May 24, 2005

Digital media device maker migrates to Linux

Author: Tina Gasperson

Interact-TV, a digital media management company based in Westminster, Colo., uses a custom Linux operating system built on Fedora Core as the base for its digital television servers. As a result of his experiences with Linux and other open source software on the production floor, CEO Ken Fuhrman has fired his Web host, fired up some Red Hat servers, and created a custom Web-based engineering environment along with StarOffice and Linux for administrative desktops.Interact-TV produces Telly Home Entertainment Servers. The units comes with hard drives that are compartmentalized to store movies, photos, and music, plus optional CD-RW drives and Internet connections. The company provides a software developer's kit that coders can use to create extensions and utilities for the Telly Servers.

Fuhrman sees several key benefits to using a Linux-based operating system. "Linux itself is very stable, it's portable to a variety of different hardware platforms," he says. "It is network-centric -- the operating system is built around the ability to easily share content across networks." Interact takes advantage of other open source software like NFS, Samba, and Apache.

Then there's the overall reduction in development costs that Fuhrman claims comes from having a network of contractors and an enthusiastic community of open source software developers instead of having to hire a large in-house engineering team.

Interact is increasing its outreach to that community as it has discovered the benefits of encouraging programmers to code modules that "scratch an itch" for them. For instance, Fuhrman says, independent developers created an interface that allows Telly users to connect to and get instant weather reports. "They've written interfaces to control satellite and cable boxes as well," Fuhrman says.

Interact is courting the development community by releasing an updated version of its operating system, called EOS, that utilizes the 2.6 version of the Linux kernel. The current product uses the 2.4.18 kernel, and Fuhrman says that the lack of maintenance and support for that version of the kernel was hampering outside development efforts.

When Interact-TV was born five years ago, it was largely a Microsoft shop. But in the last year, with a desire to have more control over the interactive nature of its Web presence, the company has brought all the hosting in-house using a Linux-Apache-MySQL-Perl (LAMP) stack. "It allows us to custom tailor the environment with certain features and configuration options," says Fuhrman. "When we control our own servers, we can provide the kind of environment we want. Plus, we have far lower costs now, if you look at all the hosting and outside development costs."

Fuhrman says there's been some work invested in stabilizing the system, "but we've not found that to be overly burdensome in the long run."

Interact has gone even further in its adoption of Linux and other open source software by gradually migrating its workstations to Linux. All the back-end administration is Web-based and operating-system-agnostic. The engineers all use either pure Linux workstations or actual Telly units for debugging purposes.

Administrative personnel are also being switched to Linux because of the cost factor. "By leveraging our purchasing ability, we buy hardware from the same distributors who provide the Telly hardware, and we can build desktops very cheaply," Fuhrman says. "We highly suggest that the staff installs Linux because of the cost factor."

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