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Virgin America Uses Linux to Entertain Inflight 117

anomalous cohort writes "CrunchGear has an interesting interview with the Director of Inflight Entertainment for the airline Virgin America, who discusses their adoption of Linux for the passenger's seat back computers. 'The ability to compose a music-video playlist is pretty cool and on the horizon. The READ section is also awesome in that it takes what is typically a bunch of wasted trees (excess newspapers, periodicals) and allows us to be more environmentally friendly and timely with things like news/event info/sports/entertainment etc.'"
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Virgin America Uses Linux to Entertain Inflight

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  • Ob (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2008 @05:48AM (#22903544)
    Wheareas Arab airlines use 72 virgins...
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Teppic_52 ( 982950 )
      Come on mods, that *is* funny, racist, but funny.
    • They're figs, I'm telling you, figs!

      Is that a fig in your pants, or are you just dead?
    • thank you for making this comment. There is just nothing even slightly interesting about this. I mean seriously, does the operating system matter or is it the software on the operating system that matters? What the heck does Linux have to do with the playlist? Was it something that could only be done on Linux... or could they have used Windows, QNX, VxWorks, Mac OS X or other systems to also have a video play list?
  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @05:50AM (#22903552) Homepage Journal
    Delta and Continental have been using linux based systems for years. I know this because they ended up rebooting a lot and you get to see a nice penguin when it does.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No. It was Windows. You see, Microsoft colluded with the developers of that software to crash and show the penguin. This was done to "show" all the business travelers that Linux is horribly unstable. See, you fell for it yourself. It was just FUD put there by Microsoft. Really.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jafar00 ( 673457 )
      Also Swiss Air, and Qatar Airlines from my recent experience. The Linux based in flight entertainment system is becoming a familiar sight and something I look forward to when flying longer haul sections of flight.
    • Well, of course others had sex with Linux before, but now it's time for the virgin to take the tour.
    • Yeah, Malaysian Airlines is another one that uses Linux for their inflight entertainment.
    • Re:Old news (Score:5, Funny)

      by alpharouge ( 1068214 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @07:20AM (#22903798)
      On a finnair flight from Helsinki to Tokyo last summer they appeared to be running linux on the personal touch-screen devices too. It worked great and it was good fun watching a few flicks on it.
      However, about an hour or two before the end of the flight they started rebooting over and over again - they were running some red hat variant on 266MHz devices if memory serves me right. The screens up at the end of the walkways rebooted at that time too, but seemed to be running windows, cant remember what variant though.

      After ten minutes of rebooting I was secretly hoping the stewardesses would make an announcement to ask if there was a systems engineer on the plane... :)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by liquidpele ( 663430 )
        If they all started rebooting, I'd say that it was a power issue... Not sure what generates the electricity on the plane, but I'd say it wasn't distributing the power correctly.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by HonIsCool ( 720634 )
          Finnair also uses Linux entertainment systems, and they are also really flakey. Not all of them start to reboot at once, but every once in a while the screen goes black for some passanger and they have to ask the flight attendent to reboot the system...
          Well, I've only been on two Finnair flights as of late (fall of 2007) but I think there at least 5-7 crashes during the 9+ hour flights, in my compartment...

          On the other hand, obviously the problem is not with Linux itself (count that as kernel or the base op
      • The chain of events leading up to this is quite obvious:

        Consultant: Entertainment is where it's at!
        Executive: We need better entertainment.
        resident tech guy: I'll make menus for them to pull up the movie they want.
        Marketing: We already advertised that you can watch the next four years of movies on it, and that you can reach into the screen and feel the action.
        resident tech guy: For sophisticated stuff, we need a whole OS.
        Integration:(lies)I can give you hardware support.
        tech guy: Where's that
    • by steevc ( 54110 )
      I was on a Virgin flight a few years back and they had to reboot the unit next to me. So I got to see Tux then. I seem to remember it being a pretty nice system to use. It was way ahead of others I encountered around that time.
    • To add to the list - Cathay Pacific also uses Linux, Ubuntu if I remember correctly, for their entertainment system, and I also learned this when the system was having trouble and the nice stewardess rebooted it for me. Good to see the Tux is everywhere.
    • I'm not sure it's full blown Linux though. I think it might just be Busybox.
    • Same on VirginAmerica. When I flew on VA earlier this year, their systems were extremely unstable. I probably saw half a dozen of them kernel panic, and reboot.

