getting us the icon.. that helped too.

Is there a difference between what is available via download verses what ships on the gPC?

The difference is in proprietary codecs, on the gPC, you can watch DVDs, play MP3s, etc. On the downloadable version, we’ve removed those.

Was Google cooperative towards the idea?

Everex and Google had a signed agreement for us to preload the Google toolbar. I actually went to Google yesterday to demo the real gPC out of the box, literally (i took one from the line). It’s not an official “google pc” or “google os”, it is what I think one should look like though. Google knew what we were doing, we showed them screenshots mid development, etc. We’ll keep our contacts there updated as we work on the next gPC with an improved gOS.

Please don’t sell out to Microsoft.

Oh yeah… we won’t.

Thanks for you time.

Thanks also. I hope this will get more developers excited and on board with us. I think it will be a fun ride.


I’d like to extend a special thanks to David Liu for interviewing with me. For those of you wishing to help out, you can find the developer section on

Let’s take a quick look at gOS and see just exactly what it has to offer. The “Favorite Applications” that appear in the task bar along the bottom of the screen are as follows:gos.png

  1. Firefox
  2. Google Mail
  3. Google News
  4. Google Calendar
  5. Google Maps
  6. Google Docs and Spreadsheets
  7. Google Product Search
  8. Blogger
  9. YouTube
  10. Facebook
  11. Faqly
  12. Meebo
  13. Rythmbox
  14. Skype
  15. Wikipedia
  16. Xine

Other applications which are loaded include GIMP for photo editing, and the excellent 2.2 office suite. The task bar is extremely easy to use – simply click an icon and Firefox opens up the application in most cases. The Google Toolbar is bundled with Firefox as well.

If you need another reason to buy, 1 year of free 24×7 technical support comes with purchase of a gPC. That’s more than some companies offer on computers that cost hundreds of dollars more.


Hardware Specifications

  • 1.5GHz, VIA C7ยฎ-D Processor
  • 512MB DDR2 533MHz SDRAM
  • 80GB Hard Disk Drive
  • DVD-ROM/D-RW Optical Drive
  • VIA UniChrome Pro IGP Graphics
  • Realtek 6-Channel Audio
  • 10/100 Ethernet Port
  • DB 15-Pin VGA Port
  • Six USB 2.0 Ports
  • RJ-11 Port
  • Headphone/Line-Out Port
  • Two Microphone/Line-In Ports
  • Serial Port
  • Parallel Port
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Amplified Stereo Speakers

In the end, gOS (and by default, the gPC) is an extremely functional system that hits the sweet spot of the “online desktop” clichรฉ with professional quality, utilizing Google Applications in a easy to use and graphically rich environment. If you’re interested in trying out Linux for the first time, I would suggest downloading gOS or checking out the gPC at Walmart.

Woohoo, I got linked by Techcrunch.