About the person and the company
Macuarium - We're interviewing Kai Staats from Terra Soft Solutions, the makers of Yellow Dog Linux. How would you describe your company, and your job within it?
Kai Staats - About Terra Soft. In quick summary, we offer integrated PowerPC Linux boxes.
Terra Soft provides turn-key and build-to-order portables, desktop workstations, application and network servers, and HPC clusters. We offer seamless code migration across All Things 970 as the developer of world-renowned Yellow Dog Linux and VAR for Apple, IBM, and Momentum Computer.
Terra Soft's customers include home and office users, university students and labs, NASA researchers, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and associated contractors, and a wide variety of enterprise-level corporations.
About my position. As the co-founder and CEO, I wear a number of hats: I maintain and help implement our corporate vision, motivate and guide our internal projects, coordinate the large customer builds, and help guide our sales team.
With the move to our new building, a two-story 1930's red brick construction with a 1500 sq-ft loft overlooking downtown Loveland, I have enjoyed the orchestration and management of the interior design, mechanics, and construction. It is going to be an absolutely beautiful, state-of-the-art facility. A wonderful marriage of last century architecture and modern technology. Hope to be moved in 3-4 weeks from now ...
Macuarium - What is the vision or goals of a Linux maker that makes use of the hardware of Apple? Apple's selling point is supposed to be its operating system software.
Kai Staats - True, Apple's OS has always been what drives customers back to the hardware. And it is safe to say that if OS X were available for x86/ia64, Apple's hardware sales would drop. That said, Apple's hardware is very well designed, robust, and bleeding-edge fast (keep in mind that CPU GHz is _not_ the only criterion in modern computer comparisons).
Linux offers a nearly seamless transition for the users, from x86/ia64 to PowerPC. Same GUI, same applications (recompiled), same file system. Therefore, those who prefer/demand Linux and require more capable hardware may move to Yellow Dog Linux on Apple hardware, or maintain a heterogeneous blend of multiple architectures.
In addition, our current Yellow Dog Linux / Y-HPC hybrid offers the world's first (and currently only) fully 64-bit OS --in advance of OS X-- with 64-bit floats, integers, and support for 16GB memory (8GB tested in-house). Y-HPC will offer seamless code migration from Apple to IBM systems, enabling (for example) an Apple G5 front-end to an IBM BladeCenter JS20 backend cluster. A powerful combination.
About the product
Macuarium You are currently incorporating 64-bit support so you can run on the G5. Do you expect a lot of demand for this version?
Kai Staats - It already exists. Every DOE, DOD, NASA, and higher-ed customer is requiring 64-bit. Home users and enterprise may not demand 64-bit to the same degree as a 64-bit word processor, web server, or spreadsheet just don't make sense.
Macuarium What is your opinion of Mac OS X and its future?
Kai Staats - From a business stand-point, OS X is one of the most brilliant moves by Apple in the past decade. A UNIX foundation is a must, offering Apple a far reaching flexibility and potential. Personally, I can't use it. It's noticeably slower than YDL, a bit clunky (makes me feel like I am reading a gradeschool primer), and the swimming graphics are a overwhelming. I prefer simplicity, snap, and complete control of my graphical environment.
Macuarium What are the main selling points of your solutions? I'm calling them "solutions" since you can sell Apple hardware pre-installed with Linux. What do people use your product for? I’ve heard of the US Navy buying lots of custom-built units.
Kai Staats - Desktop users use YDL for just about everything, from word processing to graphics editing to playing CDs, MP3s, and watching movies; from serving web pages to massive RAID data archival to code development and desktop workstations. Every workstation in our office is of course a Mac with YDL. A lot of people use YDL for daily communications and run Mac-On-Linux (MOL) which enables OS X to run on top of YDL at native speeds for Photoshop and Quark or iTunes.
Cluster owners may run YDL for front-end code development and cluster control ... with a bare minimum installation of YDL also on the compute nodes.
Macuarium Do you have any presence outside the US? How do you support those customers?
