Today we host a long and interesting interview with President & COO of Lindows.com, Kevin Carmony. We discuss about the desktop, the OSS community, Microsoft, LindowsOS 5 and much more. More over, just for the next couple of days, Lindows.com offers the LindowsOS Developer Edition 4.5 for free to the OSNews readers! Read more for details on how to use the OSNews text coupon and download this digital version of LindowsOS free of charge.
1. Some people believe that Lindows.com promised Microsoft Windows application compatibility two years ago and that later you opted-out from this promise. What is the whole story and truth about this?
Kevin Carmony: When we started Lindows.com, we thought it might help people who were migrating to desktop Linux if they could still run their legacy Microsoft Windows software. So, we invested over a half million dollars into WINE, a technology used to run Microsoft Windows software under Linux. Most of that investment went to to pay Codeweavers to get Microsoft Office 2000 to run under Linux. After a few months of working on this project, Codeweavers did get Microsoft Office to run, but two other interesting things happened simultaneously as well. The first was that we decided it made more sense to put development into helping create better native Linux applications, and second, Codeweavers became re-energized and excited about WINE. Because all of our WINE code was open sourced, we wished Jeremy and company good luck, walked away from our investment, and discontinued any further work with WINE. Codeweavers then continued on with this code as the starting place for what later became Crossover Office.
The bottom line, is we simply decided that it made more sense for us to invest in encouraging software development for Linux applications. We realized that it didn’t make much sense that someone would choose Linux for its openness and affordability, only to then run proprietary and expensive MS Windows software, such as Microsoft’s $500 office suite. We realized that Microsoft Windows compatibility was facilitating movement in a direction contrary to the real strengths of Linux…open, affordable, secure, and stable, so we moved 100% of our energy into helping bring more and better Linux applications to the market. (I talk about this more in your later questions.)
Interestingly, however, was that because we attracted a fair amount of attention in those early days with WINE, it got companies like Codeweavers, SuSE and Xandros excited about Microsoft Windows compatibility. The irony is that while these companies were getting excited and jumping into this, we were changing our direction and moving completely away from Microsoft Windows compatibility. We’ve never regretted our decision to use and support native Linux software. We would rather help support the development of good substitutes for Microsoft Windows software. For example, we think Mozilla is a much superior product to IE. We’d rather invest in making Mozilla better than getting IE to run on Linux. We wish those who continue on with WINE the best of luck, it really is an amazing project, but it’s just not the direction that fits our vision of Linux’s future.
So, yes, we did change our direction, but that’s what good companies do. It’s rare that a company doesn’t need to adjust to things as they move down the road with their business plan. When we made this change, we came out to our users candidly about our decision, and extended the time frame of our normal money-back guarantee to anyone who didn’t want to continue on with LindowsOS, regardless of how long ago they had purchased LindowsOS. Fortunately, very few took us up on that offer, but rather joined us in our effort to support native Linux software.
We made this shift almost two years ago, but it’s funny how long it takes to get past the first thing someone hears about you. I guess it’s true what they say about first impressions, they’re very hard to shake.
2. What are the contributions to open source Lindows.com has done so far? Is it mostly code, money or other types of support you offer, and how?
Kevin Carmony: We do all of those. For example, we contribute back all of our code for any open source projects we work on or pay to have worked on. Our code doesn’t always get used, but we always submit it back. For instance, we worked with the GAIM developers as we made several changes to their Instant Messenger. We paid them to make some changes and our engineers made others. As we always do, we offered all of this work back to GAIM. So far they have only used about half of the changes, and we’re fine with that, that’s their decision. We submit everything back and let the maintainers decide what gets used or not.
We have also spent a lot of direct cash on open source projects as well. I already mentioned the nearly $500,000 we paid to improve WINE. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on other projects as well. For example, we have an on-going relationship with MozDev.org where we pay them to make dozens of changes that we think make Mozilla more powerful and easier to use, and all those changes are given back and many appear in the main tree for Mozilla. We’re paying for the work on many exciting new features for Mozilla that everyone will ultimately enjoy, not just LindowsOS users.
We sponsor several Linux and open source web sites. For example, KDE-look.org had to shut down until we stepped up to sponsor them. We now also sponsor their sister site, KDE-apps.org. We also just arranged to bring apps.kde.com back to life, which was forced to shut down for lack of funding. We’re always on the look out for sites to sponsor. If a site promotes Linux in a meaningful way, and can have a real impact on things, we’re interested.
We have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Reiser4, the amazing, “unbreakable” new version of the open source ReiserFS file system which will be included in our next release of LindowsOS. Our CEO, Michael Robertson, was also a big financial supporter of ReiserFS when he was CEO of MP3.com. We have also spent tens of thousands of dollars as the sole sponsor and financier for Nvu, an ftp-integrated, ultra easy-to-use web authoring system, ala Dreamweaver and Frontpage. I’ve been running an alpha copy of Nvu on my computer and and it’s an awesome program! Nvu will be offering downloads of the first beta release within the next few weeks. We’re very proud and excited to see this project coming to life.
