Interview with Ladislav Bodnar -

Born in former Czechoslovakia, now running from Taiwan the best site of linux distros DistroWatch.

12.3.2005 17:00 | František Hucek | přečteno 36826×

FH: How old are you?
LB: 39.

FH: How did you get via South Africa and Pakistan to Taiwan?
LB: I am a metallurgical engineer by trade. After 1989 I had an exciting opportunity to work for a large South African mining house so I relocated to South Africa. I worked at a platinum refinery near Pretoria for 3 years, then moved on to Cape Town where I worked for several small companies mining marine diamonds on the west coast of South Africa and Namibia. It was then when I developed a strong interest in computing and started studying programming (C and Delphi).

The offshore diamond mining job was great because we worked on a month-on, month-off basis. This gave me plenty of chances to travel, which I enjoyed very much. During a trip to Taiwan I happened to come across a job opportunity, working for Linpus Technologies, a company developing a Linux distribution for the local market. I wanted to get into IT anyway, so I decided to join the company, especially since I'd had strong interests in Linux already. I stayed with Linpus for about 18 months.

I am not sure where Pakistan comes in - I've certainly never visited Pakistan.

FH: Big part of electronic devices come from Taiwan. How you see the difference between new dynamic economy as that of Taiwan and old economy with tradition like the Czech one. Is it in the people? In the government?
LB: Both. The government's role is to create a business-friendly atmosphere, preferably with little bureaucracy and low taxes. Then people will do the rest. The difference between the Asian tigers and Europe is that people here are much more motivated to make money. Money is vitally important to them so they talk about money all the time. They work hard and work long hours to make more money. It always fascinated me to see that most shops here are open from 10am to 10pm every day, including Saturdays and Sundays! Also, they tend to be less pragmatic about failures - if they start a business which fails after a short period of time, they simply blame it on bad feng shui or unfavourable constellation, rather than themselves. Then they move on and try something else.

FH: How you get to Linux?
LB: I started playing with Linux in 1999. I heard a lot about it, both from a system administrator at my place of work, and from the PC Plus magazine, which I used to subscribe to at the time. One day, after replacing a 2 GB hard disk with a 6 GB one in my laptop, I decided to give Linux a partition. I bought a box of Corel Linux. Unfortunately, although it installed fine, I didn't find it a very useable product. I had no sound, my modem and printer didn't work, and my X window only gave a very low colour depth. As a novice user I had no idea how to fix things. After trying to get Corel Linux work for a few weeks, I finally gave up and bought myself a copy of Windows 2000 instead. Coincidentally, on the same day I also received a new issue of PC Plus with Mandrake Linux on its cover disk. I decided to give Linux another try and to my delight, Mandrake worked like magic! I was hooked and it stayed on my laptop for several years, dual-booting with Windows 2000.

FH: How you get the idea of founding DistroWatch?
LB: This happened while I was with Linpus Technologies. My boss asked me to compile a feature list of all the main distributions on the market so that we can compare them with our own product. This was an easy task, I thought, and started searching the web for the information. To my surprise, I couldn't find any good and up-to-date Linux distribution comparison charts, so I had to do all the work myself by visiting each distribution's web site and extract all the data from their web pages. This took me several days. Once I collected the data, I decided to put them up on a web page so that those who might need such information can get it easily. The page proved very popular right from the start and I soon found myself flooded with email and suggestions. I registered the domain shortly after that.

FH: What distribution, programs you use?
LB: The primary operating system on my main workstation (an AMD64 box with 2 GB of RAM) is Debian Sid. My second computer is for testing and, naturally, it has about 20 different distributions installed on it at any time. As for the desktop environment, I use KDE with KMail and Kate always opened. I browse the web with Firefox and Opera, and use Konsole for command line tasks, Liferea for aggregating RSS feeds, gFTP for uploading files to the web server, and GIMP for editing graphics.

FH: How you make your living?
LB: Maintaining DistroWatch is a full time occupation. I also write regular articles for the distribution section of Linux Weekly News (

FH: What is the business model of DistroWatch? Does it make enough Money?
LB: DistroWatch is supported by advertising. At first, it didn't make much money - I remember my first advertiser (, which wanted to advertise on the site, but was reluctant to pay the asking price. Nevertheless, they decided to give it a try for a month. After that first month, they never again complained about the price and paid on time every month! Nowadays, with over 70 thousand visitors per day on the main page, it is no longer a problem to attract advertisers.

