An open palette: Tux Paint's Bill Kendrick

Bill Kendrick on Tux Paint, Tux4Kids, the GSoC, computer games, KDE, Debian, the spread of Linux and open source software in education

Bill Kendrick is a software machine. He is the lead designer and developer of New Breed Software, a company creating free and open source games, libraries, tools and utilities across a range of operating systems, mobile devices, hand held and home video consoles. He has personally created a diverse range of classic Web-based games that run across all browsers, and has worked as a professional video game developer since 2003.

But perhaps Kendrick's most significant software achievement is Tux Paint, a highly acclaimed, free and open source illustration program that is primarily aimed at kids, but is used by all ages courtesy of its intuitive and effortless design. Tux Paint has earned praise from education institutions and computer publications all over the world, has been translated into dozens of languages, and is featured on the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop. He is also involved in the Tux4Kids project, which was recently accepted as a mentoring program for Google's Summer of Code (GSoC).

Computerworld spoke with Bill Kendrick, to find out his thoughts on Tux Paint, Tux4Kids, the GSoC, computer games, KDE versus Debian, the spread of Linux, New Breed software, and the role open source software can play in education.

Kendrick on TuxPaint

What was it about the Atari and Commodore platforms that inspired you to create Tux Paint? What influenced its creation?

Atari and Commodore programmers utilised graphics and sound any chance they got. I have a paint program on cartridge for my Atari (that ironically I think I got after I started writing Tux Paint) that make noise as you paint, just like Tux Paint. I think that's a lot more engaging, compared to more "adult" or "professional" drawing tools.

Back in the days of the 8-bit Atari and Commodore computers, there were no mice, no windowing system, no GUI widget toolkits. Paint programs were full-screen, and the tools available to you were usually all right there on the screen, or all collected on their own screen.

Along with those old-school 8-bit interfaces, I was also inspired by the simplicity and in-your-face accessibility of some modern, special-purpose user interfaces: PalmOS handhelds and the TiVo DVRs, to be specific.

How involved are you in the process of merging and managing changes that people contribute to Tux Paint?

There are some people with commit access to the source code repository who occasionally surprise me with stuff, but lately, for the most part, I'm usually the one making code changes. New stamps and translations get committed by a few folks, but much of that still gets piped through me, too.

How many people contribute to Tux Paint, and what are the most frustrating and rewarding aspects about the development process?

There are a few dozen of people who contribute on a semi-regular basis, and many of those people are doing translation work. Really, I'd have to do some statistical analysis to figure out what's been going on lately.

The most frustrating thing is my lack of time to dedicate to the project. My dream in life is to work on Tux Paint, and other "edutainment" apps I've dreamed up, full-time, salaried and hire some contributors to work full-time, too. Who wants to make that happen? Drop me a line!

The most rewarding is hearing stories from schools that just found Tux Paint, and who are doing great things with it. Most recently, I received an email from a company that does eye-tracking hardware and software for the disabled, and sent me a link to a photo of a kid using Tux Paint with his eyes. Incredible. I want to go down that route even more, if I can, since I think many of the commercial drawing apps for kids are completely lacking in the accessibility department. (Consider "accessibility" in terms of localisation, for example: Tux Paint is translated to 80 plus languages. Most commercial kid drawing programs are in English only; some English and Spanish and maybe French.)

Are you involved in getting Tux Paint out in Linux distributions?

Only insofar as being a "willing upstream". Many of our core contributors are actually involved in the Linux packaging department. Ben Armstrong is a Debian Developer who packages and maintains Tux Paint (and plenty of other kids' stuff) in Debian. Caroline Ford has been working with Ben and the Ubuntu folks to try and make sure Tux Paint and other Tux4Kids apps are kept up-to-date there. Toyama Shin-Ichi packages unofficial RedHat and Fedora packages. Then there are the Mac, Windows and BeOS ports. It's a big, happy, multiplatform family.

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