The easy to install Gentoo with bling-bling. No, the other one!
Gentoo is a source-based Linux distribution that helps users put together a streamlined custom system. But Linux users spoiled by the see-before-you-try Live CDs would often shy from Gentoo. Then along came Kororaa. Kororaa is a pre-configured binary Live CD for Gentoo Linux that also features an installer. Kororaa’s package selection not only makes it an all-round Linux desktop, but has also ruffled feathers of Linux kernel developers.
Kororaa’s developer Chris Smart probably had the best tutors introduce him to Linux, including Andrew Tridgell, the author of Samba file server. In this discussion with Chris, he talks about why he developed Kororaa, why people interested in learning Linux should use Gentoo, and his new project to help users make the move to Free and Open Source software.
Mayank Sharma: Chris tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started on computers? What drew you towards FOSS?
Chris Smart: My name is Chris Smart and I live in Canberra, the capital of Australia. My Father was a computer teacher and so I grew up with computers and developed a talent for using them. Over the years through high school I was often fixing friends’ computers and this has pretty much continued ever since (although I now only touch open source).
When I left high school I deferred University deciding instead to work in the IT industry and in 1999 I started working for a local Internet service provider. At the time certain people were working for a company called “LinuxCare” who were on the same floor in our building. One of these people was Andrew Tridgell (of samba, rsync, etc fame) and it was here I first learned about Linux.
Spending time with these fantastic guys gave me perhaps the best introduction to Linux I could have possibly had and I simple fell in love with open source software. Tridge set me up with RedHat 5.2 and I remember him fixing my screen resolution for me in X so that it would work nicely on my 19″ CRT monitor. Those were the days 🙂
From there I tried various Linux distributions, moving on from Red Hat and the ‘RPM hell’ I found myself constantly falling into. It was the year 2000 that I discovered Gentoo and from there I never really looked back.
MS: So you had the best tutors. Over to Kororaa and the million dollar question — Why Kororaa? What hole does it plug?
CS: I used Gentoo for many years and over time got tired of the time consuming install process. I also had friends that I wanted to move over to Linux but I found myself spending hours and hours installing their own custom Gentoo for them. This was when Kororaa was born. I wanted a way to easily install a Gentoo system on other computers.
At the time there was no installer for Gentoo and so initially my mate Matt and I set out to write an installer for the distro. Not long after however, the “Gentoo Linux Installer” project was launched. This made Kororaa switch focus towards a more custom ‘install method’ for Gentoo. We wrote our installer and released our first version of Kororaa, which was essentially a pre-configured Gentoo system which installed binary packages onto a computer and automated most of the configuration tasks.
MS: Share some of Kororaa’s highlights, the High-points, etc.
CS: The biggest highlight of Kororaa was when it shot to fame as the first Linux distro to showcase Xgl on a live CD. We had hundreds of thousands of downloads and I think, from memory, we shot up the Distrowatch.com rankings to number 25. Even today, Kororaa is still known as the ‘Xgl live CD’, even though that was really just a side project to the main aspect which was having a binary install for Gentoo.
Even before we released the Xgl live CD however, we were number 100 on the rankings and our Gentoo installer was doing quite well in its own right.
MS: But you had trouble with the Xgl Live CD as well. What was that all about?
CS: One fine day while we were basking in the success of the Xgl live CD, I received an email from a kernel developer who claimed that distributing the NVIDIA and ATI drivers with the Linux kernel was a breach of the GPL license that the kernel is under. He stated that the drivers were derived works of the kernel and therefore had to be under the GPL license.
Either I had to stop distributing the drivers, or stop distributing the Linux kernel. Obviously I couldn’t stop using the Linux kernel, but the greater issue for me was “what was the right thing to do?”. I spent months and months researching the topic and gathering information to support both sides. In the end I found there was no actual answer and so it came down to a moral judgement more or less. I decided that if it could not be shown that distributing the drivers with the kernel was perfectly legal, then I should be giving the Linux developers the benefit of the doubt and not distribute the drivers. In the end this is what I did.
MS: From what I know, you got little help from the community, legal and otherwise. Did the whole episode discourage you?
CS: I didn’t get much real legal help from the community, just a lot of opinions. You think you have it worked out and then someone from the other side makes a point and then it turns it on its head again.
The bottom line for is that there is currently no legal precedence for this issue. As such that makes it hard to find the legal rights and wrongs.
I think most people would know that distributing these drivers against the license of the Linux kernel, that’s why no-one was doing it for so long. But, because there is this grey area, people convince themselves they are able to do it because no-one can say it’s wrong.
What’s the answer? Legally, I’m not sure. But the Kernel is GPL and so all drivers distributed with the Linux kernel MUST be GPL, that part is very simple and everyone understands that. It becomes grey area when people say that the NVIDIA drivers aren’t a derived work of the kernel and therefore don’t need to be GPL. But seeing as that is hard to prove
either way, then what we do know is that we are distributing a video card driver for Linux that is not GPL and that to me seems like the wrong thing to do.
What I found discouraging was the lack of real answers. Of course there was flaming from both sides with very, very passionate Linux-using people (often without much clue) weighing into the argument with their flaming 2 cents. People told me ‘this is why they hate Linux and everyone should use BSD’, others telling me to ‘grow some balls’ and all that sort of junk. But I tried to filter out those and gather information from reputable people, specifically those who could back up their arguments.
In the end, removing the drivers killed the popularity of Kororaa, but that is something I was prepared to accept. Still, even now I’m happy that I felt I did the right thing, which was what it was all about in the first place.
