Interview with Jonathan Thomas of Openshot

Openshot is the most successful open source video editing tool right now. On this interview, we meet the founder of the project Jonathan Thomas, to learn the details of the motives behind the creation of this great piece of software, the evolution of the community around the project on the four years of its existence, and the future plans he has in mind.

Tell us a few things about you and how/when you started using Linux.

I am a professional software developer, and started my career programming for Windows, using Microsoft development tools and working for a large corporation in North Texas. In 2006, I transitioned into a smaller company, and became very interested in Linux and open-source software. It did not take long before I had Linux on my home computer, my work computer, my laptop, and any other computer I could get my hands on.

Most of the “specialized” open source applications for linux are made because of the lack or the bad quality of the already available. What was the case with OpenShot? What video editing tools were available at the time and why did you decide to start your own application instead of contributing to an existent?

One of my favorite hobbies is creating short videos with my kids. I realized very quickly that I could no longer use a commercial video editor, since none were supported on Linux. I spent months installing and evaluating open-source video editors which supported Linux, and not one met my simple requirements:

1) Easy-to-use

2) Video transitions

3) Multiple audio tracks

4) Actually works, and does not crash immediately.
I approached the Cinelerra team at one point, but was turned away. I exchanged emails with developers and users from Kdenlive and PiTiVi, but at that point, I was not sure if I agreed with the direction of those projects enough to join them.
So, I decided that I would dip my toe in Linux programming, and see how feasible it would be to create a video editor. In August of 2008, I began OpenShot and started blogging about my journey to learn Linux programming and create a simple, usable video editor.

What kind of technical knowledge was required for someone who wanted to start developing a video editing tool back in 2008?

I had very little knowledge of Linux or Linux-friendly programming languages and tools when I started in 2008, but a little hard work and lots of practice was all I needed to get started. Of course, knowing how to program in other languages was a big help.

Why is OpenShot the most successful open source application of its kind right now?

When I started OpenShot I also started a blog. This blog allowed the “early adopters” to give me feedback, let me know what worked well, and what needed to be fixed. The blog was so successful that, although I had no contributors helping me yet, I did not feel alone. We were building a community around OpenShot that believed the same thing as me:
we want a simple, powerful video editor that actually works on Linux.
We never wanted to add the “most” features, but rather just the features our users actually wanted. OpenShot is still one of the only video editors (open-source or commercial) that supports full 3D animations, simulations, and titles, such as a 3D globe that can animate a path between two sets of latitude and longitude coordinates, falling snow, and much more.
The community gets to decide what applications are the best, and that is where OpenShot excels, by listening to the community, and allowing them to participate in the development of OpenShot.

Why did you choose the MLT multimedia framework instead of the more widely used Gstreamer?

I actually started with Gstreamer, and quickly decided that it was not ready for a video editing application. At that time, PiTiVi was using Gstreamer, and was unable to add some of the features I needed, such as video transitions, and transparency between tracks. This became the primary reason I decided to not join PiTiVi and instead move in my own direction.
MLT was a joy to integrate with OpenShot, gave us lots of flexibility, and provided the support we needed. It is still the best video editing library on Linux.

How many people are involved in the development of OpenShot, and what was the evolution of the community around the project since 2008?

Although our community is large and active, we still only have 4 primary contributors: Andy Finch, Olivier Girard, Maël Lavault, and myself. However, we do get many smaller code contributions in the form of patches and bug fixes. This is an area I am trying to improve with our project. How do we help convert these one time contributors into an active member of our core team? That is a question I’m trying to solve right now.

How can someone contribute to the project? What are the knowledge requirements?

Learning how to become a contributor and submit your very first patch is super easy. We have setup a web page explaining the step by step process.

Developing open source applications is a difficult and time demanding task. Do you get “enough” donations or maybe funding to keep going?

OpenShot is a labor of love. I work on it because I love it, and I enjoy watching the community use it. Of course, donations are very important for our project, and allow us to travel to events such as SCALE 10X. These events are expensive, but give us an opportunity to meet users, developers, industry experts, and promote the project. Every donation is appreciated, and continues to be the easiest way for users to contribute. However, the amount of funding we receive is not related to the success or failure of OpenShot.

Could you share any future development plans with us? Is version 2.0 on its way or far away?

Over the past 12 months I have been working very hard on a new open-source C++ library, which will power the future of OpenShot. This library is inspired by Blender, an amazing open- source 3D animation package. It will bring many exciting new features to Linux video editing, such as a powerful curve-based animation system, powerful image processing, professional frame rate conversion options, time remapping, full multi-processor and multi-core support, and more. It does not have a release date yet, but I will be announcing more details soon.
This will be a very exciting year for OpenShot and Linux video editing, and I look forward to working with our community to perfect these new features and hopefully release them sometime this year.