Interview With Stephane Richard

So, who, what and where are you?

My name is Stephane Richard, I was born in Canada (not by choice) I'm 38 years old soon to be 39. I'm a software developer by career and by hobby at home. I've loved programming since I was 7 years old which means I've been programming since before most of the people reading this were even born, 32 years of coding behind me and I'm still loving it. What got me started in programming was when I was 7, I went to the local library (originally to get some 7 year old reading stuff). I happened to walk in front of the computer book section of the library, those things with all the buttons got my attention. So I opened my first computer related book and well fell in love with programming right then and there.

What i do know already is that you are experienced Microsoft Windows user, and i also know you switched to Ubuntu few months ago. Could you now give us some background behind of your decision to change from familiar environment to world of Linux?

Two things actually made me make the move to a Linux environment. The first one is my computer broke down a few months ago. The motherboard got fried and the Internet without my presence was known as the Internet's darkest hour. After talking to a few friends from my wife's computer, one of them decided to send me a Dell server that wasn't being used so that I would at least have a computer. A gesture I still appreciate today a few months later. When we talked about it back then, the issue of which OS I wanted to have on that computer came up.

For at least a good year, you and I have been talking about both of us uninstalling windows and going Linux all the way. And I can honestly say that although I've never done it (for reasons beyond my control) I was seriously, even back then considering making the jump to Linux. Most of the reason were the constant problem I was getting using the Windows computer I had. But the other reason was that I did want to explore the Linux avenue deeper. So when my friend asked me about which OS I wanted on that computer I just told him to make it a Linux server and not say another word about it.

Hence when I got that computer all it had was Linux which sorta gave me the kick in the butt I needed because if I wanted to use the computer, no doubt about it, I had to get busy getting acquainted with Linux. So I've been learning it ever since the day I got the computer delivered here.

After "cultural" shock of changing from Windows to Ubuntu, what are first impressions about Ubuntu and Linux generally?

Well, I already had a general first impressions about Linux in general from the little experiences I had with it and what coworkers and friends told me about it.

When I started using Ubuntu, I have to say that allot of the first impressions I've had were confirmed. But I was also, as a stubborn long term windows user (since version 1.0) that Linux wasn't that big of a cultural change per se. at least not for a programmer. When you're a programmer, the first thing you do in any operating system is learn it enough so you can program for it. In that regards Linux ends up being no so different than any other OS as far as cultural shock is concerned.

Since Linux is known throughout the world as a developer's operating system one can assume that being a programmer, when you move to Linux is reversed from windows so to speak. Let me explain.

In windows, everything is based on the fact that the user is not a programmer. So the perspective used in windows is to bring what the typical user would use. Hence they made it easy to check your email, write a letter in your favorite office program, play games, basically anything a computer user would do at home or at the office. So a programmer that enters the Windows world basically has to set himself up everything he needs to do his programming.

In Linux however, the whole Linux mentality was created from a developer's point of view. So programming was integrated in the very design of Linux (and most of it's available GUIs) in fact, if you look at the GUIs (gnome based or kde based) you can easily see that they bring you everything you need to program in front of your eyes. Because of this developer based point of view, things like writing an email, networking, writing letters are all on the same level as programming which makes it a much better environment to use if you are a programmer.

So the real cultural shock is for a programmer, not a casual user of Linux. Because to a regular user he can still write his letters, play his games, check his email and browse the web…that isn't all that different, at least not in Ubuntu. But for a programmer, the cultural shock is that then when he installs ubuntu and is ready to use the environment, everything is already there so he can program. A pleasant shock for a windows programmer.

Do you believe it's feasible to create something commercial for free OS like Linux?

To that I have to answer a big gigantic YES! Allow me to explain my positive answer.

Today since the FSF (Free Software Foundation) was founded a while back there has been a big misunderstanding that Open Source means Free Software. When Richard Stallman first defined the principles and guidelines around Open Source software it was never stated that the software had to be free. All that was stated is that Open Source software should be distributed with it's source code. And I completely agree with that statement. From a commercial stand point it simply means that if you'll make a program you are selling you should distribute the source code with it. I think there are many advantages to doing just that.

