Interview with Deepin project leader Wang Yong

In July 2013 DistroWatch reviewed Linux Deepin 12.12. This distribution was also mentioned in the news section of DistroWatch Weekly in early 2012. In this issue of DistroWatch Weekly we’ll take a closer look at the Deepin project. In the middle of this month, the Deepin development team announced the initial alpha build of Deepin 2014, which will soon become a major release of the desktop-oriented distribution. DistroWatch contributor Dr. Zhu Wen Tao took this opportunity and contacted the Deepin team. With the assistance of Li Hong Wu (李洪武), the project leader Wang Yong (王勇) accepted the interview from DistroWatch, in which he tells the readers about some interesting stories behind what is possibly the most popular Linux distribution in China at the moment.

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DistroWatch: Could you first tell us something about yourself? For example, what is your role in the Deepin project?

Wang Yong: Hi, there. I’m Wang Yong. I have been an Emacs and Haskell developer for quite some time. If you are an Emacs fan, you can visit my homepage. Now I work for Wuhan Deepin Technology Co., Ltd., and as head of the Deepin project. I mainly coordinate the design and development of the whole Deepin operating system.

DW: The project changed its name in late November 2009, right? We have noticed significant changes in the naming/numbering style of recent releases, for example, from “Hiweed Linux 2.0” released in 2008, to “Linux Deepin 12.12” released in middle 2013, to the very recent “Linux Deepin 2013”, to the upcoming “Deepin 2014”. Can you explain the motivation behind these changes?

WY: Yes. Before late 2009 the distribution was called Hiweed Linux, as one of the distribution’s creators, Leng Gang Hua, has the nickname “Hiweed”. Our project comes from Hiweed Linux and has evolved to what it is like today. In late 2009 we released a new version of the distribution under a new name, Linux Deepin, as the current project’s initiator and investor, Liu Wen Huan, has the nickname “Deepin”. In September 2011, we founded Wuhan Deepin Technology Co., Ltd., which comprises a professional development team and provides long-term support for the distribution’s growth.

We then slightly changed the project’s name again, this time to Deepin, for the most recent development release, as we’ve noticed that many Chinese people don’t know how to pronounce the word “Linux” correctly; actually, we shortened the name for easier communication. Our intention is just to make the name easier to spread. Note that the project hasn’t changed its open-source nature; the whole distribution is strictly licensed under GPLv3.

The “numbering” style for Deepin’s releases correlates much with its release cycle. Initially, Hiweed Linux employed an incremental version number. Then, as to the Linux Deepin project, we replaced Hiweed’s version style with Ubuntu’s, so we had versions like 9.12, 10.06, 10.12, 11.06, and so on, which imply new releases of our distribution in June and December every year. This release cycle/numbering worked fine at first, but proved unsuitable in the last two years.

Since Linux Deepin 12.12, the distribution has shipped with our HTML5-based desktop environment, along with a number of our own feature applications, which involves quite a deal of hard work. The previous half-year release cycle turned out to be a bit too short for Deepin’s development. It may also burden Deepin’s followers, as one may have to upgrade or even re-install his/her system every six months to “catch up”. Therefore, we changed the release cycle and numbering for Linux Deepin 2013 and the upcoming Deepin 2014. Now we release a major version of the distribution every year and possibly minor maintenance versions between every two major versions. This ensures stability and works with Deepin’s current development life cycle.

DW: So what are the new features in the upcoming Deepin 2014? Do you have a detailed release schedule, or a rough release plan?

WY: The new Deepin release will ship with Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE) 2.0, Deepin Control Center 1.0, Deepin Media Player 3.0, Deepin Translator 1.0, Deepin Terminal 2.0, and Deepin Talk 1.0. DDE 2.0 is the new generation of our desktop environment, which is written in HTML5 and whose base libraries are re-implemented in Google’s Go programming language. We will provide an easy-to-use and elegant desktop while ensuring a very stable system.

The new Deepin Control Center (the successor of the previous Deepin System Settings) is designed with QML. The layout for all options has been rearranged. We aspire to ensure simplicity while offering the most customization options possible. Deepin Media Player 3.0 comes with a fancier interface and provides more options, like those for subtitle settings. Deepin Translator is a lightweight translation tool utilizing OCR technologies; it is possibly the first application on Linux to translate words captured on the computer screen, even from images! We would like its interactive experience to be as simple as Deepin Screenshot, which is an extremely easy screen capture tool shipped with Deepin by default.

