Interview: Chris Smart of the Korora Project
MontanaLinux: Please tell me about yourself... as much as you feel comfortable with... as open or as closed as you want to be... family, education, work, hobbies, religion, volunteering, diet, music tv / movies, etc.
Chris Smart: I'm just another Linux geek. I love computers and Free and Open Source Software, having been involved in it for over a decade for both work and pleasure. Let me see... I'm an Australian bloke in my 30's, coming from a family of six (evenly split boys and girls), happily married with one child (and another on the way). I'm currently studying part-time Masters of IT at Australian National University and I work for a local firm full-time developing software that runs on Linux based products.
ML: How long have you been using Linux and how did you get into it?
CS: In 1999 I was working for a local Internet Service Provider and most of our systems were Linux based, so that was my initial introduction. I recall Linux Care was renting office space next door on the same floor and I got to know a bunch of great hackers, including Andrew (Tridge) Tridgell, Hugh Blemings, Paul Mackerras, Stephen Rothwell, Rusty Russell and others. I didn't understand much of what they talked about but I loved spending time with them, although I'm sure that I was quite annoying. I was very lucky to have such an introduction to open source software and in a way these guys became my open source heroes who I still look up to.
ML: What was the first Linux distro?
CS: If I recall correctly it was Red Hat 5.2, although I also dabbled in Debian and shortly thereafter Gentoo. The reason I switched to Gentoo was that I was hungry to learn more about Linux and that seemed like a great way – build your own operating system. Cool. I have to say that I learned more using Gentoo in 3 days than I did the others in 3 months. I loved it, and I was hooked.
ML: Do you use Linux in your job?
CS: Yep, exclusively.
ML: Do you listen to any Linux audiocasts and if so, what?
CS: I have in the past but I can't recall what they were now. From memory I found that the news was usually quite old for me given my massive daily RSS feed haul, so I stopped shortly thereafter.
ML: Where did the name Korora come from? Is it Kororaa or Korora?
CS: Kororā is the Māori word for the Little Blue Penguin (also known as the Fairy Penguin) which is native to Australia and New Zealand, so it seemed like the perfect name for an Australian based distro when we started back in 2005. I guess I could have also called it Fairy Linux but that didn't seem to have the ring to it. Originally we spelled this with two a's on the end due to the accent on the letter however some years later it seemed unbalanced and so I changed it from “Kororaa Linux” to “Korora Project” when we wanted to better reflect the Fedora Project.
ML: You started Korora in 2005 and it was originally based on Gentoo. How did that get started?
CS: I loved playing with Gentoo but copped a lot of criticism from others about “compile time” and “over optimising GCC flags”. I wanted to show that Gentoo could be more than just that, so made a binary install method for Gentoo. It started out as a script and then later became its own install media. One day I was playing with the new AIGLX/Compiz 3D desktop and thought, “I could turn this into an awesome live CD,” and so I did. That was pretty popular back in the day.
ML: In 2010, you switched to Fedora as the base for Korora. What lead to the switch?
CS: I stopped work on Korora for a few years for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was just too much work for me. I started using other distros like Ubuntu and Arch, however I was always drawn to Fedora because I liked the principles of the project. As many who know me can testify, I eagerly tried every new Fedora release but quickly became frustrated because I just couldn't get it to do the things I wanted: config files were in different places, packages were different, etc. After using apt-get, yum was horribly slow and painful. I always gave up.
Then one day in 2009 I decided, “no, I'm going to force myself to use Fedora for 3 months, no matter what!” It was hard, but it worked and at the end of that 3 months, I was loving it. Although it's quite bleeding edge, I surprisingly found it much more stable than Ubuntu which I had starting becoming very frustrated with. I think that's a testament to the awesome Fedora community as well as their dedication to working with upstream to get things fixed.
ML: What do you like about Fedora?
CS: I spell out many of the reasons why I like Fedora and therefore why Korora is derived from it on our website. Really it comes down to the project's core values; Freedom, Friends, Features, First.
A central goal for Fedora is advancing Free Software and content freedom, which benefits everyone. They don't support proprietary software, they create replacements for it (take the Nouveau driver for instance). New releases often showcase the latest in Free Software innovation; technologies that many other distros will also adopt.
I really admire Fedora's policy of working as closely with upstream as possible. Features and fixes are shared to the benefit of everyone, which helps to make existing projects better. That's the Free Software way. To me it creates a much better, more stable operating system.
ML: Has the Fedora community been friendly towards Korora?