The first reason is commercial customization. As we all know, business is a never ending always changing process. There will of course come a time when a given product will stop completely answering the needs and the reasons why it was bought in the first place. This situation can be traced back to since the first compiler was created and sold. When that happens, the customer (person or business) is basically left in the dark with no other solution but to buy something else. Imagine if you distribute your source code with your application. You immediately give the customer the opportunity to do something about it without buying a new version or a different program all together. I think this should be part of the 10 commandments of how to treat your customers well. This is but one of the advantages.

Another advantage is code maintenance and code evolution. As a programmer doing the application in the first place usually means you'll have to do research in order to know the industry enough to be able to make a usable product. However, in most cases, the customers buying your product know a whole lot more about the industry that you do. This is where good Open Source community really kicks in. The customer will share with you industry knowledge which in turn help you make a much better product for the industry. The result, you and your customers become an important part of the success of both your product and your customer's business alike.

Of course this is coming me from me. I've been development in many industries and I've seen the opposite happen. Business is business after all. But imagine the quality of code hence the quality of product you can build when you're in constant communication with the real experts in the field you're developing for. I think the big companies are starting to realize that today. You might be aware that Microsoft, IBM and other big names are creating their own licensing scheme so you can have the source code to alot of things these days. And I'm sure that my explanation here is the exact reason why they are doing that. This constant relationship that forms between the creator of a product and it's user really helps the evolution of the customer's product quality, you're personal knowledge of the industry and really contributes to keeping your product at top quality levels.

Even today the line between businesses and Open Source development efforts are becoming very thin. SuSE, Red hat and other Linux distributors all have their commercial version of their free Linux distributions. Businesses are tapping more and more into the Open Source resources be it to save time or to find out about what could make their products better. Everything is mixing together and I think that in the end everybody (businesses and developers alike) will all benefit from this joint effort that is happening. I wouldn't be surprised of the price of commercial compilers went way down so that we can use the commercial product to develop more open source software (like and visual's express edition which is free to use for non commercial purposes). It's moves like this from the businesses that will give them more opportunities to get their products known and used. Basically, from a commercial point of view, businesses will benefit from all this. >From a programmer point of view, we'll get to have better development tools to use in order to foster our programming creativity. In the real world John Lennon's "imagine" song can't really happen with all the cultural and religious differences of all the nations. But, in the computer world, it can and will happen. and you can quote me on that.

The commercial opportunities don't stop at software products either. It's very much possible to offer a free product and rather make your money by service contracts. Customization work in the code itself (when the needs becomes apparent from the customers) and there's other ways as well. Many companies I know make alot of their money just by providing industry specific knowledge. The list is endless.

And all this are the many reasons why I say Linux has plenty of commercial possibilities opened to it.

Since i am a victim of media, i have strong image of average American who trusts Microsoft only and Linux is considered as an communist propaganda. Maybe you want to fix that image?

To answer that I'll use my personal and profession experience as a software developer. Not as an Canadian or American or anything ethnic because it's the best way to answer you in a non biased way. Also, I will rephrase your question because people and businesses don't really have a grudge against Linux per se. More in general about Free Open Source software in general including Linux.

It seems to be that people in general (and businesses even more so) because of what could occur when some kind of problem arises from using a program (operating system or others) feel that free open source software found an ingenious way of throwing garbage into the software industry. Again allow me to explain this.

If you've read the classic "copying.txt" file of any open source project one of the first things you can read in states that "the author holds no responsibilities over any damage caused by the use of their software or do they hold responsibilities as to the software's fitness to a particular usage".

This means that if you have problems don't call them, you can't take them to court, they have no responsibilities to make something that works if you translate that to plain English. There's two ways to read that. The first is "you can't point the finger at me if using my program destroys half of your life's work". Or you can read it as "h'm giving away this product freely hence I don't have the funds to be taken to court nor should I be taken to court since I am offering the product for free.

A common vision that's been in the heads of many people and businesses for a long time is exactly that, they can't call somebody and complaint to get their problem solved. Hence they became reluctant to even using open source software. Of course the companies aren't helping either when they boast that most open source projects are done by an individual, in his basement, that has no sense of motivation to make a great product meaning they code in the open source because they don't want to have to make a great program out of it.

