Submit A Tip Alternative Tip Form

It’s Elementary: Dan Rabbit Talks Early Days of eOS

I recently had an opportunity to sit and chat with Daniel “DanRabbit” Foré of the elementary project.

In this first part of the interview, we discuss elementary, his role in it, recent and future prospects…

Elementary desktop circa 2009

Elementary desktop circa 2009

You are, effectively, the face of elementary. You started the project way back when with just some icons. What is it that sparked it all?

If we want to go way back, I just wasn’t happy with Windows. It wasn’t working for me. But I saw a lot of potential in Linux (kororaa at the time). So it was a combination of seeing something I wasn’t happy with and seeing something that could potentially be better than anything else.

And you decided to jump right into the pool and start making Linux better?

I dunno if it was quite that simple! I mean I started with basically no skills, and no experience. So it started with icons because I thought that would be simple to change.

But then you find out that you can’t just do 10 icons, you need hundreds. As other people have started to jump on to the idea, we’re able to do more and change more.

And since then, you’ve been studying what you can about iconography and design to improve yourself? Or do you take a more experience everything and let the best of it stick with you approach?

I guess it’s kind of mixed. I mean at first I was just doing whatever I thought looked good and I didn’t really have any method, but as I got more interested in design I started reading articles about design and research papers and the like.

And where did the spark come in to work on an accompanying theme as you grew and learned about icons?

It just kind of made sense as part of a natural progression. At the time whatever GTK theme it was I was using was really bulky and one of the first things I did as part of elementary was reduce the amount of chrome on the screen by trimming it down. In some cases it was just curing an annoyance, just having the ability to view more of a photo or a document

An idea that has really taken off at large in recent years.

Yeah, I mean I remember there being this big battle of like “is it too thick or too thin?” and you know various people complained about one or another but I think it’s clear that at least people care about stuff like themes and they want their apps to look nice.

There’s been a big shift on desktop Linux lately where design matters now and I think that’s leading to a lot more mainstream adoption.

unity lens cards

Ubuntu - Also Bringing Design to the Fore

It’s certainly been big news. Some want to hang on to the past, they cherish the old ways. What do you feel on the subject? Is heritage in this sense something that should always be upheld?

No I think there’s way too much resistance to change. I mean there’s this whole “1990 Linux guy” thing right? So obviously people have noticed there’s a large group of people that just complain about anything changing. But on the other hand you never want to change just for the sake of changing.

I just read a quote from Jon[athan] Ive the other day where he said something like he feels a lot of people change things just to try to be different instead of focusing on being genuinely better

Absolutely.

So I think that’s the real struggle right now is we’re learning how to care about design but also being able to discern what’s just change and what’s actually a better way to do things.

And I don’t disagree, but there has to be some appreciation for those who got you to the point you’re at. Even if they refuse to move on from their vision of the golden age of interfaces?

Oh, I don’t think anyone has been unappreciative. Obviously we wouldn’t have shoulders to stand on if there were no giants.

Standing tall to create an entirely new distribution. A tall task (if you’ll excuse my puns). Going from theme to distro isn’t exactly a logical jump.

Sure, but that’s only if you’re assuming the original intention was to create a theme.

So elementary was always meant to be something more?

Absolutely, the original desire was to have a better OS. elementary is just an extension of that original desire.

Which led to elementary OS “Jupiter”… Any regrets on how that turned out, being your first “product” to the world?

I wouldn’t say regrets no. There are a lot of things we’ve learned since then. But you have to start somewhere and the very first version of something is hardly ever perfect

eOS Jupiter

A forward-looking stance to take. Anyone who’s been looking out can see that steps have been made to make Luna a better place… But why wait so long to release what, at last check, still won’t be labeled as a 1.0 release? (Developer time withstanding)

We made a decision to take more of a “when it’s ready” stance to development. This cycle there were a lot of really huge transitions. We had the GTK3 move; we introduced several new apps, including BeatBox; we started to develop and make use of Granite; and our new DE Pantheon has of course been no small task. We’ve [also] completely revamped the way we build our ISO to be more like how Ubuntu itself is built.

And when we came around to the six month mark we said to ourselves, “We can release a really crappy version of Luna right now, or we can wait and release a good version when it’s ready”

I’m sure that waiting has been the better decision. So what do you do to ensure quality for the “when it’s ready” judgement?

That has been kind of difficult to define. I think so far it’s been an easy call to make just because “not ready” has largely meant “not stable.”

But we hold a contributor meeting every week to talk about the larger issues the project faces and keep things on track and make decisions about our next moves. And so far I think we’ve been able to stay on a reasonable pace for what we feel like is going to be a good release.

And what about for outsiders? When users start experiencing non-first party elementary items… How will you ensure that the brand isn’t watered down potentially?

I’m actually surprised that you mention that because I feel like that’s kind of been something that hasn’t been given any attention in the distro world. I think the eventual goal will be that we don’t ship anything user-facing that hasn’t been made with elementary in mind. It’s kind of hard to meet that goal all in one release. It’ll be a bit of a gradual change.

But we’ve seen a lot of developer interest in creating elementary apps and I think it’s something we’ll definitely be able to achieve. For now, I think we have to hope that our early-adopter audience won’t criticize us too harshly on that.

Does all this mean that you want to include an in house elementary office suite or would you look to accomplish that using a more stable base? (Understanding, of course, that that is a long way out.)

You know, when it comes to really big software like an office suite or video editor or stuff like that I think we’ll end up letting the third-party developers take over. I’m not sure we really need to ship apps like that default on the CD.

But that’s not to say we wouldn’t ever be interesting or involved in that kind of work. Sometimes it can be tricky to sort out exactly what it means for elementary as an organization to do something and elementary community members to do something.

I’d argue that at least some form of word processor is essential for defaults, you disagree?

Last cycle when we were looking at what music player to include with Jupiter we made a really tough decision not to ship one. We did, however, decide to ship some GNOME office components; some people liked it and some people hated it. But [it] ended up being a decision we were entirely proud of.

Now, keep in mind that we haven’t made final decisions about app selection just yet, but, I think we might end up saying that there just isn’t an office solution that we really are proud of and feel super confident shipping in Luna.

Understandable. So, as you mention, you’ve not made final decisions, but readers can see that things are starting to come together for Luna… What happens after it’s finished?

Well, lots of things happen. The GM needs to be shipped to a disc duplication company and we have to wait for CD’s to get printed and shipped back to us. We need to update the website to reflect release. We need to make sure users are getting proper help upgrading or with a new install. We need to create a press release and work with news outlets.

And that’s just some of the things to think about just to make sure Luna launches properly.

Luna +1 is going to be a whole other story.

Look out for the second part of this interview later next week.