Creating the GNOME 2.18 Live Media: An interview with Ken VanDine

Paul Cutler interviews Ken VanDine, founder of Foresight Linux, on building images for the recent GNOME 2.18 Live Media release. Ken discusses his goals in helping create new GNOME Live Media, the tools he used in putting the different images together, and his plans for future GNOME Live Media releases.

Short Intro

  • Located in: Durham, NC
  • Profession: Director of Management Engineering, rPath, Inc
  • Nickname on IRC: kenvandine
  • Homepage or blog:


How and when did you get involved in GNOME?

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. Things like Beagle, Howl (replaced by Avahi since), Mono, etc.

I also found that all the really innovative work was being done in GNOME. GNOME is really making the Desktop simple and appealing to new users. I knew I preferred GNOME, but when I started to think about how we could get more new Linux desktop users, GNOME was really the only choice. GNOME keeps it simple, where traditionally Linux has been about being infinitely configurable. This is not a winning philosophy when it comes to attracting new users. Simple is better, however the power users prefer more flexibility and GNOME also provides that. (Although I think we need a better tool for advanced configuration than gconf-editor). So this got me really fired up to create just that Desktop experience, and Foresight was born. I also started contributing articles to GNOME Journal focusing on topics that helped new users.

You recently led the effort in creating GNOME Live Media, including a new LiveCD and a number of virtualization images for the recent 2.18 release. What motivated you to create the Live Media?

I have been interested in GNOME advocacy for awhile and just wanted to help. I also happen to work with rBuilder on a daily basis that can build a variety of virtual image types including a LiveCD, so I have quite a bit of experience now in doing so.

You helped create four types of Live Media, the LiveCD, a VMWare image, a QEMU image and a Microsoft VHD image. What led you to create more than just a LiveCD?

Primary reason is to make it as easily consumed by as many people as possible. VMware player is free and easy for anyone to get and hence the most popular. LiveCD requires burning a disc and rebooting. Parrallels is popular for Mac, but it also has versions for Windows and Linux. QEMU is just dirt simple to get running on Linux. Not sure about Microsoft Virtual PC, but it is just an extra click to create it, so why not?

Within two weeks, you released 4 different types of images twice, once with the GNOME 2.17.92 testing images, and then the official GNOME 2.18 images on release day. What tools did you use in creating the Live Media? How much time did you spend in creating the images?

It actually isn’t that much work to create the live images… Not much more than clicking a few buttons in rBuilder since I already maintain all the packages in Foresight. Packaging new GNOME versions is just something I would be doing anyway. Our goal is to always provide GNOME beta through final release to Foresight users. So we get some good testing the weeks leading up to GNOME release day.

Using the rPath tools make it pretty easy to stay on top of packaging GNOME. Conary as a package manager and rMake as the build tool just make it easy to do continuous builds as tarballs that show up on the ftp site.

Was there anything unexpected that caught you by surprise in putting together the Live Media? What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with the release?

The biggest challenge was actually bugs in the LiveCD image creation in rBuilder. It had been well tested, but mostly for things without Xorg. And LiveCDs that had been built with Xorg used the old monolithic Xorg 6.8.2. There was a bug in determining the default runlevel since Foresight ships Xorg 7.2. So this did uncover a bug in rBuilder which was fixed very quickly, and I was able to do some good rBuilder testing.

Are you planning another Live Media release for the GNOME 2.20 release cycle? If so, what would you do differently?

Definitely! I was very pleased to do it for 2.18 and plan to keep it going. In fact, something I hadn’t considered before doing this was the benefit to the translators. I got some great feedback from them this time. It seems they hadn’t had a chance to really see their work yet. For the next release, I will be creating Live images well before 2.20, maybe even before the beta. This should allow more visibility to folks that don’t want to actually build GNOME for themselves. They can download snapshots, test their translations… or experiment with new features to provide feedback for things like writing release notes or even filing bug reports.

How can others get involved in helping out with the Live Media release?

I would love to see more testers, some folks that could download the images and report issues quickly. This was the most time consuming part of the process, booting each image and ensuring everything worked as desired. The Foresight Linux project would welcome developers, which is where all the real work that leads to the Live images is done. Seeding the torrent is also a great way to help.

Can you share any download statistics about the different images that users have downloaded since the release of the Live Media on March 15th?

We had about 35000 the first 3 days but they have slowed now. I think we are getting around 1500 per day still.

Thank you to Ken for creating the Live Media releases for the GNOME 2.18 release, and for taking the time for this interview. Ken is the founder and lead developer of Foresight Linux.

GNOME 2.18 Live Media images are available for download at

About the author

Paul Cutler has been a GNOME user since 1999, and converted to using Linux full time in early 2005. He has lurked on many GNOME mailing lists for a number of years, and is trying to get more involved in the GNOME community starting with this article. Paul recently joined the Foresight Linux team helping with documentation and marketing.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.


Posted on June 24, 2007, in June 2007. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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