Kai Staats - Yes, an increasing presence. While we used to maintain more direct relationships, we have learned that local (to the country or region) resellers who maintain a Linux expertise offer a strong foundation from which to support customers. Amulet (http://www.amulet.co.jp) is an incredible success story, having worked with us for three years. They offer their own version of Yellow Dog Linux with a unique Japanese language label, install text, and default to Japanese keyboard and on-screen text. We also work with IXSoft (http://www.ixsoft.de) in Germany and are hoping to soon bring a
similar relationship to play for the French and Arabic languages. I would love to make this happen with Spanish (for Latin America in particular) but we have not found an appropriate partner.
When we started this company more than five years ago, I wanted to immediately provide all of our web pages and instruction manuals and HOWTOs in multiple languages. We learned this is not easy. And its not inexpensive. Fortunately, a great deal of language and keyboard support is inherent in Linux, but there is room for improvement.
About the ecosystem
Macuarium How does a company survive marketing what is essentially a free product such as a Linux flavour? What is Terra Soft's relationship with Open Source?
Kai Staats - Yellow Dog Linux is built upon and distributed under the General Public License. Always has been. Always will be.
Terra Soft exists as a mover of hardware and provider of services. We are one of the top 10 Apple Value Added Resellers in the U.S. As every box we ship includes Yellow Dog Linux pre-installed, PowerPC Linux must be fairly popular :) We are excited to be on-board with IBM and eager to move BladeCenter products.
We offer custom system configurations, cluster design and installation, and support services.
Macuarium We've recently heard about some convergence between your Linux version and Red Hat?
Kai Staats - Is that a question or a statement? :)
We have always been Red Hat-based, using the RPM package manager and RHL tree. We are now working from Fedora and continue to use Ben H.'s kernel. In the other direction, Red Hat ships with "yum" (http://lists.terrasoftsolutions.com/pipermail/yellowdog-announce/2004-May/000050.html), a wonderful upgrade to "yup" which originated in-house at TSS during the development of our first GUI installer. And Red Hat has gained interested in the higher-end IBM hardware.
Macuarium What is your relationship with Apple? How has it been affected by their current effort to market themselves into the corporate market? What do you think they should do in order to succeed... and will that hurt your company?
Kai Staats - While we remain a bit of a protagonist in the halls of Apple, our relationship continues to grow stronger each year. Yes, there are folks at Apple who would rather just see Linux go away, but most have accepted and even embrace Linux in heterogenous hardware environments where a homogenous operating system is imperative for cross-platform code migration.
There are many Yellow Dog Linux users on campus at Apple now ... that makes us feel pretty good.
Apple is doing very well by my experience. They have an incredible product line, year after year. They never slip backward, they just keep improving. OS X and Linux have helped move Apple hardware into places it has never been.
However, Apple has held onto a strange/strong belief that "proprietary" helps move hardware. They have a 15-20% open OS but maintain relatively closed hardware. It's very frustrating. We have an awful time keeping up with their graphics cards, sound chips, and built-in wireless devices. If only they would release the source, or even offer binaries, we could sell _so much more_ hardware, faster, benefiting everyone involved.
Macuarium How come you speak Spanish :-D? Do your Linux versions come localized in our language?
Kai Staats - The following is more complex than I am capable of speaking, naturally, so I called upon some translation assistance. I hope it reads well.
Solamente en los Estados Unidos usted haría tal pregunta. En todos los demás países del mundo, usted habría preguntado, ¿Por qué habla solamente una lengua?
Si recuerdo correctamente, el español será la lengua numero uno hablada dentro de una generación. Los Estados Unidos son un lugar muy único en que abrigamos una diversidad rica de gente, pero esperamos que cada uno hable inglés.
La diversidad cultural consiste en aprender la experiencia de una persona en una tentativa de apreciar esas cosas hacemos y esas cosas no compartimos. Para aceptar y crecer. Aprender otra lengua es una buena porción de este camino.
No yo deseo cruzarme con los Latinos en mi ciudad y no decir nada simplemente porque no hablo español. Hay muchas historias que aprender.
Deseé siempre ser fluido en dos o tres idiomas pero nunca pude dedicar el tiempo. Este año, tomé la zambullida y pasé siete semanas en México y Cuba. Volví con una comprensión del español. No estoy fluido, pero bastante decir. Ahora tengo amigos muy buenos en ambos países y no puedo esperar para volver.
Macuarium Thanks for your answers.
Kai Staats - Thank you for this opportunity.