Interview with Milan Kazarka
Posted on January 19, 2012
by David Abbott
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:
- 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.
- Walk me through the process of developing the software for the Touch
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- What aspects of Gentoo do you feel the developers and maintainers have
- They put emphasis on clean design.
- 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.
- What are some of the projects within Gentoo that you would enjoy
- 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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