There is no doubt that the big names, such as Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, PMDG, Aerosoft, Saitek, GoFlight, are contributing to our flight simulation community, developing new technologies for flight simulator and enhancing the simmer flying experiences. However, there is also a group of minorities, like small developers, hardware manufacturers and Virtual Airlines operators, who are also spending their time on connecting realistic fly experience to flight simulation. Some of them are even not asking for returns, good examples are those freeware developers and Virtual Airlines. For sure, they should be credited.
LINDA, is not only a name of woman. For those simmers who have built their own cockpit must know how powerful LINDA is. With LINDA, you can easily configure your key assignments of your jotsticks, panels or even keyboard commands for the sophisticated payware, such as PMDG or Aerosoft aircrafts. Today, it is my pleasure to have an interview with Andrew Gransden and Günter Steiner, who are the men behind LINDA.
(S – SIMGAZINE , AG = Andrew Gransden, GS = Günter Steiner)
S: Can you introduce yourself and your team to our audiences?
AG: I am based in North East Scotland. I have 35 years experience in software engineering and ran most of the Royal Air Force’s aircraft software support teams and worked on the Tornado tri-national fighter/bomber with the German Air Force and Navy. My background is in software maintenance, that is taking existing software code, understanding how it works and adapting it for new functionality or fixing bugs. I inherited my support role for LINDA from Artem Crum a couple of years ago when I got into Flight Simming.
GS: I’m from Berlin. My background is that I’m just a simple simmer since many years which started to build some small switch panels and was forced one day to make them work in FSX. In school I have learned gw-Basic, and it was great fun then, but never get a programmer as profession. Years later I started then with LUA scripts for FSUIPC and my school knowledge about programing helped a little bit.
S: Oh, so basically both of you have technical backgrounds on programming. Can you introduce the LINDA that you developed to our audiences?
AG: LINDA (Lua Integrated Non-complex Device Assigning) provides an easy means of allocating both simple and complex functions to joystick buttons to operate knobs, buttons and switches in the simulated aircraft. One button push can operate a single button/switch or perform a sequence of operations to, say, prepare the aircraft for takeoff or landing.
LINDA relies on FSUIPC to interface with the aircraft with a number of aircraft modules written in the LUA programming language. With the help of the various developers, Günter writes these modules to support new aircraft soon after they are released to the market. Users can write their own modules or adapt the code we supply for their own uses. I support the Graphical User Interface (GUI) part of LINDA and offer improvements to some aircraft modules.
Users employ the GUI to assign functions from various modules and libraries to meet their own needs using a pop up menu. Once programmed the user can fly without an further changes or refine their assignments until they have their perfect setup.
S: Yes, joysticks and flight sim panels are now very popular these days. What made you guys decided to start developing the LINDA?
AG: LINDA was originally developed to overcome the lack of flexibility in using the VRInsight Combo MCP panels. Here I take my hat off to Artem Crum for the scope and foresight in designing the software. Since then, the ability to manage joysticks and other devices was added. I came on the scene when I found the Airbus VRInsight FCU was not supported. I started with a hacked solution which led to Artem generously passing control of the source code to me. I have since carried out further improvements to add new functionality and features.
GS: I started to make LUA scripts for FSUIPC many years ago and had many, many scripts, all directly called via FSUIPC and very inconvenient to assign my buttons in the FSUIPC GUI. I bought one day a VRInsight panel, with its crappy software. Pete Dowson made it possible, that the VRInsight panels could be also addressed via FSUIPC so that we could get rid of the VRInsight Software. So, I started to make much more LUA scripts – a real mess 😉
At this point, Artem Crum contacted me that he has made a LUA script to manage my LUA scripts, if I could test them. They worked well, but there where ideas and ideas till Artem came up with a GUI what after some weeks evolved to what we know as LINDA today.
Artem lost interest in flight simulation, but gladly Andrew was here at the right time. Otherwise LINDA has been stucked in progress as the stuff, Artem and Andrew are doing is way over my head. Unfortunately it is now Andrew which is getting treated by me to implement this and that 😉
S: Haha…I believe this is actually a teamwork and success. Now, VRInsight, as far as I know, is a Korean flight sim devices manufacturer. I wonder why do you decide to support this company in specific?
AG: LINDA began life as a tool to interface with the VRInsight Combo panels because they provided a neat hardware interface with lots of buttons and knobs for Boeing and other aircraft. It has expanded to interface with all common joysticks and devices like USB cards.
GS: Yes, back then, the MCP Combo was (and I think still is) the most valueable hardware MCP. Others are surely more realistic and look better, but they are simply above my price tag. The software was not good (don’t know how it is today), glad we have LINDA now. I’m curious, how many devices have been sold simply because of LINDA? I know about 5 people, but would be interesting to have a number from all. That haven’t convinced VRInsight to sponsor me a panel a few years ago as my MCP was broken. They even wanted me to pay for the repair (which was short after guarantee has ended). In the end we found a deal, but it was hard work 😉
S: That is bad, really…I believe what you have done is much more than the value of the panel itself.