CS: It is now, I think, although I doubt that many in the community have even heard of it. Originally some members were very vocal about not supporting us, particularly if anyone came onto the #fedora IRC channel and asked for help. This turned out to be because of a misunderstanding that Korora was not open source and that we didn't document the changes we make to the system. Once I cleared that up and wrote a new page on our website dedicated to explaining what's inside our remix, it seems that “Korora” isn't a dirty word any more. And that's great. It really makes me happy because at the end of the day Korora is about making Fedora more attractive to people like I used to be , when I kept trying it all those times but not sticking with it. Fortunately I didn't give up in the end, but I'm sure that many do and that's a shame. We hope to fix that and show what using Fedora can really be like.
ML: If you had a magic wand and could change something about Fedora, what would it be?
CS: I honestly don't know! I think if I could change something about Korora, it would be more great ideas and more contributors to help us make them become a reality.
ML: Obviously Korora is fun for you. What do you enjoy about it the most?
CS: I enjoy the fact that Korora is useful to others. It's definitely a lot of work and very time consuming, but I like making things and I like seeing those things enjoyed.
On Korora Development
ML: Korora 19 was released on the same day as Fedora 19. Is matching Fedora's release dates a goal of yours?
CS: I think that releasing 19 on the same day was actually a mistake, as Korora got drowned out in Fedora's deserved limelight. We do want to release as close as possible, so we are aiming for a release within two weeks of Fedora's beta and stable releases. Having said that, it also depends on third party repositories like RPMFusion, which can sometimes lag behind a Fedora release. We're now also releasing five desktops instead of just two (plus two architectures of each) so without help from the community this can blow out the time frame.
ML: What is "Korora Package" aka KP?
CS: Building Korora involves the use of a number of command line tools like git for revision control, mock to build packages, and livecd-creator to make the iso images. We wrote kp to manage that process which makes it easy for us to work collaboratively. Being a small project we don't have the resources for large build farms. It's not fancy, but it works well and means any user can rebuild Korora for themselves.
ML: Looking at your Team page (https://kororaproject.org/about/team/), three people are listed... you, Ian Firns and Jim Dean. With the death of Fuduntu and more recently, SolusOS... there seems to be a growing fear of giving smaller distributions a chance. What assurances can you offer potential Korora users that Korora isn't going away any time soon?
CS: Well, we all work full time jobs and have families, so there are no guarantees. We don't have commercial backing, no-one pays us, in fact like many small projects it costs us our own hard-earned cash to keep Korora going.
Having said that, I don't think that it's a risk to anyone who wants to try Korora, I mean you just install it and away you go. Ideally, you upgrade every 6 months or a year. So even if we disappeared tomorrow I don't think it would hurt anyone who's a user of the system. If you are talking about contributors, well I'd like to think that we have a strong enough community to keep it going, even if some of the main developers couldn't continue, but we're not at that stage yet. I hope that what we're trying to achieve resonates with contributors out there who would be able to carry on.
Having said that, I don't know what the motivations for those other projects were, but we make Korora because we love Fedora. As long as Fedora is around and won't ship the software we are able to, we feel there's a place for Korora. We all use Korora ourselves because it does what we want and makes it simple.
Hopefully as Korora gets popular and more and more people support us, the more our motivation grows.
ML: To what degree would end users be affected if you did get hit by a bus?
CS: I don't think they'd be affected at all immediately, as Firnsy can fill the gap. What it would mean is that resources are stretched a little more thin. It might change the direction of the project somewhat if someone else is running it, but I think if it's true to our goal it would be fine.
ML: Are there any particular development areas you are looking for help with?
CS: There is so much that could be done and much of it is really simple. The best is testing and feedback, just telling us what worked and what didn't is super helpful (even better with solutions!).
There are a number of packages that we ship (like some Mozilla plugins) which someone could easily manage, or even just notifying us of new versions.
It would be great to have people take over the configuration of certain desktops like KDE and GNOME. We have a new contributor who has done just that with Xfce and that was the key to making it possible at all. We may end up dropping some desktops if there isn't enough support or desire for them.
It would be great to be able to have a fantastic, unique look and feel for Korora, so anyone with artwork skills could help there.
Any of that would all mean we have more time to concentrate on future direction and features we want to implement.
Finally, just spreading the word on Korora. If you like it, let everyone know. The more popular we get the more the community grows and the more we can achieve.
ML: Is there anything I neglected to ask about that you'd like to mention?
CS: Download Korora today! :-)
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.