Deepin Terminal 2.0 comes with many bug fixes. It offers great convenience for programming enthusiasts. For example, it’s fast and easy to switch between different screens using key combinations. The advent of Deepin Talk will greatly improve the experience of instant messaging on Linux. With this IM application, it will be really convenient for the users to send text messages and transfer documents, as well as starting a conference-like “group chat”. We plan to release the beta version of Deepin 2014 on May 15, and the final stable on June 15.

DW: What is the relationship between Deepin and other distribution like Ubuntu or Debian GNU/Linux? For what kind of users Deepin might be a more preferred choice?

WY: To be precise, Deepin owes much of its lineage to the Debian family. Deepin’s repositories are based on Debian’s and Ubuntu’s. Besides, Deepin has selected quite a large quantity of third-party applications, which improves Deepin’s usability. Deepin would be a perfect choice for people who are migrating from other operating systems (like Windows) but who do not have much knowledge on computers. Give it a try, we’re confident you’ll be impressed.

DW: Another question more or less related to Ubuntu: Are there any “long-term support” policies or plans with existent or upcoming releases of Deepin?

WY: We do provide long-term support. Basically, we have the same support life cycle as Ubuntu.

DW: An anecdote we would like to share with you is that as early as in 2010, when Deepin was a Chinese desktop distribution, the DistroWatch team received an enquiry from United States asking whether the project offered an English edition. Now, four years later, it is reported that Deepin 2014 will support as many as 15 languages, which sounds quite inviting for international users. Deepin recently has also set up many download mirrors world-wide. So could you tell us more details about Deepin’s efforts on internationalization?

WY: Deepin’s i18n effort consists of two aspects, localization and setting up mirrors around the world; we hope people can use Deepin in their native languages and can conveniently update their systems online wherever they live.

We are doing localization on Transifex, an excellent localization platform. Many Deepin fans have volunteered to help with the translations. For example, our Spanish translation team completed the localization within one week, and we were amazed at such efficiency. Translation is now merged automatically from Transifex to our GitHub repositories on a daily basis.

We know that many universities and companies around the world have kindly mirrored some of the most popular Linux distributions. Therefore, we first did a research on the mirrors for distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, and ArchLinux, and then mailed identified mirror maintainers one by one. They turned out to be friendly and generous. Some even set up a Deepin mirror for us upon the day they received our request.

We would like to express our gratitude to those who have helped us with either the translations or the mirrors around the world. They are the real heroes behind Deepin’s i18n effort.

DW: Currently how many people are there in the Deepin development team? Are they purely technical engineers doing programming and testing work?

WY: There are more than 30 people in the team, half being development engineers, a quarter being designers, and the rest engaged in publicity, commerce, sales, and so on.

DW: Red Flag Linux, once upon a time a well-known Linux distribution from China, recently closed doors, presumably due to financial obstacles. Can you tell us something about the daily operation of the Deepin project? Is there any commercial side to Deepin?

WY: The project is mainly supported by investments from Wuhan Deepin Technology Co., Ltd. and other commercial investments. The Deepin team offers development service regarding the Deepin operating system. We do such business with enterprises as well as government agencies. We also provide system customization service based on cloud computing technologies. Our commercial customers mainly include individuals and enterprises who need a commercial Linux distribution from China. They are always welcome to discuss business with us.

DW: What about the Deepin user community? Do you have any estimation on the user scale, based on, say, statistics on downloads or forum access?

WY: Most Deepin users are developers or professionals in different industries. There are also a large number of ordinary users who employ Deepin for their daily computing tasks. We guess there are at least ten million Deepin users around the world. Daily access to all download mirrors altogether can reach hundreds of thousands of times. The distribution, in Chinese and English editions alone, has been downloaded more than ten million times, just from our main server. In Deepin’s upcoming release, language support will cover more than 40 countries and regions. As a result, I believe we can still envision a rapid increase in the user scale.

DW: Thank you very much for your time and we wish all the best to Deepin!


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