MS: Hmm. But why did you choose to base it on Gentoo? Any particular reasons, advantages?
CS: Because Gentoo is source based, our goal was to quickly replicate a Gentoo system without having to compile packages to do so. Had we been using a different Linux distribution this would not have been necessary. Gentoo gave me the flexibility to build a binary system exactly the way I wanted to and then Kororaa made that easily installable.
Originally Kororaa was a great way (well I think anyway) to install Gentoo without having to build it manually yourself. I selected specific packages that I felt fulfilled a certain purpose and this meant that the end user didn’t need to know how Gentoo worked, nor what packages they needed. They could simply install Kororaa and have a pre-configured Gentoo system out of the box from where they could begin to learn Gentoo through using and maintaining it.
MS: So initially Kororaa had features that Gentoo lacked. But now when Gentoo too sports an installer, is available on installable Live CD and Live DVD versions, where does Kororaa fit in?
CS: You are right. Now that Gentoo has their own (working) installer and a live CD as their default environment I’m not sure what role Kororaa can fill, or whether it needs to continue at all. I think Kororaa still is a more customised and simplified system, whereas Gentoo still gives you a lot of flexibility during install time. We also clean up the system and
added our own artwork, attempting to make it look pretty out of the box whereas Gentoo generally just uses the defaults.
Still, this might not be enough to warrant the continuation of Kororaa and with the popularity of other Gentoo based distros such as Sabayon, I think Kororaa has reached the end of its usefulness (unless we find some other hole we can fill in Gentoo land).
MS: Was Gentoo your first distro? What sort of computer user would you suggest Gentoo as their first Linux distro?
CS: I fell in love with Gentoo the first time I installed it. The ability to customise your Linux system beyond just choosing the packages to install was incredible and for the first time I felt in control of my computer. That’s a pretty powerful thing and no other Linux distribution has ever given me that same feeling.
Gentoo is great for people who have a desire to learn about Linux and their computer. I believe it is fantastic for ‘newbies’ so long as they have patience and the motivation to stick through the problems they will encounter. With Gentoo you can build your very own system unique to you and your wants, so along the way you will need to do a LOT of reading and research. The Gentoo forums are one of the best online communities I’ve ever been involved in and are the best resource to start with.
For users who just want a system to work and want to do very little customisation and maintenance, Gentoo is probably not the right choice. Although it can be a high maintenance distribution, it doesn’t have to be. When all is said and done though, if the idea of building your own kernel freaks you out then maybe you should stick with a binary distro 😉
MS: On to your other initiative. Tell us a little about ‘Make The Move’.
CS: ‘Make The Move’ project was born out of my desire to promote Linux and free, open source software. Discussions with other members of the Canberra Linux User Group spurred me into action and the website was born. I launched it on the 1st January this year and since then it has had some 50,000 unique visitors.
The website is designed to be a resource to explain what free software is about and how people can ‘make the move’. I am using everyday language to convey technical ideas which will hopefully help to get an understanding of free software out into the general community.
Over time I intend to build upon the content that is there and improve the quality of the site. This will require updating it as Linux and technology changes so that is relevant to systems of the day.
So if you have friends, colleagues and family members who you are trying to get onto free software, point them to the site! It is a great research for those who often find themselves explaining what free software is about and why people should care. Just memorise the URL and forward it to everyone on your contact list, http://makethemove.net 🙂
MS: So how’s the FOSS scene in your part of the woods? Do people around you talk about it? Do the local papers mention it often? How’s your LUG?
CS: Being upside-down does make it tricky using computers at times, but nevertheless overall I think Australia has quite a good base of open source developers and the community here is quite strong. Rarely is FOSS in the news here however and that is something I am hoping to help change through the ‘Make The Move’ project.
Many everyday people here have no idea about what free software is or what it can do for them. Slowly though more and more people are starting to hear about Linux. As this happens I hope that Make The Move can help to steer people in the right direction and not scare them away from what they might not yet understand.
Australia also hosts one of the most popular open source conferences in the world, Linux Conference Australia, which attracts many prominent open source figures from all over the globe.
MS: Last time I checked, a couple of sections on MTM were still awaiting content. If you have any calls for collaboration, either with MTM or Kororaa, feel free to enlist here.
CS: I really desperately need some XHTML/CSS experts to fix issues with the site, so if there are people out there willing to help throw a few ideas around I would be most grateful! I am actually hoping to get a new, updated design happening soon.
The site does not scale well and is not great under Internet Explorer (I know, every developer’s favourite topic) but unfortunately these need to be fixed as our target market is most likely using Windows and Internet Explorer. We need to save them!!
Actually, according to my web statistics, about 75% of people visiting the site are using Windows while only 20% are using Internet Explorer (70% are using Firefox).
The other thing I need for the site are more translations! I would like translations into any and every language we can. Currently there are 7 translations active on the site with another 5 or so on the way, but there are many more languages out there. Through translations we can hopefully utilise this central website to expand the knowledge of free software into many more countries around the world.
MS: Any upcoming Kororaa developments we should keep an eye out for? Any more projects in the pipeline?
CS: At the moment my priority is to fix up the Make The Move website and release a new version as soon as I can. I have many content changes and updates that need to go live but I am holding off on until the new design is complete.
Other than that there is not a lot new happening, although I did recently start a new job 🙂 I have also begun writing some reviews for Distrowatch.com and might continue to work on that area as I do enjoy writing. We’ll see 🙂