Dedoimedo interviews: Bodhi Linux team

Updated: January 27, 2017

Bodhi Linux and I never quite saw eye to eye. I had tested the distribution a couple of times, and in all cases, I found the somewhat spartan, DIY approach to be quite limiting. My need from Linux distributions is very simple, I expect everything to work out of the box.

However, some professional bickering does not mean we cannot enjoy ourselves. After all, we're all in this together, we few, we happy few, we band of penguins. Or Tuxpeople, if you prefer. To this end, I wanted to interview the project manager for the Bodhi Linux operating system, so we can get some exposure the other side of this coin. Today, we have Jeff Hoogland as our guest, and he will tell us more about his work, his passion, his community, and a few other things besides. After me.

Bodhi interview teaser

Hi Jeff, can you please introduce yourself.

JH: My name is Jeff Hoogland. I am a father of two boys, a husband, a gaming enthusiast, and the driving force behind the Bodhi Linux Project. My educational background is in mathematics and I possess a masters degree from Illinois State University in Central, IL where I currently reside.

Jeff Hoogland

What is Bodhi?

JH: Bodhi Linux is a minimalistic Linux distribution that is built on top of the latest Ubuntu LTS utilizing the Moksha Desktop. Moksha is a fork of the Enlightenment DR17 code base, which is built on top of the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries.

What prompted you to start this endeavor?

JH: The same thing that prompts most software projects - seeking efficiency. During undergrad I was regularly compiling the Enlightenment desktop on four different computers. I created my own set of packages for the desktop when I updated it so I only had to compile it one time. I figured if I was creating packages for myself - other people might enjoy them as well. Thus Bodhi was born.

Five years later, how do you think the project has changed or evolved? What are the valuable lessons you learned venturing into the world of distro creations?

JH: A lot has changed in five years. We went from simply packaging the Enlightenment desktop to maintaining our own fork of one of their existing code bases. I am happy with the choices we have made though - forking into Moksha provides me with the most reasonable desktop for myself personally - which is all I wanted when starting the Bodhi Linux Project.

The most important thing I have learned from working on Bodhi over the years is that release deadlines are overrated. In the early days I pushed hard to meet deadlines I had set for myself and because of it was pushed out some less than stellar release discs. Today I would much rather miss a projected deadline than put out a piece of software that is not stellar.

Why did you choose Enlightenment as the desktop of choice?

JH: The Enlightenment 17 code base offers a level of customization that is similar to heavier desktops like KDE, while using the resources that you would expect from a lightweight desktop such as LXDE.

Can you tell us a little more about the challenges you faced with E18-20, and how Moksha came to be?

JH: The biggest issue with E18+ is the removal of optional compositing from the window manager. This makes the desktop unusable on some legacy hardware and a bit slower on modern hardware. Past this third party themes and modules that worked with the E17 code base were not all forward compatible with the newer versions of Enlightenment.

Both our team and the Enlightenment team have minimal resources we have to use efficiently. We felt it was less work for us to maintain an E17 fork that it would be to make everything forward compatible with E18+ moving code base.

Moksha desktop

Moksha desktop, an official screenshot showing what it can look like.

What is the main selling point of Bodhi?

JH: Bodhi offers a "middle ground" between distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint that provide a fully loaded desktop and something like Arch Linux that only gives you a command prompt after installing. Past this we are still one of the only distributions to provide a sane Enlightenment based desktop that is fully configured by default.

Can you tell us more about the team behind the project?

JH: Dozens of people have contributed to Bodhi in various ways over the years. Currently we have a group of around half a dozen people that regularly contribute to the project in various ways.

DM: That's a very cool name, I'll grant you that.

How do you guys work together?

JH: We coordinate via email, message boards, IRC, and instant messaging. Since we are located all over the world occasionally timezones can be difficult to line up to talk in real time, so email and message boards are our primary forms of communication.

Is there something you would do differently if you had significant funds to your aid?

JH: We would spend more time working on the project. We run purely on donations so all of our developers are "as we have spare time" essentially. We have a few improvements we have planned, but they are generally slow moving due to paying work taking priority.

I was fairly critical of Bodhi in its early days, and have not tested it much since. Do you think I should revisit the distro?

JH: Probably not. While a few of our rough edges are no longer there, we are still not a "desktop ready" distribution by default. We are bare by design in terms of applications that does not seem to be what you are looking for when you review something. We are all about giving a user tools to build what they want, not forcing our idea about what they should want on them.

Moksha desktop, another

Bodhi with Moksha; not for those who expect everything OOTB.

What do you think of Dedoimedo's distro testing methodology?

JH: I think comparing all distributions to the same set of standards is silly. Linux distributions are tools built for different jobs. You would not pick up a hammer and give it a bad review for being a poor screwdriver.

In a fight between Casey Ryback and John Matrix, who would win?

JH: No idea who these people are.

Bodhi wise, what lies ahead of us?

JH: Just more of the same. Stability and consistency are our primary goals. The desktop as is works well and we do not intend to fix things that are not broken for the sake of "progress" that really is not needed.

Can you tell us of some of your big milestones for 2017?

JH: The one change we would like to get done in 2017 is a rewrite of the Moksha settings panel. E's settings panel that we inherited is powerful, but complex. It lacks an easy to use search function which makes it daunting for new users. We also want our new settings panel to handle system functions like setting date/time and user management.

You are a mathematician. I have always believed math is essential in the hi-tech industry, and the one thing I see sorely missing in the IT world is a good foundation of math skills. Do you get to use your knowledge in your distro journey?

Having a background in mathematics makes me good at solving problems - which any software developer or IT person knows you will face plenty of everyday. While I do not apply specific mathematical knowledge in my daily Bodhi work, the general skills my education taught me are valuable.

Are there any other projects, apart from Bodhi and Moksha, that you are involved in and would like to mention here?

JH: I created and maintain a few smaller open source projects that you can learn a bit more about on my website.

What's next for Jeff?

JH: I am fairly blessed with my current position in life. My wife works full time and I do freelance writing, some part time teaching, and act full time as a caregiver for my sons who are almost three and 18 months old. I just plan to continue spending time with my family, playing games, and writing software as time permits.

Anything else you might want to share with the readers?

JH: Anyone can get involved with an open source project. Even if you are not a developer, projects are always looking for folks to help with documentation, translations, and organization.

To sum it all up

Bodhi Linux is a niche product with a very special mission statement, a unique approach to computing, and its own way of doing things. It's still around, five years down the road, which is a testament to the organization and passion of its development team and the community. It may not be to everyone's taste or need or both, but it does stand out among so many other distros, for better or worse. And bodhibuilder is such a dank app name that is warrants another mention. Lastly, Bodhi seems to be well-entrenched, the team know what they want to achieve, so we can expect to hear more from this distro in the coming years.

Despite Jeff's reservations about my testing methodology and whether I should give Bodhi another go, I might actually do that, to see whether the minimalistic approach has been tempered with some fresh new accessibility that did not exist in initial releases, but also experience Moksha. It could be a worthwhile exercise after all. Either way, I'd like to thank Jeff for his time. And now, to boldly test where no one has tested before.