We support open source in many ways that go unnoticed, simply because we don’t broadcast everything we help with. We want to help to see these projects succeed, not to give ourselves a pat on the back. We finally did, however, put up a web page that lists our contributions, because some people were assuming we didn’t do much in this area. You can find that page at http://lindows.com/opensource. Considering we’re not profitable and lose money each month, I’m very happy with the amount of support we give to open source projects.
Finally, but perhaps most important, I’ll add that Linux needs more than just more lines of code. The more people who start using Linux, the more developers it will attract to it. (Ask any Palm OS developer about this dynamic.) So, Linux also needs marketing, distribution, education, leadership, vision, and so on. I’d like to think Lindows.com is doing a great deal in this area. Every day hundreds of new people are seeing Linux pop up on their new computer. We think that’s a very good thing for Linux.
3. Some people have said that Lindows.com tries to take the credit for open source projects by changing the names of some programs in your OS and the CNR Warehouse. How do you respond to that?
Kevin Carmony: Because we’re trying to get the average computer user to try Linux, we think it’s best to not scare them with a flood of new words. Picture dropping someone who speaks English into a foreign land where they only speak a different language. How comfortable do you think she’d feel? How long do you think she’d want to stick around if they never spoke her language and she couldn’t understand anything? That’s how most computer users would feel when they see Linux for the first time. They get bombarded with so many new terms, like Kernel, Root, Mozilla, Kate, KDE, X, GNOME, GAIM, GIMP, Debian, MPlayer, XMMS, K-this, G-that, and on and on. 95% of the world doesn’t understand these terms, and when they see them they just get confused and run back to their comfort zone of Microsoft Windows. People shouldn’t have to learn a new language to use Linux.
So, yes, we rename things like GAIM to “Instant Messenger,” Kate to “Text Editor,” and XMMS to “MP3 Player.” We don’t do this to take credit, but to make it easy on the user. For example, when you start the “Instant Messenger” in LindowsOS, it says “Instant Messenger” but very clearly, right underneath it also says, “Powered by GAIM.” When you choose “MP3 Player” from the Launch Menu, it brings up a program called “MP3 Player,” but if you go to the menus or the about box, it says “About XMMS.”
We give credit where credit is due, and users can easily see the name of the underlying technology. We just put a friendlier name in the menus and title bar to make things easier to use for those new to Linux. I’ve noticed many of the other distributions have followed our lead on this.
4. A lot of Linux users think that Lindows.com doesn’t do enough to push its users to create user accounts and hence most LindowsOS users run as root. What is your opinion on the issue?
Kevin Carmony: Let me just say that LindowsOS is extremely secure, in some ways, more than most Linux distributions, and certainly more than MS Windows.
I think this stems mostly from the very first “Sneak Preview” of LindowsOS that came out two years ago. In that version, we didn’t yet have the system in place to set up users, even though it was always planned. As we have seen with the whole issue of people thinking we run MS Windows software, it’s hard to shake a first impression. If the way we do it today would have been what was in our very first Sneak Preview release, this would have never been an issue.
It’s true we don’t force users to run as user, but we certainly do everything short of that. We have the user set up an Admin password during install, and then present them with an easy-to-use screen to set up Users. We even have a page, right during install, that discusses security with the user, and explains how to use passwords, set up users, understand the LindowsOS firewall, etc. to increase the security of their computer.
By default, LindowsOS ships with a very strict firewall in place and no open network services. For this reason, remote hacks to the average user are extremely unlikely. The average user will not open ports to their computer and therefore the default settings of LindowsOS are very secure for these users. Fortunately, most advanced users who are knowledgeable enough to open a port, are also knowledgeable enough to use the firewall properly to avoid introducing any security vulnerabilities as well as know enough to click the “Add User” button.
As a Linux user, I think Linux should try to become as secure as possible while keeping the number of hoops the user must jump through to a minimum. I’d like to see Linux get smarter, not require training the user. The maintainers of the Kernel are working on making Linux just as secure when running as root as when running as a user. Now THAT’S what I’m talking about! Smarter technology so users can USE their computer, not be used by it.
Someone once told me that Lindows.com should in fact force users to run as user, and not even allow them to run as root. He used the example of how we have laws that force users to stop at red lights. I’d suggest the best thing to do is to build an overpass so that no one has to stop at red lights AND are even safer than using traffic lights at intersections. Smarter technology, not more training for users.