      They also had a bunch of open source games available, like Xmahjongg.
    • ..and Singapore Airways.
    • Definitely old news,
      I was on a delta flight a few years ago, when the system rebooted and people started to complain I heard a hacker a few seats say, "Hey it's the fault of that guy in front with the penguin computing hat on!".
    • by HEbGb ( 6544 )
      Agreed, I just got back from Tokyo, and these in-flight systems were really cool - at least in between reboots (twice).
    • by corz ( 409850 )
      Yea, my friend experienced it just last week on a trip to Europe: []
  • Oh dear. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Funkcikle ( 630170 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @05:54AM (#22903558)
    Why do articles like this always remind of those people who used to write into Amiga Format saying they saw an Amiga in some movie or television show?

    "It even had the A570 expansion next to it, but the machine itself was the A1200 which is incompatible! It was AWESOME!"
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by fat_mike ( 71855 )
      Amiga shamiga

      In my day we handy Tandy Color Computers with cartridges and all of our games came from Disney on cassette. It cost $800 for a 10mb hard drive and you worshiped the damn thing. If a download was over 100kb you begged your parents to stay off the phone.

      Point is, who cares what the plane has? As a business traveler I have everything I need in my handy laptop bag.

      Movies or TV - Check
      Games - Check
      Music - Check
      In-Flight Bathroom Entertainment - Check

      But I do have a secret obsession with watching
      • If you really enjoy (or are obsessed with) having that flight map tracking your location, you might want to consider bringing a GPS on board. I bring my clunky Garmin on board, and you can see the ground speed, the vertical ascent rate, etc. I'm training myself to estimate, based on what I see out the window, the altitude of the airplane, distances on the ground (how far is that tall building from the edge of the lake there?), etc. Also, it hadn't fully hit me before using the GPS that the airplane makes
        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          Since the GPS only receives signals and transmits none, no one can accuse you of generating signals that interfere with the aircraft function.


          Anything that has anything with electrons flowing and not flowing generates EM waves - interference. This is especially true of radio receivers who need an oscillator close to the target frequency (for common superheterodyne receivers), but also applies to things like the CPUs and LCD displays - usually a problem because they can have a nasty harmonic in the

    • And did you see what they are featuring on those seats?

      Original DOOM baby!!! YaY! WoHooo! Linux RULZ!
      It is going to be so AWESOME!!!
      • Re:Oh dear. (Score:5, Funny)

        by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @08:50AM (#22904090)
        Doom? They should at least be running a flight simulator of some sort. That way they never have to ask "by the way, does anyone here know how to fly a plane?". They can just check the flight sim stats and tap the person with the best score on the shoulder...
        • "by the way, does anyone here know how to fly a plane?"
          So long as they don't say "We've also run out of coffee." That could start a real panic!
  • Richard Branson [] is an unconventional man with tremendous wisdom. This seems to fit right at home with his way of doing things.
  • I don't know this for certain, but I do know that from time to time I saw a cursor consisting of an arrow with the familiar hourglass next to it.

    I fear to think that they might be running a whole OS instance for each seat.

    • by amake ( 673443 )
      I just flew Air Canada for the first time last week and you're right, the seatback entertainment systems are running Windows. And poorly. There are terrible delays when responding to touches (when it responds at all) and interface elements like buttons are slow to draw on the screen. On both flights (round trip), the staff warned us beforehand that we should "be patient" with the system as it's slow to respond, and "too many touches may cause it to crash," which requires a reset (of just the crashed cons
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Actually, I had a trans-atlantic flight with NWA in February, and the seat-back systems in their Airbus A330 were running linux, and were on-demand. They had to reboot the system once or twice, and I got kicked out of my film once (into what seemed to be like a looping analogue video channel - maybe they were running both systems at once?), but other than that, the system worked rather well.
        • by British ( 51765 )
          I tried that same system with NWA and had a blast with it. Watched 2 movies, beat some other passenger at trivia, and just had fun exploring around with it. I just wish they commissioned a video game hardware company to make the controllers. The controllers needed to be a bit more kid-proof, and having a fire button inside the d-pad wasn't a very good idea. That quickly turned a very long, boring flight from Tokyo to Detroit into a fun one. You sit watching movies & playing games, and time just flies by
  • The first things that came to mind when I read "Virgin America Uses Linux to Entertain Inflight" were:

    "So they are holding an install party?"


    "Hackers on a plane!"

