Updated: December 11, 2017
Spotlight corner! Dedoimedo prowls the many corners of the Web, searching for textogenic faces for a fresh new interview. Truth to be told, finding the candidate for today's slot wasn't too difficult. Roy Schestowitz is a familiar name round the Tux block. Nowadays, you will most likely find him on tuxmachines.org, a community-driven news site.
News aggregation can be tricky; finding the right balance of quality content isn't easy, but even with the relatively recent change of ownership, tuxmachines marches on with solid consistency, ardently trying to offer its readers the best the open-source world has to report. I have always been a great fan and supporter, and I approached Roy for an interview. He agreed.
Can you please introduce yourself.
RS: I am a programmer dedicated to promoting the cause of Free software, i.e. control by users of their computers/computing. This cause extends to various different facets because, quite inevitably, Free (or libre) software depends on transparent systems that maximalise cooperation and foster collaboration. This means that, unwittingly, I found myself writing a great deal about more 'political' things. I am based in the UK, where the public sector slowly if not begrudgingly adopts Free software.
You run tuxmachines.org, a popular Linux-oriented news site, but you're not the first (original) owner. How did that come about?
RS: Tuxmachines.org is a rather old site (in relative terms), going back to summer of 2004. The site was a go-to source of news back in the days when PCLinuxOS was widely used and topped the DistroWatch charts. I was an early follower of that site because it syndicated a broad range of otherwise-hard-to-find stories about GNU/Linux.
In 2013, for purely personal reasons, the site's founder put it on sale. She had already begun writing articles for OStatic on a regular basis and was about to remarry.
DM: We're talking about Susan Linton.
At the time, my wife and I, working in an IT company, needed to improve our Drupal skills (I had been closely involved with WordPress since 2004 but never Drupal). Tuxmachines.org was a Drupal site, so buying the site meant that we would get some additional experience while at the same time carrying the torch for the founder, taking the site in the same direction as before. We did, I believe, maintain that same spirit and a similar format.
What kind of content do you find engaging? What is the message you seek to share with your audience?
RS: We rarely look at any statistics related to audience or popularity of posts (we also shred logs for privacy reasons), but we've found that our audience appreciates our speed. We try to identify and share articles faster than sites like LXer and Linux Today.
There is no particular message we try to convey other than that GNU/Linux is a success story in many areas and it is definitely worth using it. Tuxmachines.org traditionally favoured reviews of distributions and focused on the desktop; we do prioritise such material.
What's your favorite Linux distro? Why?
RS: I try to think not in terms of distributions anymore; I prefer to focus on the software and the desktop environments (if any are in use). The role of the distribution these days has more to do with package management, including patches, and the selection of available (pre-compiled) software. So I don't have any particular favorites, though I typically suggest, based on one's experience level, a distribution with access to extensive repositories like Debian's.
And what's your favorite desktop environment?
RS: I currently use three: GNOME Shell, KDE, and plain Openbox (as minimalist as I can make it due to lack of RAM). I use these in tandem on three laptops. My wife prefers Unity, but she used KDE for years. I've been a huge KDE fan for many years (since I was a teenager when I also dabbled in Enlightenment for development), but in recent years it gave me some angst.
At the moment I feel somewhat 'orphaned' when it comes to desktop environments. At least I've become familiar with most. What matters a lot more is the software in use, not icons and menus associated with window management.
If you had infinite powers and unlimited budget, is there anything you'd change about Linux?
RS: On the desktop, unfortunately, there has been neglect. The Linux Foundation does not seem to care, core Linux developers are sufficiently happy with their 'geeky' utilities on their desktop/laptop, and no company - not even Canonical which now focuses on server revenues - puts in enough effort to make GNU/Linux dominant on desktops/laptops. That is somewhat of a travesty.
On mobile devices, the dominant platform is now Android. It fosters DRM, favours proprietary "apps" (that's the new buzzword for software), monetises mass surveillance, and leaves out GNU. Some believe that Google will also drop Linux and replace it with another kernel -- one with a more 'convenient' (to Google) licence. Chrome OS is more of the same.
With enough (or "unlimited" as you say) budget we could get enough developers to work solely on the desktop and hire people to spread GNU/Linux through retail channels. A lot of people sadly underestimate the role of Microsoft blackmail, bribes etc. in ensuring that GNU/Linux is kept away from the public eye while thoroughly demonised in the media. I probably don't have to tell you what happened in Munich; the real story, not the sanitised one.
DM: Roy is talking about the (failed) attempt to adopt LibreOffice in Munich's city government.
That said, in your opinion, what are the three most prominent, innovative or successful projects in the Linux world?
RS: I would say Firefox has been very "prominent" to GNU/Linux, even though it is a cross-platform application. It really opened up the Web to GNU/Linux users after that dark age of MSIE-only Web sites.
Regarding "innovative", I always thought KVM was quite innovative. At the time of its rise to prominence many people relied on large bits of software for virtualisation, often proprietary.