One great example of “smarter technology” is capabilities-based security, which provides a finer granularity of security. The best current practical implementation of this is “security enhanced” or SE Linux. Capabilities-based security shifts focus from what users can do to what each OS component can do. In the world of computing, we think it makes more sense to track computational objects, not humans. This is another open source technology we are proud to be supporting.
BUT…until Linux is smarter, we do all we can to educate users about using User accounts and make it very easy for them to do just that.
Finally, I’d offer there is actually one way in which LindowsOS is more secure than most other desktop Linux products, and that’s with the deployment of security patches. Because of our built-in CNR Technology which allows users to easily install any security patches as soon as they become available. We provide this in a way that even the most novice Linux user will get these patches, and they do not need to be a member of CNR to get these.
5. Because of your focus on ease-of-use, would you consider LindowsOS too simplified for more technical Linux users?
Kevin Carmony: Not at all. I think everyone appreciates a bit of polish and attention to details. LindowsOS might be pretty on the outside, but under the hood it’s pure, hard-core Debian Linux. For example, if someone is more technical and wants to forgo using CNR, they can still simply go to the command line and use apt. (There’s another one of those new terms 😉 Also, developers can use the LindowsOS Developer’s Edition if they want all the more technical goodies pre-installed. We don’t take any of the power away from Linux, we just put an easy-to-use coat of paint on top of it. Everyone at Lindows.com runs LindowsOS full time, both here at our offices as well as in their homes, so it needs to work for everyone, from the non-technical bookkeeper to our super-geek engineers. I’m glad we have a reputation for being easy to use, but I think even the die-hard Linux “geek” might be surprised at just how much power is under the hood of LindowsOS. (See question #6 if you’d like to see for yourself for free.)
6. What are the main differences of your product when compared to the ones of your two main competitors, Lycoris and Xandros?
Kevin Carmony: We only have one competitor that we care about, and that’s Microsoft. No one else has enough market share to bother with. You could take all the Linux desktop users from Red Hat, SuSE, Xandros, Lycoris, Mandrake, etc., and it wouldn’t be enough to keep any of us in business for long. The only thing I’d say about LindowsOS, as it compares to other Linux distributions, is that we focus exclusively on the desktop/laptop and go the extra mile to make Linux ultra easy to use. Some Linux users scoff when they see things in LindowsOS like our Audio Tutorials which tell a user how to Launch a program, but 95% of the world needs that sort of ease of use. We have 65 full-time employees (the vast majority of those being engineers) who do nothing but eat, sleep, and drink desktop/laptop Linux. I hope it shows. I’m confident it does.
I’d suggest the best way to know how we are different is to give LindowsOS a try, and since OSNews was kind enough to ask me these questions and post my answers, we’d like to give everyone reading this a free digital copy of LindowsOS. Simply go to http://lindows.com/buyit and select the digital copy of the LindowsOS Developer’s Edition. When you check out, use the coupon code “IReadOSNews” and you’ll get this $59.95 program for free. The coupon code will only be good for a day or two, so that we don’t go completely broke as this coupon code gets passed around. I apologize in advance if by the time you read this, you missed out on this offer. =) (You’re also welcome to choose the packaged version, but you’ll have to pay the extra $10 for the packaging as well as shipping and handling. Just use the same coupon code and it will deducted $59.95 from the $69.95 cost. If you get the free digital version, you download an .iso and burn your own CD.)
7. Lindows.com already includes its OS on many OEM PCs and laptops today. How easy (or difficult) was it to make such deals with retailers in this Microsoft world we live in?
Kevin Carmony: It’s extremely difficult, but we are fortunate to have not only a great engineering team, but also a wonderful sales force that has done an excellent job of cracking this open. Just this week we’re announcing the addition of Lee Little to our sales team. Lee is well known and respected in the OEM channel and was the previous Director of Sales from AMD who was instrumental in helping AMD compete so effectively against Intel. It takes a lot of resources, such as a big QA lab to certify all this hardware. We’ve had dozens of people working on this for two years, so no, it’s not easy. However, this is one of those areas where we’d like to think we’re helping to bring hundreds of new people to Linux every day. You have to remember that 95% of computer users have never installed an OS in their life. Most users just use the OS that comes pre-installed on their computer when they buy it, usually MS Windows. So, unless you can get Linux pre-installed on computers, you’ll never get to the masses. I’m sure this is a key reason that Microsoft dislikes us a great deal. We’ve cost them tens of millions of dollars in computers that have been shipped without MS Windows. We’re very proud of that accomplishment. =)
I’ve often said that the way Linux succeeds on the desktop is not by Lindows.com beating Microsoft, but by smaller hardware companies beating Dell, by leveraging the huge cost advantages of Linux. As long as Dell only offers MS Windows on their desktop computers, even the smallest system builder can now beat Dell pricing, simply by getting rid of the expensive “Microsoft Tax.” There are lots of companies now doing this. The KooBox is a good example of this. This is full computer with a flat-pannel LCD monitor for only $449. Dell can’t get to those prices, because they have to pay Microsoft and The KooBox doesn’t.