    Time to wake up and get some coffee. :S
  • by spidr_mnky ( 1236668 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @06:24AM (#22903630)

    Virgin America Uses Linux...
    Just for a moment, I thought this referred to a demographic.
    • Just for a moment, I thought this referred to a demographic.
      That just gave me a visual that was utterly unpornographic!
    • Ofcourse most of Linux using America _are_ virgins (you know you are if you're on Slashdot ;-) )

      Disclaimer: I'm a father of two. But then again, I'm not american :-)
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @06:27AM (#22903640) Homepage Journal
    A guy I work with showed me a picture he took of a seat back system which had crashed with a kernel panic. That one definitely wasn't Linux. I thought it might have been something like SCO.
    • I don't care if it is just in-flight entertainment. You need to be seriously suicidal to get into a plane containing anything SCO
      • Notwithstanding the company behind it, I imagined SCO Unix variants to be fairly reliable, while probably not a caliber of say Solaris or Linux, I figured it was better than windows...but IANAUnix Guru so feel free to enlighten me...
  • Linux America uses Virgin
    • Fail! (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You missed such an easy one-liner:

      "Linux America Uses Virgins to Entertain Inflight"
  • I can assure you. Otherwise, I enjoyed that entertainment system a lot, and for that matter, flying on Virgin America. Recommended.
    • by Divebus ( 860563 )
      I found the "Red" system quite entertaining. Very slick. Trying to get root access with key combinations kept me busy whenever I wasn't playing Mahjong.
  • My TV set runs Linux (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Daniel Phillips ( 238627 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @06:39AM (#22903686)
    The LG TV [] I picked up last week runs Linux, which I noticed because the last page of the manual credits various GPL and open source software used in the TV, including Linux and Busybox and other projects. Props to LG for going beyond the call of duty in crediting their suppliers.
    • If I were you I'd be opening it up with the intent of getting X on it.
      Think of the possibilities. :)
      • by siddesu ( 698447 )
        Heh. My aging sony tv (2 year old LCD) is running Linux, and their user interface is running on X. It is very funny to see it crap out after blinking several times when I connect a notebook to the vga port and start testing out video modes, although frankly I'm not quite sure why would it crap out that way.

        I am too lazy to look it up and link, but you can download the whole set of software running on the TV from their website.

        More nn topic (in glorious AOL me-too style), I've seen the Linux logo (on reboot)
    • ...and by the way, note that the pcworld reviewer who wrote that negative review got 483 thumbs down for his efforts. On Amazon the set is highly rated [], and I am more than pleased with it. Ideal match for a PS3.
    • Props to LG for going beyond the call of duty in crediting their suppliers.
      That is sort of required by the licences. If you distribute binaries, you need to mention the GPL and make available any source for modifications (or something like that). Not exactly "beyond the call of duty".
      • Props to LG for going beyond the call of duty in crediting their suppliers.
        That is sort of required by the licences. If you distribute binaries, you need to mention the GPL and make available any source for modifications (or something like that). Not exactly "beyond the call of duty".
        There were not required to dedicate the entire back page of the manual to GPL credits. I thought well of LG when I saw that.

  • Makes sense (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    After all, American Linux users are Virgins.

  • by Harold Halloway ( 1047486 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @07:28AM (#22903820)
    I flew with Virgin from London to Tokyo about five or six years ago and Linux, specifically Slackware, was being used then for the personal entertainment systems. I found a way of causing my client to restart and passed a happy five minutes watching the boot messages.
    • Neat, and there I had read that they were using

      Flavors of Red Hat & Fedora (we have embedded seat-back units, seat & distribution boxes and a head-end that consists of some file servers)

      which is not only redundant, but an annoyingly stupid answer. You'd think that as long as they're talking about linux they'd get someone who wouldn't say something to the effect of "a mix of microsoft and windows" or for the oblig car analogy, "a mix of ford and thunderbird"...