Sure this does exist. But if you remember my answer to the previous question. Today, I am proud to say that that image of Open Source software is greatly changing. The first people we have to thank for that are the Linux distributions themselves. One because of SuSE and Red Hat (and others) that have a commercial version of their Linux distributions meaning that they stand behind their distributions (give the businesses somebody to point the finger at and complain to get their problems solved). The other is efforts of distributors like debian who probably his the best software release/testing/evaluation organization I've ever seen anywhere. serious group efforts like these are why Linux is growing so much in popularity.

Right after the distributors come the group of people that make the software we use everyday. software like Firefox, Open Office, the multitude of free compilers and you name it. This gives the Linux operating system a great list of things people can do with their Linux distribution. An operating system is only as good as what you can do in it. So all these efforts should be encouraged and commended whenever possible because it's because of them that Linux is becoming as popular as it is, not just the fact that it's a great Operating System to use.

This shift in opinion about Open Source software in general is another reason why this collaboration between businesses and Open Source developer and efforts are making everything better for both the business world and the people using Open Source software.

Do you plan on doing anything commercial for Linux?

Actually, I do and yes it will be distributed as an Open Source project as defined by Richard Stallman. For Linux, there are a great deal of applications missing to make it a serious commercially viable OS. As I mentioned before an OS is only as good as the things you can do with it. My plans are in the business solution field. It's a very new field for Linux and the Open Source community. The reason it's so new is simply because Linux was made by developers for developers. Hence Linux has a wide range of programming tools and related things. But as an OS on the desk of business users it's lacking quite alot. Sure there's OpenOffice, Firefox and other general tools. But there's plenty of room for more business programs. Things like he equivalent of Quicken, an accounting package that is usable by just about anybody. Other business related tools are seriously lacking as well. So in my opinion, there's alot of room for business related programming. And with the Linux providers spreading their commercial versions like they are today, that room for business solution will only get wider because businesses will indeed start using Linux more and more, which means they will need the right tools to do their everyday business related work. And that's just for the business side.

Regular people will also need tools because if businesses are using Linux that will reflect on regular people too and they will start to use Linux more and more too. As a personal user they will need more tools created for them, that will range from very simple contact management (PIM applications) to full fledge home inventory and finances system (like the Microsoft money program). There's really a whole bunch of different things that exist for Windows because it is, as I mentioned before, a "every day user" based OS. Alot of these tools just don't exist in Linux and if they want regular people to use Linux, these tools will have to exist. Now this is all based on what's available today. Imagine what will be available tomorrow.

I always say this. So far, the computer programs that have been created have been created to fulfill a need, to do what we, as lazy humans, don't want to do manually. When it comes to computer programs, we really haven't even begun to really "create" with a computer (except for some games, I have to admit that some of these games are completely brilliant creations). But for the rest of the computing world, we didn't even start to create. So in the next 10 years I bet we'll be very amazed and what's being done and what's on the way. If i'm lucky, I'll be at the forefront of it all ready to collect the rewards of the new era of computing.

Is there something you would like to say for Finnish Ubuntu and Linux community.

First thing I'd like to say is thank you, to everyone, for taking the time to read this interview and giving me the chance to have this interview in the first place. it's the first time I get interviewed and I have to say I've enjoyed it a whole lot. Next I'd also like to thank you for the milestone of being the first non Finnish individual to be interviewed on a Finnish Ubuntu board, quite the honor.

I hope that with this interview I've managed to make you see how strongly I believe Linux is the way to go in the future not just for developers but for anyone that wants a computer. Linux is growing fast in what it can do for the user and in popularity. More efforts are taking place to give Linux a solid background that businesses can build on. Everything is really shaping up for Linux and I predict that in the next 10 years, amazing things will happen for Linux and it's user base. And with all the hard work that people from all sides of the Linux community have been putting into making Linux what it is today and what it will be tomorrow, Linux has a great future that will only get better.

I have to say that I don't know many Finnish individuals, the only one I can say I know better than most is the one who interviewed me, E.K. but if E.K. represents everything that Finland and it's people are, all I have to say is that if I was get out of my country to go live somewhere else, it would be in Finland to have that great Finnish Beer E.K. keeps on bragging about. :-).

Thank you very much for your time and interesting and clear answers. I hope you are happy ubuntu user now and in future.

E.K.Virtanen & Stephane Richards

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