An Interview with Leon Brin, maintainer of Mathbuntu

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Today we share with you an interview with Dr. Leon Brin, professor, mathematician and maintainer of Mathbuntu a set of scripts that enhances an Ubuntu based distribution with mathematical software. Leon tells us the story behind Mathbuntu and how you can help the project. Enjoy!

F4S: Hi Leon. Please, give us a brief introduction about yourself.

First, let me thank you for the opportunity to discuss my latest project. It’s always great to find that there is interest in it. I am Leon Brin, professor of mathematics at Southern Connecticut State University where I have been teaching for 12 years. I am the author of IFS-tools ( and Mathbuntu, and I occassionally contribute to Maxima, the open source computer algebra system.

F4S: What is Mathbuntu?

In its current state, Mathbuntu is a project that provides instant access to free mathematical/scientific software and written text. More technically, it is a set of shell scripts that customizes a Kubuntu or Ubuntu installation with a lot of FLOSS, supporting documentation, and a few user-friendliness features you won’t find in any other single place on the planet. For Kubuntu or Ubuntu users, this means they download the 33Kb tarball and run the enclosed script. Truth in advertising, the script takes a while to run because it downloads and installs a large number of programs and documents. Users of other operating systems can download a DVD image or order a physical DVD that installs a complete (K)Ubuntu operating system with all the Mathbuntu goodies included.

F4S: Why and when did Mathbuntu come to be?

Mathbuntu has its origins in two ideas. First, I have stayed reasonably current on open mathematical software and open general purpose software over the past 15 years. The very beginning of Mathbuntu was just my personal list of this software. Second, and more recently, I have been keeping track of free and open source mathematics textbooks. Together, they will one day become a “curriculum on a disk”. I simply wanted to share this information and my vision for the future. In June 2011 my progress on this idea became Mathbuntu.

F4S: Which operating system is it based on? Why choose that one?

The project is based on Ubuntu because of the number of Ubuntu users and Ubuntu’s promise of continued and regular development and support.

F4S: What type of users will benefit from using Mathbuntu?

Anyone in the sciences already running some form of Ubuntu can benefit most easily. A simple and quick download provides a script that customizes (K)Ubuntu for the mathematician and scientist. Perhaps even more importantly, though, people with an interest in mathematics and science who are unfamiliar with FLOSS can also easily benefit. For them, the benefit would be a fully loaded Linux system suited to the scientist and mathematician. The emphasis of the collection is on the teaching and learning of mathematics which inherently includes many tools that would be helpful to researchers and industry professionals in mathematics and the sciences.

F4S: What scientific software is included?

Maxima, a computer algebra system; R, a statistical computing environment; Octave and Scilab, MATLAB clones; LibreOffice, a complete office suite, including a spreadsheet app; Sage, an ever more comprehensive collection of computing tools; C/C++, Java, and FORTRAN compilers; and LaTeX, the world standard in scientific typesetting. Maxima, R, Octave, Scilab, Sage, the compilers, and LaTeX are all, at their core, command line software, and can certainly be used within this interface. But Mathbuntu takes each two steps further by providing frontends for each, and extensive documentation for Octave, Sage, R, and Maxima that does not come with the programs themselves. Scilab, LibreOffice, and the LaTeX frontends include their own supporting documentation.

F4S: Does Mathbuntu have sponsors?

Mathbuntu is currently unsponsored, but I would be happy to consider a sponsor if one came along.

F4S: How many users you estimate Mathbuntu have?

The website has been visited from over 2000 distinct IP’s since last June, but I have no way to translate that into an accurate user count.

F4S: How many team members does the project have?

I am the sole member of the Mathbuntu team.

F4S: In what areas of Mathbuntu development do you currently need help?

My main need right now is sources for documentation and textbooks, plus web development.

F4S: How can people get involved with the project?

The simplest way to get involved is to try it out and send feedback. Also, if you are aware of, or perhaps even writing, any appropriate software, software documentation, or textbooks, sharing that information would also be very helpful. Perhaps most helpful of all, though, would be someone who is willing and able to administer a fully functional Sourceforge website for Mathbuntu.

F4S: What features are in the roadmap?

These few come to mind immediately:

    1) Expansion of the documentation and textbook selection
    2) Interactive prompts in the installation script, so users can pick and choose exactly what features they want installed and uninstalled.
    3) A more complete website that encourages an online community of users and supporters.
    4) Windows and Mac ports?

F4S: Which projects, blogs or sites related to open source software for science can you recommend?

The most obvious are the websites of the software I have mentioned. Also, is a great resource for open scientific books.

F4S: Why do you consider free/libre open source software important for the advancement of your field?

Knowledge should be shared freely. It’s much more difficult to share your work when restrictive licenses or hefty price tags get in the way.

F4S: Where people can contact you and learn more about Mathbuntu?

F4S: Thank you for agreeing to the interview Leon and thank you for your work on Mathbuntu.

Video: Installing Mathbuntu on Kubuntu

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