If you’re a GNOME user and happen to attend open source events, chances are that you’ve either met or seen Ken Vandine, and how could you miss him? Founder of the Foresight Linux distribution and long time contributor to open source projects in general, he is the most upbeat and easy going person you’ll ever meet! Ken and I met when I moved to North Carolina and was looking for a job. Fast forward 3 years later and he is still the same affable person who spends way too many hours working on his projects and getting close to no sleep. GeekDeck managed to get a hold of him via IRC long enough to ask him a few questions and kick start this new column, Walkabout! So take a walk with Ken and I if you will and get to know him a bit more.
GeekDeck: Tell us a bit about yourself and what influenced you to get started with Open Source?
Ken VanDine: Community… I am a pretty social guy, and I really loved the inviting nature of community participation. I think that is why the GNOME Love initiative is so important to me, I want to show others how they can get involved and really make a difference. Open Source isn’t just about the software, it is about people too.
GeekDeck: You are responsible for spearheading and maintaining the Foresight Linux project. Why did you decide to create your own distribution and what was your immediate objective?
Ken VanDine: I have been a GNOME user for many years now and probably really got more involved in GNOME advocacy just a couple years ago shortly before I created Foresight. I realized there was some very interesting work being done on desktop tools, but they were hard to integrate into existing distros. There just wasn’t an easy way for users to see what was on the horizon and how great Linux on the desktop was becoming. So I created Foresight in 2005 to showcase some of these technologies that I thought were going to make a big impact.
GeekDeck: How did you turn your “hobby” distribution into something that could attract other fellow enthusiasts? In other words, what did you do to get people to join the project, and more importantly, what made them stick around?
Ken VanDine: I think it was mostly our friendly, inviting IRC channel. Also the rolling release concept really attracted lots of folks; they like the “new” stuff. I also credit conary a fair bit; the ease of packaging is really unsurpassed, which opened it up to more people that would otherwise not be able to get into packaging.
GeekDeck: Do you still think that Foresight is achieving its original objective from when you first started the project?
Ken VanDine: Yes and no actually; some of that really new technology has made it into the more main stream distros and the pool of really innovative stuff that isn’t available yet is getting shallower. This is a great thing, it means we are getting better 🙂 Foresight has turn more into getting the software to the users faster, with it’s rolling release model.
GeekDeck: I had the pleasure of working with you at rPath and the one question I’ve always had is: how many hours do you sleep and do you have caffeine running through your veins? Hehehehe now, seriously, how many hours do you devote to your projects on a daily basis?
Ken VanDine: I generally get very little sleep, not sure how I do it. I usually get to bed around 1am and get up at 7am; when I was with rPath and had to drive to work I was up by 6am… so now I get an extra hour of sleep, yay!
GeekDeck: Early this year you left rPath and started working for Canonical. What can you tell us about the work that you are doing now and what can Ubuntu users expect from the work you’re doing?
Ken VanDine: I am working as an Ubuntu Desktop Integration Engineer, helping the Ayatana (AKA Desktop Experience) and Online services teams get their cool new stuff into the distro. There is some cool stuff being worked on for sure; we just announced the first beta of the Ubuntu One service , and Jaunty included the new notification system as well as the messaging indicator. What comes next should be clearly after UDS later this month.
GeekDeck: What does your envolvement with the Ubuntu distribution mean for Foresight users? Do you see yourself passing the Foresight baton to someone else and focus more on Ubuntu work or can you see a way of juggling both worlds?
Ken VanDine: I plan to continue working on Foresight as long as I can. So far my new job really has only changed one thing, I spend less daytime hours working on Foresight. I still love Foresight, and I really feel like it is a way for me to express myself a bit. It is molded after what I think the desktop should be.
GeekDeck: What is your idea of the perfect desktop for a home user? What applications, features and specific technologies would you use to create this utopic desktop?
Ken VanDine: I think the real key to the perfect desktop is one that seamless integrates your life. Easy to use applications are important, like banshee, tomboy, f-spot, pidgin, etc. But being able to effectively use those applications in a modern computing era with many users having more than one computer, and the ever growing desire for social technologies. I want to import a photo from my camera on my desktop with f-spot, send it to my mother without opening some web page or another application… let her comment that the picture is great except for the runny nose, see her response later that evening on my laptop and clean up the runny nose on my laptop and publish it again. For me that is the ideal situation: your data is everywhere you are, and the applications know how to access it. This is why I am so excited about the Ubuntu One service; the infrastructure to do just that is there now… someone needs to just do it. So in short… cloud integration in the desktop, using web services in a web browser is soooo 2005 🙂
GeekDeck: You are a busy father of 3 (last time I checked) and seems to always be present in their school activities. What advice do you have for those of us who are also full-time parents and have to juggle different open source projects?
Ken VanDine: Dedicate your time to the kids first, they are precious and your actions have a huge impact on them. When they go to bed you have plenty of time to hack. My kids go to bed by 8pm (generally), which gives me a solid 3+ hours to dedicate to my hobby (I have an amazing wife!). It does get harder to dedicate time to my projects, now that I have a baby again. His schedule isn’t very predicable yet, he seems to always have an ear infection and trouble sleeping. But again that takes priority, if he has a good night I get plenty of time to work on what I want to, if not I end up holding him which is great too.
Og Maciel is a QA Engineer for rPath and a long time contributor to the translation efforts of several upstream projects. When not spearheading new projects or communities, he likes to fish, watch ice hockey and spend time with his 2 lovely daughters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Photo supplied by Kevin Harriss