Are you (and your team) working for this in full time manner? If not, what are your real world occupations?
AG: Until very recently, Günter and I had never meet. We both support LINDA in our spare time as I work as a professional photographer and Günter is a nursery worker/teacher. My job is sessional so I am free to provide enhancements over the winter. I try to respond to most queries within a couple of hours as I know how frustrating it can hitting a problem and waiting for an answer. This does rely of users providing sufficient information for the problem to be analyzed and a sensible answer provided.
GS: No I don’t work for fulltime on LINDA too. LINDA is just freeware and therefore we do not work fulltime for it. I had some professions (car electronics), studied also graphic design and work now as a teacher.
S: That surprises me. I wonder how you can work together as you don’t even meet each other. LINDA (to me, at least) is a “must have” program, I am sure this statement will still be true for those who build their own cockpit / flight sim hardware. I am sure you must spend quite a lot of time and resources to maintain and update it from time to time, as well as building the modules for the newly released add-ons aircrafts. Yet, you are still distributing it for FREE. Why do you decide to do that?
AG: LINDA for many is a “must have” program for those with a single stick to full home cockpit builders. We give our time freely and buy our own equipment so we can support our users. Developers do offer some aircraft free of charge but we need to buy and licence others (like P3D). I have a selection of panels, stick and yokes solely for support purposes. LINDA is free to use but donations via PayPal are much appreciated. We do not wish to charge for LINDA as that would raise user expectations and place a burden of responsibility on us to deliver. We do it because we enjoy flight simming and wish to help others enjoy our hobby/obsession.
GS: LINDA was from beginning a community project, more a kind of plattform where users could exchange LUA scripts. We have some scripts also from other users, but the most scripts are from Andrew and me. As Andrew says, we have to get our stuff by ourselfes, but there are meanwhile many generous developers which support LINDA and get us free copies. Not all, but many. At this point a big thanks to them. And LINDA is donationware and we really need the donations to buy the needed soft- and hardware. At this point also a big thanks to all donators out there.
With Artem back then we discussed a while if LINDA should get payware – and for sure we could make a lot of money. Imagine 15$ for each LINDA module 😉
But it was always planned as community project and I still think that the community needs freeware and dedication. The other point is, if we make it payware, the users have a right to get 24/7 top notch support and that is something I couldn’t provide. I do need my sparetime, my family time and want to simply enjoy simming without being forced to answer requests on a daily basis.
S: What is the biggest challenge so far on the LINDA development?
AG: The biggest challenge we face is the diverse demands to support all types of aircraft and hardware. We can only provide specific aircraft modules if there is a Software Developer Kit (SDK) available giving details of how to interface with the target aircraft. We use the FSUIPC offsets, FSX controls and Lvars to communicate with the simulated aircraft. We have NDAs with many developers but not all are so forthcoming. I am currently working on the FSLabs A320X module mostly using a little detective work.
Our users range from basic Flt Simmers with little computer knowledge to experienced home-builders and programmers. We therefore receive a wide range of questions and problems. There are no stupid questions but it can take a little patience to respond to some queries. The important point is to get the user up and running and enjoying their set up.
GS: Yes, to gather the variables and offsets is really a detective work, but that is also the part which is the most fun for me. If a new addons arrives, I sit there days over days and try to get all the secrets out of the addon. After some time, you know the “secrets” of the developers (“Secret” is the wrong word, it is more there habit how to code), so things became easier. A tough nut is the FSLabs currently, and also mainly because we do not get the slightest support from them unfortunately.
S: Since May 30, every developers are so busy on upgrading their add-ons, programs and software, whatever you called it, to make them compatible with P3Dv4. However, I saw in AVSIM that LINDA will not be impacted by the change of 64-bit flight sim. Can I confirm with you that this statement is correct?
AG: Recently, I have been working with Pete Dowson to get LINDA working with the 64-bit FSUIPC5 for use with the newly release Lockheed Martin Prepar3d v4. I am pleased to say we have a beta release, 3.0.0, available. This works with both 32-bit (using FSUIPC4) and 64-bit (using FSUIPC5) flight simulators covering FSX, FSX-SE, P3Dv3 and P3Dv4.
GS: Yes, Andrew made an incredible work. Thanks a lot!
S: What is your vision on LINDA for its future?
AG: I would like to see continuing support to our user community with new aircraft modules and further improvements to the GUI. For example, the latest version includes better support for the Saitek Radio and Multi panels and improvements in development and debugging tools. Occasionally, I like to do a little GA and virtual airline flying for myself.
GS: Oh, I do not have a concrete vision – I’m simply lucky if LINDA is working and if we get support by our “customers” and the developers out there.
One last word I’d like to add: All that work wouldn’t be possible without Pete Dowson who developed FSUIPC and is still a great, great help for us and for the community. He deserves a lot of thank for his incredible support! Thanks!
S: I think you two deserve the thank from our community too. Add oil and keep it up! Thank you for your time and your effort on LINDA.