What happens when ex-Lycoris employees join a Linux-friendly hardware computer reseller? Apparently, a new desktop Linux distro with a kick: the hardware that comes with it is meant to give you the Apple experience. ION Linux is a Debian-based distro that is meant to work well with the hardware it sells with. Read on for our interview with Element Computer‘s Mike Hjorleifsson (one of the founders and CTO) regarding their new upcoming products and a screenshot of ION.1. The first thing that really caught my eye from your services is your support. You offer “12 Incidents software coverage for USING the OS”, while your competitors usually only offer installation help (which you only do once…). Tell us about what made you push your Linux support to be more “meaty” than the competitions.
Element Computer: User feedback and an understanding of the IT process. When you run a business, you don’t want to be left hanging after you install their systems. People want to know that help is there if they need it, and oustanding support is a value-add only Element brings to the table.
2. Tell us a bit about your hardware. How do you choose components that are known to work with Linux? Are you developing extra drivers for them?
Element Computer: We do a lot of testing. Currently we are working with Manufacturers’ existing product lines and selecting them based on compatibility and driver availability. Our next phase will include “Built for Linux” mobile devices, where the re-manuf. chipset decisions will revolve around chipset open source driver availability, stability and maturity.
3. You are aiming to bring the Apple taste on x86: hardware and software working together peacefully. How well has this interoperability worked out for you so far? How are you going to market your products?
Element Computer: As we control the hardware platform we ship, much like Apple, we can build a more robust distribution tailored for our devices, providing less of a vanilla install then other distros and operating systems additionally we performance-tune the distribution to gain optimum performance / stability balance and the testing of peripheral devices to ensure compatibility.
4. Tell us about the software. How big is your software development team? What are the main targets of your distro?
Element Computer: The distribution is Debian based, and built on top of another outstanding distribution which we are not at liberty to name just yet. Our team leverages the Open Source community’s efforts and supplements them with internal development and QA testing, as does our software partner. That makes sense for our customers and business users in general because they have higher standards and need to get work done.
ION is kind of like “tripple-checked” GNU/linux. We don’t publicly state who and where our developers are for obvious reasons.
5. Is your distro going to be sold seperately, or only part of your hardware? Is your hardware going to be sold on other retail outlets except your own store as well?
Element Computer: ION is sold only with the hardware, our strategy is to provide a truly turnkey point-click-work experience. We welcome retail outlet partners to join our efforts, though initially we are launching via our own facilities and the Internet.
6. The software upgrade function you developed is unique to the hardware the software runs. Is this a sure bet that weird incompatibilities of third party software won’t be introduced for the different versions of the software?
Element Computer: Yes, and additionally to ensure that the upgrades are “bulletproof”, we do the testing which the open source community usually leaves to the end user as an additional value to our clients and to ensure their Element Computer are stable. There are actually two ways to get additional software for your Element Computer, you can get supported packages from Element, or use the Do-It-Yourself apt section.
7. Are you going to provide a dev kit? Will stock Debian software will run via apt-get?
Element Computer: We “allow”, but don’t support DIY apt-get functionality, apt is configured to pull from our selected sources, not the standard Debian apt repositories. An experienced user can easily add standard Debian repositories and install packages themselves, though our tracking system will pick it up and those self-tested, self-installed packages will not be supported by the standard warranty/support.
8. Who do you consider your competitors? Windows and OSX or the Linux desktop-only distros of Lycoris/Xandros/Lindows?
Element Computer: Apple is definetly a ‘true’ competitor, as our model is very similar to theirs in that we bind hardware and software for proper usability. We provide strong Windows connectivity though, and can live in a heterogenous Windows environment. We are obviously providing a more robust experience than the “install it yourself, support yourself” typical Windows mantra. Element isn’t a Linux distribution company for the masses like Lindows, Lycoris, Mandrake etc. That model has yet to prove itself as a profitable long term strategy, there are just to many hardware variables for these firms to contend with, and expend development resources on, Element is about turnkey point-click-work solutions.
9. Do you have plans for a server version of your software and hardware?
Element Computer: Not a “server version”, per-se, since we think of our products as hardware solutions, but we will be releasing an appliance solution called Fusion. It will provide the same point-click-work functionality for server solutions such as email, security, cms etc.. revolving around the current Open Source best of breed. We invite developers of open source applications to join our EDEN [Element Developer and Educational
Network] developers group which will be launched later this year, and provides them a solid platform on which to deploy their solutions.
10. What kind of preference panels are you offering with the OS? Are you rewriting pref panels like Lycoris did?
Element Computer: We try to stick with the standard open source panels provided with KDE and related KDE projects, but when there is a lack of a necessary tool we use a customized one that fits with the KDE Control Panel API to give the user a consistant experience, and help support standardization on the KDE API.