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July 26th, 2016

Conversation With Jonathan Thomas of OpenShot

The OpenShot Video Editor has had over a million downloads and might seem like the work of a large corporation. In reality, the founder, CEO and lead developer of the project works out of his home in rural Texas.

The Heart of Linux

One of the main benefits of having a booth at a conference like Texas Linux Fest is having the opportunity to hobnob with the people behind or inside some fairly impressive organizations. This year I had the good fortune to meet Jonathan Thomas, who has provided the world with OpenShot, a premiere video editing tool available for Linux, Mac and Windows.

OpenShot logoThe meeting came about because Reglue’s booth was right across the aisle from OpenShot’s booth. and their display caught my eye immediately. I’ve worked with many video editing tools over the years, and frankly, I’ve usually ended up paying someone to do the work for me because I found the level of complexity and the learning curve to be insurmountable. So being placed this closely to the OpenShot Studios booth rang out as a golden opportunity, which indeed it was.

Allow me to introduce you to the man, Jonathan Thomas, OpenShot Studios’ CEO, project creator and lead developer. and to his life’s passion, which is developing the editor.

OpenShot Jonathan Thomas

OpenShot Video Editor’s founder, CEO and lead developer, Jonathan Thomas.

Greetings from OpenShot land. My name is Jonathan Thomas, and I am the creator and lead developer for OpenShot Video Editor, one of the most popular open-source, non-linear video editors available for Linux. Simple and powerful video editing for everyone. I started the project back in 2008 for selfish reasons. I needed a good video editor on Linux.

After a few months of learning, studying, and experimenting, I decided to open-source my project and make it available to everyone for free. Over the years, the project has really exploded in popularity and usage, but the core team of developers has actually remained very small, and often is just me working by myself. OpenShot has been the single greatest programming challenge of my life and has provided me with amazing opportunities for learning, failing, problem solving and overcoming tasks that sometimes seem impossible.

I asked Jonathan to talk a bit about his personal life and family. His daughters, by the way, are way past adorable.

OpenShot Jonathan Thomas with daughters

OpenShot’s Jonathan Thomas at play with his two daughters.

I’m 37 years old, married, and have two awesome daughters (13 and 16). Both of my girls are accomplished young digital artists and home-schooled by my wife (I help with their computer skills, programming, animation, and art). We live near Dallas, Texas, out on the edge of nowhere. Since I work remotely (i.e. from home), our family spends a lot of time together. Although we spend a great deal of time on computers (more than I wish to admit), we also pass the time by playing board games, streaming videos and playing video games. My girls are huge fans of Minecraft, and I play a ton of Rocket League.

Jonathan, some people can identify a moment or a time when they made the conscious decision to work in a particular profession. You certainly have some astounding skills, as you produce and provide OpenShot for Linux, Mac and Windows. Did you have an aha! moment? A moment when you decided to work at creating software?

No, there wasn’t any real definitive moment in time when I decided to write software for a living. It was more of a process, and I would guess most computer/science programmers would say the same thing.

I’ve been programming since I was about 12 years old. My aunt bought me a C programming book and my dad taught me some BASIC.

Once I was in high school, I got a part-time job programming (Visual Basic, I believe) and soon taught myself ASP web programming using VBScript. A few months later, I built my own pen-pal website and had a few thousand people sign-up over the course of a year or so. It was a very unexpected success. Many of them sent me photos so I could scan them in, and my parents mailbox was often overflowing with all sorts of international mail and packages. In college I got a contract programming job and worked at a variety of companies, and learned a ton of different skills.

I think we all know that Linux, as a desktop solution, has far less users compared to Windows and Mac systems. What was your experience and reason for learning to use Linux as a desktop and a programming platform?

In 2008 I discovered Linux, dumped all my Windows computers and started learning Python, C++, GTK+, Qt. Soon after, I started work on building OpenShot, although it didn’t have a name back then. I also started a blog about this time, and decided to “blog” my way through the project, the successes and the failures. You can read the full origin store at http://openshot.org/story/. For a while, nobody noticed or seemed to care about the project, but after a few months I met my first contributor, and it was very exhilarating that someone else was excited about this project too! Fast forwarding a few years…we now have over a million users.

OpenShot screenshot

A screenshot of the OpenShot Video Editor.

I think my initial fascination with Linux was based on rebuilding all my old, broken computers laying around my office/garage. I was having a ton of fun, pulling components out of old computers, installing various distros and seeing what worked/didn’t work. And then there was the 3D desktop cube, which was pretty awesome! Pretty soon I had built my kids their own computer, with “safe” web-browsing, education games, etc. It was many months of playing around with Linux before I learned about Python and started slowly getting more into the programming side of things.

Jonathan, I don’t doubt for a minute that creating software at this level presents you with some immense challenges. From the list of awards OpenShot has received, you seem to have overcome many of them. I’d like to ask you a bit about those challenges and how you work around them including the dirty little subject that no one wants to talk about: money. Since OpenShot is an open source project and is free as in monetary costs, how do you make it all happen?

At first it wasn’t so bad. As our popularity increased, so did the costs of running the project. Since our project is primarily funded by small donations (we only bring in a few thousand dollars in revenue each year), it is sadly, not enough to cover even our hosting fees. Millions of downloads, especially for Windows and Mac, add up to huge sums of bandwidth, and that costs a lot of money. However, thanks to a sponsorship from Amazon, our hosting fees are currently being waved for most of this year, which is great for our project and allows us to keep going. This is also why I maintain a full time job, to cover the bills and such, as well as cover OpenShot-related expenses.

So much of your own money goes into the production and upkeep of OpenShot?

Yes.

I would imagine there will be people who want to help, financially and otherwise. Are there opportunities for others to host your files? How can people get on board and give you a hand?

There are lots of ways to support OpenShot, including testing and bug reports, helping users on forums or Github, translations, documentation, financial contributions, programming assistance, marketing, and/or any other areas that someone wants to contribute. If someone has a skill, interest, or passion, and wants to help out, they can contact me directly at [email protected]

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

2 comments to Conversation With Jonathan Thomas of OpenShot

  • CFWhitman

    It should be noted by any who install OpenShot on their Linux computers that the versions in repositories are often old 1.x versions. You can’t see everything that OpenShot will really do from those old versions.

  • Mike Eff

    Arrgh, the latest LM 18 (Ubuntu based) and LMDE2 (Debian based) version is 1.4.3 :-(. Fortunately there is an Ubuntu PPA AND a bleeding edge appimage on the openshot web site for the rest.