Interview with YellowDog’s Dan Burcaw

In light of the recent release of YDL 2.3, we are happy today to host an exclusive interview with Dan Burcaw, co-founder, CTO, and lead developer of YellowDog Linux, the Red Hat-based, PPC-only Linux distribution for the Mac platform. 1. Tell us a bit about the history and background of TerraSoft Solutions and how you got involved in the Linux business.

Dan Burcaw: We were basically evaluating Linux solutions for website hosting and
as a Linux guy I wanted Linux and Kai (Terra Soft’s CEO) wanted Mac hardware. At the time there wasn’t any high-quality Linux offerings for Macs. We saw this as an opportunity and it has since turned into the focus of our business.

2. I read on the web and on some PPC Linux reviews that not all the Apple hardware are supported well by Linux. What are the primary problems people are having with Linux on a PPC and which steps are you taking to resolve the issues?

Dan Burcaw: I think the biggest issue here is that there aren’t that many kernel
hackers working on the Apple side of the fence. IBM has a number of top notch guys working on PPC Linux in regard to their pSeries and iSeries hardware, but this doesn’t address Apple hardware support. The good news, though, is that recently a lot of Linux folks are buying
TiBooks and iBooks and this is bringing more knowledgeable people to the PPC Linux world.

3. SuSE, Debian and Mandrake seem to be your biggest competitors in your market. Please tell us why someone should choose YDL instead.

Dan Burcaw: Well it really depends on your needs. If someone is deploying Linux across a number of hardware platforms like x86, Sparc, Alpha, and PowerPC then clearly SuSE or Debian is the right choice. SuSE is also currently the best choice for IBM’s pSeries and iSeries hardware. We offer the most Red Hat-like distribution for PowerPC. In addition, we only support PPC. A lot of people like that fact. There’s no question of whether we’ll continue to do a version for their machine since this is the focus of our business. The commitment of some of the other vendors to this space is not quite so clear.

4. How are the Mac users perceiving Linux? What would take to make more Mac users try out Linux?

Dan Burcaw: A lot of them are perceiving it as a way to give new life to some of their older Macs that can’t run OS X very well or at all. The big thing preventing more Mac users from trying Linux is ease-of-use. Linux on the desktop has a ways to go before it meets or exceeds the ease-of-use of Mac OS.

5. What is your opinion on OSX, strictly techically-speaking?

Dan Burcaw: It sure beats Windows! I haven’t developed for OS X so I’m not saavy about OS X from a technical perspective other then what I’ve read. I do think it is pretty cool to be able to run Office and have a terminal window open. I just can’t stand not having virtual desktops.

6. In the event where Motorola stops make CPUs for Apple, and Apple jumps to another architecture, would you still be a PPC-only Linux distribution or you will also jump over to other markets as well as PPC?

Dan Burcaw: I don’t really see that happening. In the event that it did, I suppose we’d have to look at all of our options. We like being PPC-only, but on the other hand Macs are where a large part of our sales come from.

7. Did you ever had input, feedback or maybe even problems with Apple regarding your product running on their hardware?

Dan Burcaw: Not directly. There are some folks at Apple that use YDL on their machines that sometimes provide feedback but this is on their own time.

8. The new GCC 3.1 and especially the changes Red Hat will do to the compiler to further improve quality and speed on the G4 processors are good news. Will YDL immediately use a new GCC, or will you stay with the older gcc 2.95.x which is known to have better compatibility when compiling older code?

Dan Burcaw: Red Hat added support for the AltiVec instruction set that is part of the G4 processor. This is of course great news for developers as AltiVec can really speed up applications. So far, GCC 3.1 looks really solid on PowerPC and we’re planning on moving to it within the next 6 months.

9. Please talk to us about the YDL-specific tools that come with in your distribution that help the user to easily configure his/her computer.

Dan Burcaw: We have a number of config tools that were specifically designed to be run on Mac hardware. Easy things such as mouse configuration to XFree86 configuration. Also, we use Yaboot instead of LILO so we have a tool that configures the bootloader. The nice thing
here is that since Apple hardware has less variety we don’t have to have complex tools. They can be simple and do the job. As far as things like an Apache configuration tool we ship
Red Hat config tools as well.

10. When is the next version of YDL is going to come out and what new features will include?

Dan Burcaw: I can’t tell you that. 🙂
Seriously though, we track Red Hat releases pretty closely so you could probably determine many of the features and general time frame based upon Red Hat’s current development cycle.


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