History of Elive
Elive is a free and open-source operating system created by Samuel F. ‘Thanatermesis’ Baggen. Thanatermesis was unsatisfied with existing operating systems especially Microsoft’s Windows, which he found to be slow and inefficient. After to discovered Linux he was impressed by its power and cost-effectiveness.
Fascinated by the Enlightenment graphical desktop, decided to create his own system using it. Thanatermesis originally modified a Knoppix ISO to make an experimental OS called Tezcatlipotix. This result was so pleasant that he decided to share it with the public, this is when Elive born publically.
Elive focused on improving the user experience and being more unique, over the time he faced multiple challenges not only about the development but also external attempts to destroy the project. Ignoring the circumstances, Thanatermesis kept his passion and dedication to keep the project alive no matter the difficulties.
Over the years Elive has garnered global acceptance, becoming widely appreciated as one of the oldest and most liked Linux distributions. However, sustaining the project financially remained a significant obstacle. Thanatermesis relied on donations and support from users, but the amount was not always sufficient to cover development costs and related expenses.
Despite financial limitations, Thanatermesis remained committed to the project, dedicating much time and effort to its growth and improvement prioritizing the best user experience over commercial interests.
Actually the project continues, with Thanatermesis hoping for greater support and recognition from users to ensure the project’s survival and continued development.
Interview by Emiliano Ferigutti
Emiliano has recently made an interview to Elive's founder Samuel F. Baggen, telling the story about Elive and how it was made:
TIP / TODO: Waiting for the English version of the video by Emiliano, there's english subtitles you can enable on the video
Where are you from and where do you live?
I’m half Belgian and Spanish, Elive started in Belgium and I stayed there for some years, later I moved to Spain and lived a bit in different places since I’m not a person with attached roots. Now I’m living in Colombia since the pandemic for economical reasons. Tomorrow, who knows?
How old were you when you started developing Elive?
I was 24 years old when I began developing Elive.
What is your training path?
I have never been good at school, and everything I learned about computers has been self-taught. It all started when I received my first computer at the age of 12. I liked to try and experiment with it. For example, when only .wav files existed, I found a way to store entire songs on a single floppy disk. I started labeling the floppies with my favorite songs, which was a fun way to keep them. While people stored music on cassettes, I stored them on floppies.
At one point, I opened up the computer and used a free slot to install a car radio using the 12v power supply. I had to cut off 20% of the radio to make it fit. My family was scared, thinking I had destroyed the expensive computer, but everything worked fine. I was enjoying a full-featured computer with a car radio on it.
At that time, only MS-DOS existed. When Microsoft imposed its monopoly with Windows, I started to really dislike that slow and useless system. Fortunately, a friend told me about something called Linux, which was much better than Windows. It used a shell like MS-DOS but was more powerful, and it was entirely cost-free. It sounded too good to be true, but I wanted to try it. I was surprised to find that it was real. I learned and really enjoyed this new type of shell (bash), and that’s where all my Linux learning and experimenting started.
I loved the commands but disliked the graphical interfaces available. I tried all of them, but only one called Enlightenment caught my attention. I promised myself to take a closer look at it in the future. Some time later, I found a distro called EvilEntity that used Enlightenment. After trying it, I became even more inspired by the Enlightenment world.
Meanwhile, a new technology was promoted in the Knoppix distro, using a static image of Linux to boot a computer, detecting and configuring the hardware on the fly. All changes were saved in RAM, and they are erased after shutting down the computer. I loved this concept because it allowed me to use Linux in cyber cafes without using Windows. However, I still didn’t like the common desktops shipped with all the Linux systems. So, I decided to modify a Knoppix ISO to create my own system. I wanted to boot the computers in the cyber cafes with the unique Enlightenment desktop that I liked. This OS experiment was called Tezcatlipotix, and for those curious, there’s a video of it on YouTube. It included games and some proprietary things for personal use. I was so satisfied with the result that I decided to create a free version to give to the public. And that’s where Elive was born, along with its better name.
What is your job?
Since the creation of Elive, due to its great acceptance worldwide, I have dedicated all my time to it. Two years later, I found myself solely focused on Elive in my life, which was fortunately economically possible for me thanks to social aids in Belgium. At that point, I had to decide whether to quit making Elive and search for a normal job or try to make a living from Elive. It was a difficult question, but an important aspect had to be considered; I saw so many happy people using Elive that it made me think that if I stopped making it, they would be unhappy. On the other hand, if I tried to charge for Elive, those who truly loved it would still be able to continue using it. Charging for free software had a negative perception among users, even though it is perfectly legal and the Free Software Foundation even encourages charging for open source software, the users would see it as a negative thing, so it was a risky decision. However, the alternative was losing Elive completely for everyone, apart from a few users who complained on the internet, the acceptance was really good and it surprised me. This decision saved Elive from being discontinued in 2007 and it has been my full-time work ever since. So, to summarize the answer to your question, making Elive has been my only full-time work for 18 years.
