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Interview: Steven Biars of Zune-Linux project Print E-mail
Written by Kostas Tzounopoulos   
Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Earlier this month I talked to Steven Biars, member of the Zune-Linux project and the administrator of Zune-Linux.com site/forum. According to him the newly formed project is "an opportunity to unleash the power of Zune. Zune-Linux is not about money or fame, we're in this to better the Linux community and to better the capabilities of our Zunes". Read the full interview below...
Steven Biars is 22 years old. He has a degree in business and he is studying Mathematical Science and Physics in Shawnee State. He has also almost completed a degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering as well. He spends his spare time thinking of ways to hack or modify things to make them run more efficiently or to unlock restricted features. He assured me Zune-Linux project is real and he has managed to boot Linux on his Black Zune, although I've never seen a video, photos or anything convincing.


What do you do for the Zune-Linux project? Since when have you been in this?
I do Mac OS compatibility, hardware testing, and general site maintenance. The project officially started this past week. (comment: meaning end of January).

What is your relationship with technology and Zune & Linux particularly?
First and foremost, I've been an avid technophile from a young age. I've had a computer since I was age 6 (I'm 22 now). In high school, I took a technical preparatory strand to explore IT and Electrical Engineering. All the while, sharpening my interests in technology. I discovered that modifying electronics was quite challenging and enjoyable. With the flood of new digital products (Video iPods, Zune, etc) I found great products that had much more potential than Apple or Microsoft would allow them to fulfill. Linux opened the doorway to explore the potential of these devices.

When did the Zune-Linux project start? How many members does your team have?
Zune Linux has been in the works for some time now. Earlier this year, I contacted Mys Videl about collaborating on the project together for the common good. I'm surprised and disappointed at the way some of the non-believers have reacted thus far. With any project of this magnitude, there are sure to be nay-sayers. It amazes me how verbally abusive some people have become. It isn't as if we are forcing people to run Zune-Linux, we're giving them a choice. An opportunity to unleash the power of the Zune. Zune-Linux is not about money or fame, we're in this to better the Linux community and to better the capabilities of our Zunes. There are currently two separate development teams actively working on the project. There are no less than 10 members actively participating in preliminary development and multiple support users that aid in other critical development tasks. By the time of release, I imagine this number will have grown considerably.

Why do you want to port Linux to Zune ? Why would Zune owners prefer it to the official firmware?
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Initially, I liked the fact that Zune has a larger screen than the video iPod. With the addition of Wi-Fi and radio ability, I started to wonder where Microsoft was headed with this. I felt the Zune had more potential, and after reading of various problems with the user interface, synching, and song transfers, I decided to do something about it. Since the iPod already had a version of Linux, why not the Zune? Why not embrace change by empowering users. Who wouldn't want to release the unbridled potential of a device they have just paid $250 for? Its a lot like using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. When something doesn't work correctly, find something better. In this case, there was nothing better so we decided to take an initiative to make the Zune better.

There was a Zune video on YouTube some time ago. What about it?
I'm not saying this isn't real, but it wasn't posted by us. Also, if you watch the video closely, near the end of the clip, the screen selection does not match the actions of the zune user. Mys Videl has no cam.

What is the status of the project ? What have you already implemented?
We are currently addressing issues with synching the Zune to the PC. The project is still early on but we've made amazing progress so far. We are testing various distributions (stripped) to determine final build candidates. Meanwhile, I'm working closely with an insider on Wi-Fi and radio firmware. Zune-Linux is currently booting but as I've said, there are still minor issues with synching. We are working to resolve these as quickly as possible and have started forming project teams to handle individual tasks.

What linux kernel does the Zune-Linux project uses?
We're still selecting an official kernel for Z-L. I've personally been working on "Damn Small Linux" due to its size and ease of use. No official kernel for our distro has been decided upon yet.

How did you bypass the security features of Zune?
There are holes in the current firmware that allow the processor to boot another operating system in much the same way as a PC can use a ram disc / live distribution. The docking software has posed more of a problem than the security features of the Zune itself.

How do you "load" the Linux kernel on Zune? Do you use the Zune Software?
As I have said, there are exploitable features that allow us to boot the software through the Zune synching software. Further development may do away with the need for the software in the near future. The docking software has caused the most trouble so far but we're working to overcome that.

What will the Zune-Linux do when you first release it and when do you believe this will be? Why not right now as a "dangerous alpha prerelease code" ?
Many have asked this question. We have not released Alpha code because this would currently be a liability on our part. We cant guarantee the functionality of the Zune until further testing is complete. After all, broken code is why Zune-Linux started in the first place.

What do you mean by saying "broken code"?
Microsoft's failure to work some of the bugs out of the Zune such as lockups during sync, transfer errors, wi-fi issues, etc.

Do you have any feedback about what the Zune team thinks about it? Would you like to send a message to them?
At this point, we have not attempted to contact Microsoft. However, I will be attempting to contact Linus for his input. Microsoft tends to have great ideas with mediocre implementation (at least early on). If you're familiar with Linux, Steve Ballmer called it "a cancer". While I feel the true Zune team would be interested in seeing where this project goes, I'm not sure the company as a whole would be thrilled. I guess only time will tell.

Visit the Zune-Linux project Home: www.zune-linux.com

related articles:
Zune-Online is now the home of Zune-Linux
Zune-Linux.com up and running!
Update2: Linux on Zune project
Update: Linux on Zune Video
Take the first step: Linux on Zune  (the article which broke the story)

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 August 2007 )
 
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