Interview with Jonathan Thomas, creator of the OpenShot video editor
Paul Cutler interviews Jonathan Thomas, creator of the OpenShot video editor. OpenShot is a non-linear video editor with support for many audio and video codecs, GNOME drag and drop support, titles, transitions video encoding and transcoding and more.
Would you please introduce yourself?
My name is Jonathan Thomas, and I am the creator of OpenShot Video Editor. I am a professional software developer, and spend much of my day working on proprietary software for a private company in Texas. I divide the rest of my time between OpenShot and my family.
According to the OpenShot website, you started using Ubuntu in early 2008 and the lack of a video editor led you to create OpenShot. How did you teach yourself Linux and create OpenShot in less than two years?
Soon after evaluating Ubuntu, I had it installed as my primary operating system. It captivated me, just as it has captivated so many other people. I am still not a Linux “expert”, but I am extremely focused, and only learned what was necessary for OpenShot to succeed.
OpenShot uses GTK, Python and MLT (Media Lovin’ Toolkit – an open source multimedia framework). What process did you go through to choose these languages and tools to develop OpenShot?
Well, having never used any of those technologies, I had to start from the beginning. Since I was more familiar with Gnome, GTK seemed like a natural choice. After a brief look at the Mono Framework, I decided on Python. One of the main factors for choosing Python was its impressive support for multimedia library bindings, such as GStreamer and MLT.
What advantages did you feel MLT had over Gstreamer?
I had originally chosen GStreamer and Gnonlin as the multimedia framework for OpenShot. But I quickly ran into many issues, such as no support for transitions, no support for compositing multiple videos and images, inactive mailing list, and a complicated API. I invested a lot of time into GStreamer, and it was a good learning experience, but just not right for OpenShot. Had MLT not existed, this would have been the end of OpenShot. Not wanting to give up, I then re-evaluated the MLT framework.
The MLT framework has a wonderful API, great documentation and examples, an active mailing list, support for transitions, compositing, key-frames, audio and video effects, and much more. For a more detailed comparison of the two frameworks, you can read my comparison,
As someone who is fairly new to GTK, what do you like about GTK?
I choose GTK primarily because it was the standard toolkit of Gnome. I wanted OpenShot to look like a native application in Gnome, and so I chose GTK. In addition, KDE already has a great video editor based on the MLT framework called Kdenlive (which uses the QT toolkit).
What do you feel were the disadvantages in using (or learning) GTK?
I do not feel there were any disadvantages in using GTK. I am very happy with that decision.
A number of video editors for Linux have come and gone, such as Diva. In less than two years, how have you built a community around OpenShot?
So many open-source projects do not communicate with their users. They infrequently update their websites, don’t use their mailing lists, or just flat out don’t listen to their users. From the beginning, I decided to create a blog, and write about every decision, idea, and feature I thought up. When users spoke, I listened and responded. It did not take long before I had many dedicated users offering advice, feedback, and suggestions. Now, we have hundreds of users offering feedback every month, and I am very proud of the community we have become.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome throughout the development process?
The biggest challenge I have had to overcome has been trying to build an installer for OpenShot. Packaging requires a lot of knowledge about how Linux works, and this was probably why I had so much difficulty learning it. I spent 2 full months trying to learn Debian packaging. However, if I had not learned how to package OpenShot, tens of thousands of users would not have been able to evaluate it, and OpenShot would have a much smaller community.
As a side note, I am still waiting on a Debian sponsor for OpenShot. This is necessary so Ubuntu can include OpenShot in Lucid Lynx
What led you to choose using Launchpad for development and how did it make it easier?
I was impressed with Launchpad’s integration of Bazaar, bug tracking, and translations. Bazaar has been awesome, and is much better than any professional source control package I have used. The translations module in Launchpad is also great, and has allowed many OpenShot users to contribute to their favorite language. I imagine we would not have translations for 42 languages if I had not choosen Launchpad.
With the recent release of OpenShot 1.0 this past January, what does the future roadmap hold for OpenShot?
We are in the process of building a roadmap for version 1.1 on LaunchPad. However, we are doing a bit of house cleaning on our bug reports at the moment. In the next week or so, we will start discussing the specifics of our next version. All I can say, is there are many awesome features we have in the works, so stay tuned.