When it comes to "successful", different people measure "success" in different ways. To some people the number of users indicates "success", to others it's all about money. To me, personally, freedom matters a lot and I think GNU succeeded at getting people to grasp the value of having freedom all the way down to the core. Without GNU we would likely have had a "Linux" without the GPL and maybe without Free software, just a bunch of proprietary things on top (e.g. Adobe Reader and VMware).
A birdie tells me you're down with privacy and freedom issues in the wider software world. Can you elaborate on that?
RS: About a decade ago I became more interested in the effect of software on various things in the world. I'm not talking only about ethics but also self-determination (for persons, organisations, and nations). Think of activists, journalists, and transparency 'guerrillas' like those who shed light on power/wealth.
Over a decade ago I already wrote about back doors; it wasn't a fashionable topic at the time. People would rush to use labels like "paranoid" when the subject was brought up.
Now we know better. Richard Stallman got his vindication. If you don't control the program, then the program controls you, and many business model these days revolve around reading the minds of users and selling information about them.
Should I call you Doctor? Or?
RS: Everyone just calls me Roy. I have a Ph.D., but the only reason I use my title (sometimes) is to discourage endless personal attacks, typically over my views. Recently, for similar reasons, I also hid the fact that I'm from Manchester, as some people would rather argue in an ad hominem fashion (your opponent's location, credentials, gender etc.) than substance of the argument/s.
What's a day in life in Roy's ... uh ... life?
RS: I sleep about 6 hours a night, I work full time, and in the remainder of the time it's Internet and gym/spa. I'm actually quite tight with time, even in the weekends. My only real 'escape' or 'distraction' is football (we have decent clubs here).
In the morning I catch up with news published overnight, I then write some articles in Techrights (mostly regarding software patents and EPO these days), then it's back to news and if time permits I go beyond FOSS/Linux and also touch on issues like the environment, politics, economics and so on. I watch issues pertaining to privacy, secret agencies and censorship every day regardless of time constraints. I think these are growingly important (and troubling) matters no matter where we are.
I find the contemporary software development practices and fads rather dubious. What's your take on the 2017 world of software? It frustrates if not disgusts me that many buzzwords now dominate the "scene". And we're collectively told to alter our resumes accordingly.
"Cloud", "DevOps", "IoT", "Agile", "Smart", "Serverless" and so on ... you know what I mean, especially as you know that none of these are truly novel. They're marketing terms and I suspect they're crafted to make us - mere 'consumers' - not think of moral issues, including security and privacy.
DM: Yup, I know EXACTLY what you mean.
What's your favorite comic strip?
It changes over time, but Dilbert usually strikes a nerve and isn't "tl;dr" unlike some other comics.
What do you think Linux does well?
RS: Ethics and trust. We live in a world where large corporations constantly lie to us, e.g. regarding privacy. Only yesterday I saw a report about Google harvesting locational information even when users toggle "location" off.
What does Linux need to improve?
RS: I personally think we need a broader debate about GNU philosophy and incorporation of technology along those lines (including the UNIX/POSIX mindset). This also means a departure from monolithic designs. The more I read about and experience systemd (servers and desktops), the more I worry about it.
Where do you think Linux is headed? What will happen in 2025?
RS: Eight years is a very long time in technology terms, more so in software terms where the pace of innovation is huge.
Being a pessimist by nature (to keep expectations low and avoid disappointment), I'd say Linux will 'vanish' into the so-called 'cloud' and people will just have 'smart' gadgets all around the house (Linux at the core), transmitting plenty of personal data to the (Linux-powered) 'serverless' 'Cloud Native' 'G' thing (or Amazon thing).
You can rely on technology moving in the direction of capital and when much of the capital is distributed to/through the military it's not surprising that UEFI restricted boot is becoming the norm, DRM is becoming an integral part of the Web, and Free software like Kodi is being described as "piracy".
Do you use non-Linux operating systems?
RS: No. Our house is all Linux. Even the gadgets. I still have (and sometimes use) a Palm PDA though. It's old, but it still works, and sometimes older is better (e.g. for privacy and simplicity).
Do you have a role model?
RS: Some people inspire me, but no role model. I've always said it's risky to idolise people rather than underlying causes because people can betray or let you down. Causes have no moods are are harder to corrupt. No need to personify them.
RS: We live in Orwellian times with divisive leaderships and technology that's designed to oppress us. If we remain apathetic and passive, we will pay a high price in our lifetime, so certain so-called 'novelty' can be rightly rejected. Free software may be our only chance at antagonising regressions.
Thank you Roy for your time. Indeed, the more world is rife with pointless sloganeering and empty buzzwords that don't really bring any fundamental innovation. Technology is interchangeable, and what matters are the basic principles of problem solving. Those are philosophically universal, be it a matter of solving equations on nuclear propulsion, debugging a clogged drain, or slaving in a data center.
Roy seems to be a busy little bee with lots of endeavors and projects. While I'm personally less concerned with data harvesting that's happening everywhere around us, I still treat this greedy approach to consumerism with disdain, and find people's ignorance of concepts of privacy and true liberty troubling. Anyway, good luck Roy! As for you out there, reading this, if you'd like to nominate someone for a future interview, even be it yourself, you are more than welcome to ping me your suggestion. Take care.