December 13, 2001

Blue Linux scraps security focus, wants to help schools cut technology costs

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

This week, Matt Jezorek, lead developer and founder of the the fledgling Blue Linux distribution project, announced it was abandoning its old focus, security, for a distribution friendly to the education community.

North Carolinian Jezorek, who founded the project in June, is gearing up to release Blue Linux 1.0 within a couple of months. The project announced Blue Linux EDU project in August, but only this week scrapped its original security focus. In that announcement Jezorek said: "Based on customer response to the BlueEDU announcement and the lack of response to the secure server system we have decided to shift fully to the educational operating system. Blue Linux felt that there was too much replication in the current Open Source work and Blue Linux was only replicating the work of other systems. Currently there are many other secure Linux distributions on the market, but yet, Linux seems to be lacking a full educational distribution."

NewsForge asked Jezorek about his plans for Blue Linux, why the switch to an educational focus, and if he thinks there are enough Linux distributions already.

NewsForge: How many developers work on the Blue Linux project?

Jezorek: Being that this is an Open Source project, the amount of developers varies. Currently, we have about eight developers on our team. This brings me to the fact
that I am looking for more developers who are committed to excellence.

NewsForge: When did the first version come out? What's the latest version, and when did it come out?

Jezorek: The first version came out about a month after we initially started
development. This was a development snapshot and nothing more. Since then, we
have released other development snapshots of the base system. Currently, we
are about to release 1.0. With all our development now going toward the
educational system we feel we can be ready to release 1.0 in the next few
months. Between now and 1.0, there will be development snapshots and maybe a
beta or two out.

NewsForge: Is it based on another distribution, like Mandrake is based on Red Hat?

Jezorek: It is not based on any distribution. We have built the base system from
scratch with the hopes of being able to work out a lot of the bugs that
arise. By doing it this way, we can make sure that any dependency that we see
can immediately be fixed. We did not want to modify any other distribution, because then we would be semi-reliant on their updates and information. If that
distribution fell off the face of the earth, we would be stuck in a spot
we don't want to be in. By building from scratch we know every bit of the
system and we can only blame ourselves on any problems that may arise.

NewsForge: Do you have any usage numbers -- how many downloads of Blue Linux, that kind of thing?

Jezorek: We currently have some usage numbers but not a significant
amount. With the focus now on one project we hope to be able to gather more
information. We have had approximately 50,000 unique hits on our Web site, with over 1,000 referrers (we would, of course, like to triple that) and out of that we have logged
3,181 [downloads] with other downloads that happened before we started logging everything.

NewsForge: What made you decide, originally, to focus on a secure distribution? There were other secure-Linux projects happening at the time you started Blue Linux.

Jezorek: Originally Blue Linux was started because a lot of the secure distributions were not as secure as one might think. Many secure distributions were
leaving open ports that should not be open on a secure system and too many
applications or daemons running from a default install. Our original
intention was to have a secure default install that a small business or user
could install the system and not have to worry about it.

NewsForge: Tell me about your push for a common Linux installer. It seems like installers are one way distros separate themselves from each other. How's the Common Linux Installer Group been received, and are you still active in that project?

Jezorek: [My] reasoning behind a Common Linux Installer is the fact that if I use one boot media, on, say, Red Hat, it won't recognize a CD-ROM drive or a hard drive correctly, but yet, say, SuSE does, but yet SuSE does not see my network card
correctly as Red Hat does. This is a problem with many current installers.
With the Common Linux Installer Group, we as a group could focus to make sure
that we can get the maximum amount of hardware coverage possible. Why should
there be 20 different installers each with their own bugs and problems?
If more people used one installer it would have more views. As the quote
everyone knows goes, "with many eyes, all bugs are shallow." Also there is a
learning curve with every installer, but yet every single installer does the
exact same functions: ask for my root password, partition the hard drive,
setup networking, etc. And for this to be so fundamental to Linux, I feel,
that it should be a bit more consistent across distributions.

As far as how it was received, I will put it to you like this: I will let
you know when I get rid of the hate mail, the mail that says it will never
work. Even LWN said it was "doomed to fail." But yes, I am still active in
the group.

NewsForge: When did you start focusing on Linux in education as a goal for Blue

Jezorek: I guess August was the first public notice that we were focusing on an
educational system. But for some time now, I have been saying that
schools need to lower their technology costs by some means so that more can
be spent on teaching the kids.

NewsForge: You say a lack of interest pushed you into giving up the security focus.
How did you judge that lack of interest -- number of downloads or something

Jezorek: Actually, I judged lack of interest a few ways. One way was the
developers/contributors to the project were not motivated or not
interested. Also I received a lot of mail saying that we were replicating a
lot of previous work from other distributions. Community participation was
low, and it felt like I was all by myself. Now here's the catch. I don't mind
being all alone if I am "scratching my itch." I do enjoy working with
security and I find it a fun challenge, but I can't scratch everyone's itch,
and my main itch is to get Linux into the school systems so that schools can
once again teach and not worry about the technology budget. I mean this for
other teachers [besides computer teachers], too. I am sure that there have been other departments hurt by licensing and technology costs then just the tech groups. Other departments, I am sure, had to give up on things they needed because of [technology costs]. We hope we can help stop this.

NewsForge: With the education focus, how will Blue Linux be different than the
more user-friendly commercial distributions? What's needed in a Linux
educational distro that isn't already available?

Jezorek: There are many things Blue Linux plans to be different from the other user-friendly distributions out there. One thing is my primary quality
assurance/usability tester will be my 6-year-old daughter. We intend to have
a system that anyone from the age of 5+ should be able to sit down and use.
We intend to clean up the interface to the have a very clean look and feel.
I know Linux is all about choice, but I feel that in the education market,
they are used to having people tell them what to do. They will have the
choice to modify their desktop and system as much as any other Linux user
but they will not have to. We intend to have four classes of install: teacher,
student, server, and advanced. With this done this way, if the
administrator/installer wants to have the control, then they can do an
advanced install ... I want to install this on a blank system and let the installer do the rest. The most common complaint I have ever heard about Linux is the installation process expects you to know what you are doing. This I also feel is why Linux is not mainstream on desktops.

There really is not anything needed in an educational system that is not
already there. The only problem is the fact that you, the system admin or
teacher, have to go around and find all the applications you want on your
system or the students' system. Then you have to be the one to install it and
solve all kinds of dependency issues. There are a lot in Open Source
projects. We want to put together a distribution that once you install the
system, it will have all the common software that you would find on any
educational system in the current world. We are working with teachers and
administrators to have them let us know what functionality they need in the
system, and then we are going from there to work it in.

NewsForge: What's your ultimate goal for the project? Do you want to sell a
commercial distribution, or something else like that?

Jezorek: Do I want to sell a commercial distribution? No, I don't. What I want to do is to be able to get a cheap alternative available for the school systems
where they can lower the cost of running their school and use that money to
pay for better teachers, books and courseware. That is the primary goal of
BlueEDU. Now, to cover the cost of development, I don't know what to do. Currently, all money is coming out of my pocket, and for the most part I am fine with that. We do have a small grant proposal on, which we
hope to be able to get to by a new computer or two for testing on new
hardware. We want to be able to install BlueEDU on the Latest and Greatest
or the Oldest and Slowest.

NewsForge:What do you think in general about the number of Linux distributions?
Some people would argue there's already so many that users are confused.

Jezorek: In general principle, I do like the fact that there are a lot of Linux
distributions out on the market; I think choice is a great principle on all
Open Source projects. However, I do think to a new user this can be


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