What prompted you to create Elive?
As detailed before, I was unsatisfied with existing systems, and I decided to create my own. This is one of the advantages of open source – you can do it, and the limit is only your mind.
The Elive project was born in 2002, what are the biggest difficulties you have had to face in all these years?
There were basically two main difficulties in Elive. One was the development and, especially, the fixing of bugs. Development can be slow and hard, and fixing bugs can sometimes be very difficult, leading to many days lost trying to find the cause of an issue or a way to solve it. The other main difficulty that Elive has always faced is financial support. Motivating users to make donations is not easy, and only a few, sometimes very generously, do it. However, in the end, it has always been the biggest limitation because financial support has always been needed to be able to invest my full time in developing Elive, as well as covering all the related expenses such as servers, hardware, etc. In the past, I was able to pay for extra development, which greatly helped the development of Elive. Thanks to this support, it was possible to create version 3.0, which featured a highly customized and uniquely featured desktop, as well as a stable support of Compiz special effects with the Ecomorph integration. Today, I am facing more difficulties than ever with the financial support of Elive. It is not an easy situation because even though Elive has always offered cost-free ways to use it, if I try to ask for donations (such as using a delayed download when not donating), there is a loss of interest from users. This results in fewer downloads and less people talking about Elive on the internet. On the other hand, if there is no incentive to donate, too few people will do it, leaving the project without the possibility to survive. This has always been a very difficult area without a real solution. I also know that even though Elive is one of the oldest and most appreciated distros, this has been the main reason for it not being more widely used in the world or more promoted.
Have you ever thought about giving up?
Yes, many times, because of the aforementioned reason, it is true that it is a very difficult task and it takes up a significant amount of time in my life, but the economic limitations have always hindered the project, preventing the realization of the numerous unique ideas that have already been written in many notes, due to a lack of financial resources to bring these dreamt ideas to life.
How many and what sacrifices do you make to carry on the development of Elive?
The biggest sacrifice is the amount of time and mental effort that I need to invest in this project. Literally, time passes very fast due to the amount of work needed to be done, the combination of numerous tasks and their complexity leaves me feeling stressed, making it difficult to cope with sometimes. Another significant sacrifice is my economic limitations in life. I am not someone who desires or values money greatly. To me, money only buys convenience, not happiness, I also believe that the world would be a much better place without money, just like it is presented in the Venus Project. However, these economic limitations have been quite a sacrifice in my life. For instance, I have to live in cheaper places of the world and currently, I am dealing with a long overstaying situation that needs to be resolved.
How important are ethics in what you do?
Ethics is a highly significant subject. My decisions and how I make them affect the lives of thousands of people worldwide. My goal is always to provide the best computer experience and maintain a good security for everyone. However, achieving the first is challenging due to the diverse preferences of individuals. For instance, I would never consider including ads in Elive, I don’t want to impose such an experience on users, in fact, the system comes with a preinstalled ad blocker. I strongly oppose the relentless capitalist system that prioritizes selling anything at any cost, to me, this approach is completely unacceptable and invasive. Even if it may sound extreme, I would rather let Elive die before doing something like this.
Could you tell me an anecdote that shows how much passion you put into creating your work of art?
One anecdote can be the fact that over the years, I have seen multiples times ideas on Elive, being reflected later in other operating systems like Windows or Mac, for example in Windows was mostly related about designs, when Elive added borders with a 3D effect and some shiny reflections traversing them, they showed up later in windows 7, or like with white blurred backgrounds in some interfaces. In the case of Mac I have seen window maximization controls just the same way that Elive did in the hidden window-border menu in the version 3.0. I don’t think they were spying Elive to get ideas of course but it is quite funny to discover and see, also I think that in the same time is very related of the progress of the technology or how the things evolve, even if some of these ideas could have been implemented easily 20 years ago too.
Can you finance your project with donations?
No, I have been living almost from savings for the past 2-3 years. The donations have not been enough for this minimal maintenance since that time.
Why is it important to make a donation to support a free project like Elive?
Yes, it is, because it is the only way to keep the project alive, if people don’t do it, the project will end. The problem is not that people don’t want to donate; the only problem is, let’s say, laziness, because it is much easier to just download than to take the time to proceed with the donation, even if it takes less than 2 minutes, this happens even more these days, due to the saturation of information which social medias promoted in the last years. I think people also tend to think that their donation will not change anything or maybe even believe that a donation is not needed at all or that there is enough financial support. I have seen many amazing open source projects being abandoned over the years due to a lack of donations, and it is only at that moment that people realize that things could have been different. But it is not their fault; these things always happen unexpectedly. People don’t know when a project is having or not facing difficulties.