In our first segment, the executives of Alta Terra, the company that created MaxOS, explained the reasons for creating a new distribution for Linux. If you missed part one of Vincent Danen’s interview, you can read all about it here. In this second installment, they explain additional features of MaxOS and discuss the direction they hope the distribution will take in the future.
More from Alta Terra’s Dexter Dombro and Donald Warman
VD: How would MaxOS handle dual-booting with a current Windows install? Does it set it up on the fly?

DD: As soon as you install, you reboot, and a dual-boot screen comes up and asks which operating system would you like: MaxOS or Windows? You can scroll up and down and pick whichever one you want.

As an aside, I see our future in the multiplayer gaming market. That’s where MaxOS really shines. I think there are more and more [games] coming in the future, whether it’s over—well, not just over the Web—but you, me, and three other guys get together and hook up our computers Friday night and we blast it till Sunday, right? (Laughs.)

VD: Yeah, those good old Quake parties. Tell me about the “Quake on the Lake” event you held in Slave Lake a few months back.
Linux 101 installments are intended to bring IT professionals unacquainted with Linux up to speed quickly on the alternative operating system’s more basic features and uses.
DD: We had two hubs with 25 guys playing. One set was playing Unreal Tournament; the other set was playing Quake, all on different platforms and everything. And the servers were Max. And the biggest hassle we had was that we spent almost the whole first day getting everyone to play the same version because one guy would have a patch and the other guy wouldn’t.

VD: Yeah, that would cause problems.

DD: And not only that, we were doing it on an AMD K6 and a Pentium.

VD: And no slow-down with 25 users?

DD: We started to show resource problems with the 25th player. That’s not too bad.

DW: And bear in mind that beyond the 25 guys, there were a number of bots running around that we left in the program.

Linux kernel from the ground up
VD: Is MaxOS based on anything? Is it based on Debian; is it based on Red Hat?

DD: Nope, Max was written from a vanilla kernel.

VD: Does it use any kind of a package manager? Like RPM or DEB packages?

DD: That’s an interesting question. Although it’s not going to be included in the first release, we’re working on a unified package manager that will have the .max extension. The thinking behind that is that right now, one of the things we don’t want to see is a splintering of the Linux market, which has been happening to some extent with Debian and Slackware, and RPMs, and so on. So this way, we’re hoping to come up with a unified package manager that will recognize all of those, plus have the .max extension. And again, we want to simplify it so that the user can install with a wizard, just the way you would in Windows.

VD: So your aim is to eliminate the need to find an appropriate download location for your particular distribution?

DD: Yes, and then we also don’t get people into this tarballing and all this kind of stuff, having to set up their own directories and so on, which just confuses the hell out of them. We want to try to simplify that too, and that’s part of one of our development efforts in the future. But right now, if you have an RPM or a Debian package, you’re in there.

VD: Either way, it’ll install any package.

DD: Yes. The package managers are in there.

MaxOS is not looking back
VD: Okay. So why is it Pentium optimized? Why didn’t you opt for a 386 base like every other distribution other than Mandrake?

DD: Because we’re just looking at where the market is going. We’re working forward rather than backward. We had to decide to start some place. And, while I appreciate there are a fair number of people out there still with a 386 or 486, we’re also already at a Pentium III; we’ve got Athlons that are trucking at 750 MHz. We’ve now got a whole generation of 1.5-GHz chips that are just around the corner. Compaq is already marketing them. And the 64-bit arena is coming. So… it’s kinda like writing a game for DOS.

VD: Yeah, nobody does it anymore.

DD: Exactly. What’s the point? So, we had to start somewhere. If you’re going to optimize something, you might as well optimize it on a certain standard. So we run great on Athlons, run great on the whole Pentium series.

DW: We work really well on a laptop.

DD: I think we’re just moving with technology. But I think the fact that we still install nicely on an AMD K6 or a Pentium is downward compatible enough.

Down the road
VD: Have you planned any other projects? Or is there anything else you plan to contribute to the Linux arena as a whole or to Open Source?

DD: I think that package manager we talked about will probably be [coming soon]. I mean, we’re a very small company. We don’t have the 1,500 Corel employees. We’re on the Canadian Venture Exchange, but we keep a lean and mean organization here. We’ve got about eight people and a couple of part-timers. I know companies with 30 to 40 coders, and it took them four years to get anything out in the product market, and we’ve done it in pretty much five months. We’re very proud of that.

I’m hoping that we’ll have an opportunity to give back, and I think that actually, in a sense, Max is giving back. Just the fact that people will be able to do quick installs and get on with their development projects. And I think we’ll set a new standard. We’re looking forward to the future in that regard, and I know that we’re ready and raring to go when the 64-bit hardware is available. We’ll be ready for that. We’re looking seriously at having a gamer’s package, a specialized version for guys that just want to go out there and game their hearts out. And, of course, the network version.

VD: So you’re going to come out with different types of MaxOS?

DD: I think we will. I mean, if one guy is looking at setting up a network, probably StarOffice wouldn’t be big on the list. But other development tools, other network support tools, maybe. So we’re looking at that, but in the general distribution, there’s not much time to put some of that stuff in. We’ll have a more specialized product and then a developer’s package too. Let’s face it; the average mortal doesn’t want a bunch of gcc stuff. And compilers or whatever else isn’t going to get them excited. But a developer might say, “Gee, I sure like this. This is a one-package deal here.”

VD: You’re looking at a number of packages, then. Will MaxOS also be targeting the server market?

DW: There’s a tremendous potential there for us; put it that way. Because of the system that it’s developed on, and with what it can do and how it works, and the simplicity of how it works compared to other [distributions], that makes it extremely easy to go in and do networking.

DD: You know, if somebody phoned us tomorrow and said they needed a network for their educational institution, there is absolutely no reason why we couldn’t be in there and have them up and humming. So we can do what Red Hat survives on. But I just don’t think that is our mission right now. Our mission is to get it out in the public and get lots and lots of Linux users up and going.

VD: So when do you anticipate the final release version to be out?

DD: We’re hoping to go gold in July. We’re hoping that it will be on the shelves in August and that when people go back to school and so on, that we’ll be ready to go. [Editor’s update: Since this interview was conducted, MaxOS has gone gold.]

DW: I want you to do me a favor. After you go home and you install this, call me and let me know if it isn’t the easiest and fastest Linux install you’ve ever seen.

I went home and did as Don recommended. I must admit, it was a very easy and fast install. On a PentiumIII-667, it took under 11 minutes to install all of the packages. The only serious question asked was where to install it, and that was because I chose the expert install. In an auto-install, the interface automatically detects Windows, resizes the partition to make room for MaxOS, and automatically creates the partitions it needs. The installer interface is GUI and well done; however, it is a tad too colorful.

I encountered only one real problem while exploring MaxOS: It mapped the Windows drives incorrectly in the Max Computer system settings. The Windows C: drive was labeled as D:, and vice versa. However, I feel that is more cosmetic than problematic.

I also found that I could not create a boot disk. I mentioned the (not so) hypothetical situation of Windows requiring a reinstall to the Alta Terra executives. As it currently stands, you’ll need to reinstall MaxOS if Windows decides to take a dive. I have been assured that they are looking into an easier way to rectify this problem.

At first, I questioned the place MaxOS would have among the many other distributions available. After trying it out firsthand, I realized that MaxOS will fit in quite nicely as the true “Linux for beginners.” Although my version was a beta, I think that the final release will be quite solid. MaxOS will be a definite asset for companies looking to migrate their Windows workstations to a Linux equivalent, as well as for the new-to-Linux home user.
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