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Interview with ShALLaX, the talent behind the Gentoox XBox Linux distribution

Shallax shares why he made GentooX, what lies ahead and how he has a LED that changes color according to CPU load on his Xbox. He also talks about magic, a great automatic software update system similar to Windows Update.

GentooX is available as a home and pro version. The pro includes more development tools and is aimed towards professionals and developers.

linuxreviews was extremely lucky and got to talk with ShALLaX, the young genius behind Gentoox. Shallax has also written a large number of great how-tos for Gentoo/GentooX.

How did you come up with the idea of making a separate Linux distribution for the XBox?

Well, before using Linux on the Xbox, I was always fond of Gentoo - I had it installed on three PCs and even my laptop. When I started work on Gentoox, the only available Linux distribution for the Xbox was Ed's Debian, don't get me wrong this distribution is good, but it's not for me and I'm sure there are others who think alike, so when I came down with an illness and had to take a week off school, I decided to see if it was possible to get a stable Gentoo platform on the Xbox. It was going to be a personal learning project, I never intended on releasing but when I showed people in various Gentoo chat channels on IRC, they said it was selfish of me not to release it so I decided to put it to the official Gentoo staff. Shortly I became a developer, but after a vote it was decided that Gentoo Technologies Inc. did not want to be officially associated with my Xbox endeavours due to possible legal implications despite my attempts at keeping the project legal.

How usable is Linux on the XBox? Can you use a standard XBox as a LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysqp, PHP) server?

mySQL, Apache and PHP work very well indeed in low traffic environments - the Gentoox site is served by an Xbox and suffers very little lag. On average it takes about 0.5 seconds to render the phpNuke front page with about 20 guests online which is more than acceptable. I decided to make the switch to using my Xbox as a fulltime Linux server in an attempt to convince people that, yes, it is possible! When I get'ed and suffer the sudden surge of traffic I do notice slowdown. The handy thing with the Xbox is that it has a tri-colour LED on the front which I made a script for that changes the colour depending on the system load, this makes resource monitoring very easy indeed!

How much modification is needed in order to install GentooX on the XBox?

As far as converting Gentoo to work on the Xbox,. quite a bit, but not too much. Of course a custom kernel for the Xbox was needed since the Xbox has custom hardware. Luckily, the Xbox-Linux team already had a pretty stable set of patches for the vanilla 2.4 series which served very well. There was also the need for an initrd to pivot_root to a loopback file system stored on one of the Xbox's partitions. This leads to another point. I wanted Gentoox to remain gamer friendly, this meant that wiping out the whole hard drive and turning into a Linux native set of partitions was not the answer. Therefore, Gentoox either installs into a loopback rootfs file system on the Xbox's E: partition, or it can take over the Xbox's F: partition which is not used by a default Xbox configuration so it will not affect gaming.

There were other issues with the boot-up sequence that needed changing, for some reason the checkroot init script would always return an error because the root file system wouldn't unmount cleanly.

Other than these issues, it was mainly small tweaks to get it running the way I wanted.

For the end user to install a Gentoox release, a modchip is essential. Everything else is provided for you, from the distribution itself right down to the custom BIOS needed to boot it, its all taken care of. I have even released a video called WATCHME, which details how to complete the installation in a graphical format.

What is this magic GentooX has?

As I mentioned above, Gentoo didn't want anything to do with the project initially. I was then faced with the problem of how to handle updates. I didn't want to have to deal with hundreds of emails asking How do I update this?, How do I fix that? so a simple to use application had to be developed. Not being great at choosing names, I came up with magic. This application is coded entirely in bash and runs along side portage, it basically tries to ensure that if you have run it, you will have an up to date, and above all, working Gentoox system; consider it the Windows Update of Xbox-Linux - it tries to keep every user in sync so if there is a problem, I can fix it for everyone at the same time. Recently, however, Gentoo asked me to integrate into portage about 14 days before my end of year University exams. I told them I'd consider it after my exams are out of the way but was dismissed from staff about 9 days before my exams started due to inactivity. Gentoo are now working to make an official live-cd for the Xbox. I don't consider this a threat, most of the Xbox community want something that just works out of the box, no messing around and I think I provide that, of course there will be bugs, but I can fix these with magic.

There are a number of patches in magic at the moment which include Xfree, XVKBD (on screen keyboard), GDM, KDE, XFCE4 mPlayer, fanctl (Xbox fan control daemon), a temperature monitoring application, kernel update patches... the list goes on. I suppose the best way to find out what is in magic is by trying it, run magic available!

You recently attempted to mod the v1.6 xbox. What went wrong?

I wish I knew right now! I followed OzXodus' soldering diagram pixel for pixel and it refuses to boot. I tried the pin header method and quick solder method, but I get a FRAG (Flashing Red And Green) error every time.

What new excellent features can we expect from GentooX in the future? Any plans?

Right now I don't really have any plans but to get the Home edition up to date. I am looking forward to implementing the Linux kernel 2.6 series, but there is some work that needs doing first and I'm not a kernel developer so it's out of my hands at the moment.

Vi, emacs or nano? (requested by kitchen, apparently it's obligatory).

nano, nano, nano. After nano, emacs. After emacs, I'd probably use windows notepad... or a combination of echo, grep, sed and awk! I despise vi, it's not user friendly. I don't care how many advanced features it has, if I can't use it without massive discomfort, I wont use it.

How much time and resources do you devote to GentooX development?

Too much time! There's not really a day that goes by when I'm not doing something related to Gentoox, be it coding, tech support or even imagery for stuff like DVD labels. In school, instead of studying for exams, I worked on Gentoox but lately, now that I'm in University, I try to concentrate more on my studies - it's important, after all!

Money wise, I'm indebted to my loyal supporters. When I need hardware to continue development the kind people will often come through for me! Many thanks to everyone who has donated, whether it be money or ideas, its ALWAYS appreciated. Thank you!

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