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Interview with Milan Kazarka
Posted on January 19, 2012 by David Abbott

gentoo

Milan is from Foresight Media s.r.o, who produce interactive Touch Tables, that run Gentoo Linux. One of the products are a low cost alternative to Microsoft's Surface. Milan, thank you very much for your time. My first question is this:

  1. Who is Milan and how did you get started with Gentoo?
    • I guess I'm a product designer, developer, entrepreneur and part time artist living in Central Europe usually in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. To be able to create inventions, new gadgets you either need a ton of money or you learn how to do many things by yourself in a garage or in my case in my atelier. For me it would be quite depressing to ‘just design' something :) And so I create prototypes, which I push into serial production like my touch table designs. When I was 13 years old I accidentally saw a magazine with a penguin. I thought it was a cool logo of something. Then I saw it said that there's a free CD of an operating system that I haven't heard of. I could not hack my pre-installed commercial software enough and so I gave it a try and I guess it's the usual story of many Open Source and Linux geeks from there on :) After some time using various Linux distributions I saw that the complexity and the number of regressions in many of them has become so high over the years that I needed a system that would let me stay in control and a system that would value it's own design. Gentoo was a natural choice.
  2. Walk me through the process of developing the software for the Touch Tables?
    • Well I think it's all just about a bunch of pixels and getting them on the right positions at the right time :) For creating software for products like touch tables for use in the hospitality industry you need to be able to present easy to use interfaces to your user in an elegant way. It's not about how much content and widgets you put onto a screen, but mostly about UX and a ton of optimizations. The software that you create needs to be intuitive, it needs to run 24/7 and must be optimized for the type of touch technology you are using. I spend eighty percent of my time on the framework that's used to develop the end user / interactive applications. I'm for example finding ways of how to bring the user embedded multimedia content or web content. This is quite easy using mplayer and webkit, but you need to do a lot of optimizations for the software to still be fast. Again this is only about moving pixels from one position to another. Then we create demo applications to show to our potential partners and applications for our clients. This can't take too much time, because you may not succeed in business all the time. We can't afford to create large monolithic applications, which would need to be always rewritten. I personally am an old school type of person. I use tools like the editor ‘joe' and I have a few xterm's open on my desktop all the time. There still are not many processes in the development. Maybe when there will be more people involved. In a small team I like to rely on intuition.
  3. Why was Gentoo chosen for the build system?
    • I prefer Gentoo, because it's a system that I can have the control of and which I can tweak to suite any need. I believe I use it, because it's so versatile - it's a canvas I can paint on. As a developer and administrator you want to be in charge and you want to know the outcome of your decisions. Gentoo has ways of doing things which keeps the overall architecture of the system stable even when adding more and more functionality to it. Many distributions gotten this wrong. Portage is great in this. My grandpa who's eighty years old says that the more functionality a gadget has the more likely it will break. Defeating this rule is called good design.
  4. Tell me about the suite for creating interactive appliances you are developing?
    • The suite is developed from scratch in C/C++. We have our own canvas ‘desktop' on which our application's interfaces are painted on to. You are presented with something similar to a desktop with windows, just scaled down, simplified and tweaked for touch. There are a lot of places where you can tweak user events processing to suite a variety of touch technologies. You want an event of touching a button to be the same on a projected capacitive sensor as on an infrared sensor. The applications are backed by our framework with it's simple widget set. I try to keep the whole platform largely self contained, so as a developer you just download the SDK to your system and you start working with the libraries provided. I've included the open source libraries whose license allows it in the SDK itself for convenience. The suite acts as a separate software platform, since you can develop applications that run so to say 'inside it'. You can currently have a for example background application displaying some digital signage type of content - some moving images. An application which you can move around, which displays a sushi menu and a movie also in a movable and able to rotate window. I usually write an app on less than 500 lines of code - otherwise I start working again on the framework. In end effect you are able to create interactive interfaces without needing to take care of the limitations and para-dimes of the classical ‘Desktop'. You design what you really need and you implement it fast.
  5. What hardware do you develop on?
    • I have a home brew computer - it's an old Intel Celeron with a Gigabyte of Ram and a cooler which sounds like a jet engine. That said - my favorite machine - a Fujitsu Siemens Scenic broke last month and I didn't have the time to repair it. There is also a Sun Ultra 5 and a few ThinkPads in my closet. I learned programming in C on a ThinkPad 600e.
  6. What will you use “Milan Linux” for in future projects?
    • Oh there are a lot of planed projects :D What I want to do it make things cheaper. I really don't think a touch table for 10k is the answer and I also can't see why home automation systems or high end touchscreen systems can't have cheaper open source alternatives. My philosophy is to create products that aren't big large loud boxes, but are integrated into people's surroundings in a natural and non intrusive way. I plan to release a live CD sometime soon. I don't want to be held back by any limitations. There are people out there that have great ideas, but they don't want to bring them out because they are afraid to break some rules or they are afraid to only address a very slim set of users. This is bad and limits innovation. You can expect Milan Linux to be experimental as can be.
  7. Who are some of the people you work with?
    • There are various great people I work with :) Peter Tarhovicky who runs Foresight Media fmedia.sk helps me greatly in putting my things on the market beginning with marketing, sales and ending with production and prototyping. We run simplemediaplatform.com together. Michal Pazitny is a brilliant designer and production specialist running formlab.sk. I think they made over twelve million pieces of car parts he designed. He helps out with serial production. He knows how to 'make anything'. Tomas Krze krze.ic.cz is the one responsible for a large part of our identity, logos and visualisations. He has his fingers in every project we do. He's also a great musician and a best friend. Miro Fedor is our web guy with whom I work on online management suites to manage some of our apps remotely. He's part of the formation arzen.sk Then there is a network of people and companies that help out. Sorry if I say this, but the crisis has changed one thing. We now know that there might not be a cozy job around the corner providing us with a safety net if things go bad. The crisis has shown me that there is never spare time to accept a helping hand and to put any of your ideas on paper.
  8. What aspects of Gentoo do you feel the developers and maintainers have got right?
    • They put emphasis on clean design.
  9. What is it about Gentoo you would like to see improved?
    • I believe that Gentoo is ideal for building gadgets / interactive products / mobile systems. Work could be done on providing tools, ways and demos on how to do this. I think this should be supported and promoted more, since I believe that this is the future.
  10. What are some of the projects within Gentoo that you would enjoy contributing to?
    • I like doing photo sessions, since I worked in a small modeling agency. I could arrange a few great looking girls with ‘Gentoo' t-shirts. This always helps any project :) And if there would be some project with the emphasis on touch, mobile and interactive than I would most probably want to work on it.



Page updated January 19, 2012

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