8. What happened with your plans for a TabletPC? Last year we heard about the DocuNote and Lindows, but later DocuNote shipped with Windows.
Kevin Carmony: We are still working on this. The Linux drivers for using a stylus on these devices was all but non existent, so it has taken a long time to make progress here. We decided that until our tablet support could do everything MS Windows offered, we didn’t want to release LindowsOS for these devices yet. Running LindowsOS on these machines isn’t hard, but having it take advantage of all the pen features is a very big challenge. Our CTO uses a pen computer running LindowsOS, so I know we’re getting close.
9. Lindows.com takes a more active participation to the KDE project lately. In what way would you like to get involved with the project?
Kevin Carmony: We have always used and supported KDE. We were one of the first sponsors of KDE League, at the highest level offered, back when it was formed. Some open source projects are easy to support financially, others are more difficult. KDE is a good example of one that because it’s so dispersed, it’s not like you can just write a check, sit back, and wait for it to get better. So yes, we’ve gotten a lot more involved in other ways lately. We think the biggest thing KDE needs is not necessarily in relationship to the desktop features, but more about KDE applications. This is why we wanted to sponsor KDE-apps.org and apps.kde.com. Look for a brand new KDE.com site to launch soon which we are backing, all with the hope of attracting more support to KDE application development. We are also working on a sizable bounty program to pay developers who work on certain KDE applications.
We are also working on some great KDE applications in house, which are open sourced and that we’ll be sharing with the world when LindowsOS 5.0 comes out. Linux needs more and better applications to succeed. That is the area we are spending most of our time, energy and dollars right now.
10. What is your opinion on Gnome, the main adversary of KDE? Which were the reasons that Lindows.com chose KDE over Gnome?
Kevin Carmony: Given our target market, the average computer user, we knew it wouldn’t be wise to present them with several choices for a desktop environment. We wanted to offer one desktop environment. We think there are a lot of great things about both KDE and GNOME. KDE was a little more comfortable in how it operated for our target audience, so we made that our default desktop. However, LindowsOS supports non-KDE apps in our OS, such as OpenOffice, Mozilla, GAIM, etc. This is another area we’re trying to spend some time and energy, with the integration between all these different type of environments. Our target market will be confused by different print dialog boxes, for example. We’re working to bring all these together, regardless if it’s KDE, GNOME or anything else, but yes, our main thrust is with KDE.
11. What are your engineers working on for LindowsOS 5.0? What new features are to be expected on 5.0?
Kevin Carmony: LindowsOS 5.0 will be our most ambitious release to date. It will have KDE 3.2, the 2.6 Kernel, and the new Reiser4 “unbreakable” file system. It also has a new look, that Everaldo and Ingo are working on. It also has a new CNR client (click-n-run) which has been re-written from the ground up, giving us the infrastructure for many of the new products and services that we’ll be introducing this year, such as LindowsOS Professional. We will also be introducing some NEW KDE applications, never before seen. Not to worry if you don’t use LindowsOS, as these new KDE applications will be open source.
Normally we don’t like talking about stuff before it comes out. Oops. 😉
12. You recently announced that Lindows.com now goes after the business desktop too. Will that be a different distro version than your home version? Can your 40-50-employee company offer professional support to the demanding business market?
Kevin Carmony: LindowsOS Professional will be out later this year. It is a slightly different OS, but 90% of the changes are server side. One of the things you’ll be able to do with LindowsOS Professional is deploy applications to desktops within an organization via any web browser, using our CNR technology. There will also be server-side features, such as data storage, syncing, groupware, etc. A company will also be able to co-mingle their own software library with our CNR Warehouse.
We have 65 employees and are growing. Yes, we’re confident that we can offer a solid product for businesses. If you look at most new, disruptive technology, it’s the small, new companies that innovates, not the “big boys.” Amazon.com, Yahoo!, Google, eBay, Red Hat, and even Apple, AOL, Dell and Microsoft in their day, were all small, yet they each forged new industries. Big companies rarely innovate. When a company is already on top, they see no need to fix or change anything. So yes, the big boys will have their hands full with Lindows.com.
13. Anything else you’d like to add?
Kevin Carmony: Just a ‘thank you’ for letting me answer your questions. We have always had a super vibrant community among LindowsOS users, but we were so busy the last two years just building our product, we didn’t do a very good job of communicating with the outside world. I think our lack of communication outside of our own community led to some misunderstandings about us. I have personally been trying to make myself more available to correct that. In the absence of hearing from Lindows.com directly, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise. So, thank you for helping us educate your readers with what we’re trying to accomplish here at Lindows.com.
Related reading: DesktopOS.com’s interview with Kevin Carmony.