      • I disagree. Remember that there are file servers and seat back computers, they could be running different distros. They could have slightly different setups in different planes. Second of all, Fedora and RHEL/RHED are quite different. Fedora is more bleeding edge, RH is more carefully tested and is fully supported. Your analogy of a parent brand vs its product is a little off. Fedora is its own brand even if it is developed by and sharing tech with Redhat, think a mix of "Ford and Mercury". Even if VA
        • Yeah, my analogy was bad, and I have to admit that from a PR perspective it works well enough. I just found that the statement "Redhat and Fedora" was redundant, being that Fedora is Red Hat. However yes, I am sure that he meant RHEL/RHED + Fedora... I'm just happy that I'm sober now and finally found the arrogant poorly written post I knew I made, whee!
    • Virgin Atlantic has also been using it for at least four years. It crashed 2-3 times on the flight that I took. It was nice in the fact that you could select the movie you wanted to watch and have it play right then and there, without waiting for the next showing like some airlines do.
  • A380 uses Linux also (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A couple of days ago I had a flight on the Singapore Airlines A380, and their seat back entertainments system uses Linux too, with openoffice suite to let you work on documents. Whilst all of the file dialogs limit file access to just your USB drive, there are other ways to accesses the real filesystem of the unit. Looks like they make plenty of use of multicasts for video and audio, plus rtp for on demand personal video. Here is some interesting tidbits I discovered, amongst other:

    bits from syslog messages
    • FWIW - I liked the USB port because I was able to recharge my iPod while listening. Very sweet feature for those very, very flight schedules. It's not uncommon that I'll need 28 hours to get from my door to my final destination. Kudos to Singapore Air for that USB port.
      • FWIW - I liked the USB port because I was able to recharge my iPod while listening.

        Jetstar (Qantas low-cost subsidery) also uses linux-based personal video devices, the digEplayer XT []. They aren't built into the seats, but rather passed out (to those who shell out an extra $10 for it) at the beginning of the flight. I also found the USB port quite handy, as the devices are basically big batteries with screens the front. They've also got ethernet ports, but I didn't find a way to hack those...

  • I flew Virgin America last week from DC to California and back and overall the experience was good (good ticket price, too!). The in-flight entertainment left a few things to be desired, though. Aside from crashing two or three times during flight, many features (including the "READ" feature mentioned above) were simply "not available." A friend on another flight said she was on a plane that couldn't receive a single channel the entire flight. The song playlists were not very responsive, either, with long h
    • by zenyu ( 248067 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @11:19AM (#22904966)
      I have to agree. I flew VA a couple months back and the killer features, like web browsing were just not online yet.. The in satellite reception was also not so great, JetBlue does a better job there.

      I did enjoy the classic games running in MAME. But that also lacked polish, they didn't do a good job mapping the keys for the various games, and you couldn't hit meta keys so you couldn't reconfigure the key bindings yourself.

      They also used black 000000h as their XVideo chromakey, which meant that when the video kept going when you were in some other app the video would leak into that app. If they had used 010101h instead this issue wouldn't exist and you would still get a black screen rather than a nasty blue or green one when video was starting up.

      Overall, it was a good flight. The flight attendants were amazingly attentive. Who ever did the hiring should get a gold star.
      • >The in satellite reception was also not so great, JetBlue does a better job there.

        This is true, and also interesting. The satellite system they use is from LiveTV, which is the same system used by JetBlue, and in fact is *owned* by JetBlue.
    • Aside from crashing two or three times during flight,...

      I hate when that happens.

      Oh. You were talk about the entertainment system...

  • I on a Qatar Airlines flight to Doha last month. Linux was in use there for their in-flight services (again, the penguin at the boot screen gave it away).
    Immediately after I had a flight from Doha to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysian Airlines). Malaysian Airlines seems to use it as well as they seemed to be using the same system (at least with the plane I was in).
  • by hubertf ( 124995 ) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:51AM (#22904786) Homepage Journal
    FYI, Panasonic Aviations uses g4u, a NetBSD-based harddisk image cloning software to deploy their in-flight systems.

    For more information on g4u, see []

      - Hubert
          Author or g4u
  • The READ section is also awesome in that it takes what is typically a bunch of wasted trees (excess newspapers, periodicals) and allows us to be more environmentally friendly and timely with things like news/event info/sports/entertainment etc.

    Riiiight. Trees are biodegradable, renewable, grown for paper and lumber stock and have a positive impact on the environment. But hey, an electric gizmo on a jumbo-jet is better! The idea that we're "saving a tree" by recycling paper is harmless, but stupid.

    • by tuxicle ( 996538 )
      In other words, only trees grown for paper have a positive impact on the environment. Trees that would have grown in rainforests that were cut down for plantations don't biodegrade or generate oxygen. Maybe they were ents instead?
  • I just saw this for the first time on a delta flight. I was really excited to see tux in the upper left while all the kernel messages ran down the little screen and seeing this happen on everyone else's screen. Every screen was not showing the exact same thing at the same time, so I'm thinking every seat has its own virtual machine. It seemed to be running an older version of redhat, but I don't remember what specifically I saw.

