Thursday, June 16, 2016

Q&A With the Black Lab Linux team

Today we are sitting down with the main 3 developers of the Black Lab development team.  Roberto Dohnert, Layla Davidson and Simon Lincoln to discuss Black Lab Linux development, our new netOS products and what changes we can be expecting.  So thank you guys for joining me.

When did you first get involved in OSS development?

Roberto:  1994. That was my first exposure to Linux. About 1996 I started playing around with open source code. I was more of a traditional UNIX guy back in the early 90’s with NeXTStep, IBM AIX and SGI Irix.

Simon:  When I worked at DEC back in the 80’s, it wasn't called “open source” - you had either a commercial license with AT&T or you had Berkeley which required you to have an AT&T license in order to get it. I started working with”open source” and the FSF GNU offerings in 1989 or 90.  I’m old so my memory banks are failing me on the exact timeline.

Layla:  My ninth grade year in high school, 2002.  My first exposure to UNIX was through my computer teacher’s SGI Irix Octane machine.  I was using Red Hat Linux 9 at home that my boyfriend at the time helped me set up because I lost the Windows install CD’s and didn't have money to go buy a new set. So I went to CompUSA, which at the time was on Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh and they had Windows for 99 dollars, Turbolinux for 60 bucks, Corel Linux for 40 or a Red Hat boxed set for 29.99. I grabbed Red Hat. As for coding, I didn't start doing it seriously until 2006.

What's your favorite Linux desktop?

Simon: Bash or KSH

Roberto: KDE and XFCE

Layla: KDE, although now I use XFCE.

What are your jobs with Black Lab Linux?

Roberto:  Well we have anywhere from 12 to 16 contributors and I deal more with management. I do a lot less coding than I used to but I still do more than my fair share. I also deal a lot with the hardware and commercial aspect.

Layla: I do a lot of the package management work. I deal a lot with the user applications and the choices we make there. I also do a lot of work with the look and feel.

Simon: I am the kernel guy.  I do a lot of the kernel work and I am the PC/OpenSystems and Black Lab Linux liaison with the guys. Of those contributors that Roberto mentioned I deal with about 6 of them, Layla deals with about 7 who do the artwork, the useless stuff, and Roberto deals with 2 directly, Rich who does documentation and Jeff, who handles the social media end.

What are the differences, kernel wise, with the Black Lab Linux kernel and the netOS kernel?

Simon:  We try to keep the binary blobs down to a minimum with the Black Lab Linux kernel and while the driver set in Black Lab is not as robust as netOS, it's still substantial. I use Debian and Trisquel GNU/Linux a lot to model our driver set. netOS and netOS Enterprise contain a lot of the non-free drivers that RMS and other free software purists complain about and it contains a lot of driver support for hardware that you find in the Enterprise. My goal is to have Black Lab Linux in line as an FSF-certified distro by next year. That's why we re-branded the enterprise offerings to netOS.

Why was the decision made to go with primarily web based applications?

Layla:  Well it was due to customer changes in their organizations : a lot of our customers are adopting Chromebooks. But, the Chromebook is nowhere near as usable as a complete desktop for their purposes. In conversations with customers, we found that they wanted to use a mix of online apps and traditional applications. Chrome OS doesn't allow the use of traditional applications - unless you want to remote into another machine and use its apps. Which is very inefficient. So with Black Lab and netOS, you have the cloud based apps you need along with the traditional applications you know and love. Also, when we were doing certifications, web apps became a major component that we were testing against.

Right now Black Lab Linux is based on 14.04 LTS, when will we see an upgrade to 16.04 LTS and we heard 10 will be the last version based on Ubuntu, have you guys decided what distribution it will be based on?

Roberto:  Black Lab Linux 7 and 8 are based on 14.04 but with different kernels.  Black Lab 9 in 2017 will be based on Ubuntu 16.04.  Next summer we will start beta testing Black Lab 10 which will be based on Debian Linux. We can actually go any route we want since we are moving towards cloud technology - the team even discussed Gentoo, but I think we all formally agreed on Debian. If we were going to just providing hardware with software like Apple does with the Mac or like Google does with Chrome OS we would have chosen Gentoo.

What are some future plans for Black Lab Linux?  Any new architectures?

Roberto:  Well I guess I can go ahead and announce, Black Lab Linux and netOS are coming to to the Raspberry Pi, coming Winter 2016.  netOS Server and netOS Core Server are coming to the SGI UV and the SGI Ice product lines coming spring 2017.  I want to thank ARM Works and SGI for their work and for becoming partners with us.

Layla:  On the package management front we are bringing Snapd and Snap packages to Black Lab 7/8/9.  7 just made the cutoff point since the last mainstream version of 7 will be June 2017.

Simon:  With Black Lab Linux 9 and netOS 9 you will see that we won't have an installation anymore. You will boot a live session, use GNOME Disk Utility to transfer that image onto a hard drive and then reboot and it's done.  That's the approach we will be taking with the Pi and the approach we will take with the PowerPC version. But that's still in planning..

Where do you guys want to see Black Lab Linux and netOS go?

Simon: I personally want to see them grow to become mainstream players in the Linux community. We recently launched an OEM program where vendors can get netOS Standard for free and include it on any supported hardware platform they see fit. Personal computers, netbooks, notebooks, routers, embedded systems and tablets - no royalty to us.  Enterprise and Education they have to purchase, but it's a single purchase and install on as many systems as they can sell. While of course Roberto and Rich want to sell systems and prefer that they buy OURS we all recognize we live in a community and OEMs are a necessity.

Roberto:  I want to see Black Lab Linux grow and thrive as an open development product.  netOS has already matured into a great product, with broad customer acceptance and it’s doing well in the marketplace. Much better than I thought it would, to be honest.

In the vast sea of Linux why should people use Black Lab Linux or netOS?

Roberto:  Because we aim to make Black Lab Linux or netOS everyone's choice as their go-to distribution. Our user base looks for a stability and ease-of-use. Distro hoppers may find Black Lab rather boring and “old-school” our goal is for the user to plug it in, power it on and not to worry about whether it’s a deb or rpm - just get to work, fire it up, use it for what you want.

How can someone contribute to Black Lab Linux?

Roberto:  Contact and tell us what you want to do and where you wish to contribute.  Whether it is code, documentation and or artwork. We are always receptive to contributors.

What is the Black Lab Linux project in need of now?

Roberto:  Well, we need hardware and we are always taking monetary donations. Right now we are in the middle of the Summer Fundraiser for the project and we are attempting to raise money to keep the distribution afloat.  Our minimum goal is $1,000.00 USD but we are shooting for $5,000.00.

Thanks guys.

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