FH: On what SW/HW is DistroWatch running?
LB: The server is running on a Dual Xeon 2.8 GHz with 2 GB of RAM. On the software side, it is FreeBSD 5.3 with Apache 2 and PHP 5, and a handful of Bash scripts running in the background.

FH: DistroWatch has the lowest price for advertising. Do not you think increasing price, you could make more Money?
LB:It was never my intention to become rich out of DistroWatch. It started as a hobby site and I intended to keep it that way, but as it became more and more popular, I could no longer maintain it in my spare time only. So I quit my job and started working on DistroWatch full time. But as long as it makes enough money to pay the bills, I am not too concerned. In fact, last year I launched a donations programme, whereas 10% of the site's income is donated to various open source projects every month. After all, I have benefitted from the varied and exciting world of open source software so I felt that it was my duty to give something back.

FH: Is there any linux distribution which is not known now, but by your opinion could be know soon?
LB: Hmm, it tends to be the other way around - some distributions that were well-known not long ago have disappeared from the scene completely (Corel, Caldera) or their usage shrinked dramatically (Turbolinux, Lycoris). At one time I though that Ark Linux could displace a distribution or two, but their development process has been so painfully slow - still in alpha after two years! Others came from nowhere and became huge overnight (Gentoo, Ubuntu). The only distribution I can think of that might make an impact on the Linux distribution scene is Specifix Linux, which has some interesting ideas behind it. But the few Debian-based "business" projects that were launched recently (UserLinux or Progeny) have been totally eclipsed by the success of Ubuntu and I don't believe they will ever break into the big league.

FH: How is it with Linux distros in Taiwan? In Czech Republic is No. 1 Mandrake, than probably Debian and Suse, is it so in Taiwan?
LB: Fedora and Mandrakelinux are probably the most popular distributions in Taiwan, but Debian is also well-established among the more advanced users. Unfortunately, most of Asia is pretty dead when it comes to Linux, especially on the desktop (with the possible exception of Thailand). Asia's governments are virtually "married" to Microsoft and they spend an insane amount of money on licensing Windows for schools and public offices. If they diverted just a tiny fraction of it to sponsor open source software and make it more useable for local users, Asian desktop Linux could be a reality.

FH: What you think is the biggest obstacle for linux to being more popular? On server side it is no problem, on desktops it is worse..
LB: I wouldn't look at it this way. Rather, let's consider what Linux has achieved so far - especially when considering the odds. It came about (in a useable form) when the whole world was standardised on MS Windows, MS Office and MS Internet Explorer. Even today, it is virtually impossible to buy a computer without Windows on it (or without any OS, for that matter), even if you ask! And yet, DistroWatch is visited by 70 thousand people every day, the city of Munich is migrating tens of thousands of computers to Linux, and many small companies are now using Linux on their desktops (just visit some of the user forums on the Internet and find out for yourself). Linux is a reality for many people today and is growing remarkably. It is no longer a hobby OS, it is a real business OS. It is just a matter of time before it will achieve the same penetration on desktops as it has on servers.

FH: Do you visit former Czechoslovakia or Europe at all? Are you watching the movement on Czech and Slovak linux scene? What do you like, what you do not like?
LB: Yes, my parents live in Kosice, Slovakia, and I visit them every now and then. I do try to follow the Linux scene in every country in the world. I really enjoy, which I visit every day; with great original articles and up-to-date news, I think one of the best Linux-related web site anywhere in the world! I also like Hungarian UNIX Portal at - the maintainers there have an amazing ability to digg up really interesting news stories long before they appear on English-language web sites.

FH: What do you think about the linxu comunities in the world?
LB: It is the thousands of individuals that have made Linux such an amazing success. Nowadays, just about every country in the world has community web sites, user forums and Linux User Groups, where people meet and exchange ideas. This is where new friendships are made and new business ideas are conceived. We cannot rely on governments or big businesses to do things for us, but collectively, we can achieve much more - whether it is to write code, translate help files, or fight software patents. We are the ones who are driving the Free Software movement and dismantling the old software monopolies. Instead of patenting information and ideas, we freely share them. We are building a better world.

LB: Thank you for questions :)
FH: We thank you for your anwers, and for DistroWatch :)

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