    I thought it would be really cool to just play chess to pass the time until I tr
  • I've tried out the Virgin America system. Half of the VA flights I went on lacked the hardware, but on the newer planes that have it, most of the features don't yet work.

    There are billboards around SF touting its in cabin IM features (chat with other passengers), but they weren't working yet.

    I tried ordering snacks, but that didn't work either.

    Movies cost something ridiculous like $8 to watch.

    Most of the system is just a placeholder. And please, a seatback display is maybe okay for watching TV video clips,
    • Ah, okay.

      So rather than watch a small display in the back of your seat, you're saying a tiny display on your iPhone is better???

      And does the iPhone happily feed movies and music to you all the way through an eight hour flight without a battery recharge?

      I don't know about the Virgin system but I took an eight hour flight on Emirates from London to Dubai last year, I was in standard economy class and the back of the seat entertainment system was excellent. I have no idea what OS it was running on but th

      • by DECS ( 891519 )
        You are arguing that you'd rather watch something on a seat back screen? Have you ever been on an airplane?

        The "tiny" display on my iPhone can be held closer to your face. You can also double tap and pinch to make the tiniest text readable.

        I can use my iPhone for as many hours as I like by plugging it into a standard USB battery pack via the dock connector. I can also plug it into my laptop and recharge it. I find that I prefer to watch movies on my tiny iPhone rather than pulling out my laptop and watching
        • You are arguing that you'd rather watch something on a seat back screen? Have you ever been on an airplane?

          There you go, you see? Typical Apple fanboi reaction - starts writing a response before finishing reading the OP. Please reread it properly, that will answer the second question for you.

          As to the first question, given that I'm not allowed to bring my own flatscreen TV on a flight, the seat back screen I used on the Emirates flight (now you've reread my message) was excellent. As far as I recall, I

          • by DECS ( 891519 )
            Your need to call me names betrays the weakness of your point.

            The question wasn't "did you enjoy your seatback video," but "you'd rather watch something on a seat back screen [than use something portable like the iPhone]?"

            "Have you ever been on an airplane?" was a dismissive slap of your sense of reality.

            Perhaps when you grow up you'll experience somebody in the seat next to you spilling something. You might also want to watch something semi-privately.

            • Your need to call me names betrays the weakness of your point.

              It was your need to question me about having ever been on an aircraft that kicked that off - especially since in my original post I had stated such was the case.

              The question wasn't "did you enjoy your seatback video," but "you'd rather watch something on a seat back screen [than use something portable like the iPhone]?"

              They are one and the same question, then, in my view. Yes I would rather watch something on the back seat screen on the bas

              • by DECS ( 891519 )
                You are too old to be expressing yourself like you are 16.

                By 46, you should know that time is valuable enough to avoid being a pedantic nut. You should also know the meaning of sarcasm and irony.

                You should also be able to reasonably predict obvious risks. I haven't had anyone spill their drink on me in a plane yet (purposely or not), but I have spilled drinks on a laptop, and I have witnessed people spilling drinks on airplanes. In the last month, I managed to be sitting next to two different women who both
                • Any you're probably about the right age to be an Apple fanboi.

                  Please don't tell me how I should or shouldn't act. I'm reasonably suceessful in what I've achieved in my life, I'm certainly happy with it, so I doubt there's any advice I need to take from you.

                  You do it you way, I'll do it mine, end of story.

  • I was on a flight back to Australia on Emirates a few years back and the tv console I was watching crashed... It was linux :) I think that Virgin are just moving to a similar system to what Emirates has been using for years.
  • Song [] had a headrest system years ago that let you listen to music, see the plane's status, and (my favorite) play a cool trivia game against other passengers. On one flight they didn't boot up the systems until after the passengers were on and I saw it run through a standard Linux boot sequence, complete with Tux in the top left corner. My phone was already off and I figured they'd finish booting before I could dig it out, turn it on, and activate the camera, so I didn't even bother to try to get a pic. I f
  • For about a year, now, I have been having to put up with their rubbish content and the 30
    I spiel during the safety session on by $5 for 1 hour of watching TV is a good deal.
    If you don't pay up, you get a flight's worth of commercials, back to back.
    ad nausea.
    over and over

    The funny thing is, you have to "opt out' of having advertising in your face for the flight duration.
    If they used the opt out model everywhere, then drinks and snacks would be free until you decided you did not want any more! (as is)

    At least

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