Docker reels in Kitematic as it hits container acquisition trail again

Canadian startup Kitematic with its open-source GUI-based container installation tool is the latest object of Docker's attentions.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor
Docker director Justen Stepka: Set up and run Docker in three minutes.
Image: Docker

For the second time this month, Docker has acquired a startup with technology that it sees as aiding the container cause of increased adoption and easier use.

This time it's the three-strong Canadian company Kitematic and its eponymous open-source GUI tool, designed to speed up the business of installing Docker on Apple Macs - with a Windows version due by the middle of the year.

Earlier in March, Docker acquired startup SocketPlane - like Kitematic, on undisclosed terms - and its team of six to help add standard networking interfaces to Docker to make multi-container distributed apps more portable.

"The biggest thing that's happened [with the Kitematic acquisition] is that we've taken what is for some people an extended process of setting up Docker to run on a machine, and we've condensed that process down to about three minutes to run your first Docker container," Docker director of product management Justen Stepka said.

"Another thing we've done is we've wrapped the command line with a GUI that makes it much easier for everybody to approach Docker and play with the technology, so they can put themselves onto the fasttrack to adoption."

Docker automates the creation and deployment of apps in containers - a lighter-weight form of virtualisation - with the goal of freeing developers from software and infrastructure dependencies, cutting costs and creating efficiencies in the process. Docker Inc, the company, is the open-source platform's corporate sponsor.

Kitematic was started by three students at Waterloo University in Ontario with a Canadian government grant. The software was launched as a beta in September. All three founders will be joining Docker in San Francisco and their tool will continue under the Kitematic flag in the short term.

The software also allows users to search and pull public images in Docker Hub, which can be downloaded and run as containers. The tool has a number of other features, such as allowing containers to be run and restarted, and provides a way to access containers and their code for modifications.

"People want to simplify their experience and that's what this does. It wraps the command-line interface and removes the complexity and allows you to accomplish something much quicker. Then, as you begin to increase your sophistication, it gives you the ability to deep-dive in and it still has a one-to-one mapping with the command line," Stepka said.

"It doesn't replace the command line. So anything you do in the command line is immediately reflected in the GUI and vice versa. It exposes some of the advanced features that we've learned that users want to adopt but sometimes they're having difficulty."

Included among the tool's advanced features listed by Docker are port mapping, mounting drive volumes, modifying environment variables and obtaining log information.

"The most popular one is mounting volumes. You have a set of source files that you want to share - maybe you've got a fileshare or something like that. This automatically can allow you to map that volume inside your container," Stepka said.

Kitematic, which stays open source with Docker, has published a roadmap for the software on its GitHub repository, listing the ability to pull containers from Docker Hub among its plans.

"One of the next features that we're going to build in is the ability to pull private containers from Docker Hub. Then as soon as we wrap that feature up, we'll start on the Windows port," he said.

"For us the main thing is to make it so that you can pull private containers, so that you can do something a little more meaningful - not that public containers are not meaningful - but do something that is potentially commercial. Then we also want to make it double, triple or quadruple the market by bringing it to the Windows platform."

Stepka said the Windows version of Kitematic will be identical to the one available to Apple Mac users.

"The features will be one to one. We've chosen a framework that allows us to very easily port the application over to Windows and we're looking to get the same gains for the Windows users," he said.

Last July, Docker acquired London-based Orchard Laboratories, makers of the Orchard and Fig applications, which led to the creation of the Docker Compose orchestration tool.

Although March 2015 has been unusually busy for Docker in terms of acquisitions, the possibility of further activity remains on the table.

"This is a bit of a special month. We're always looking for things that are complementary to what it is that we're trying to achieve. Certainly we don't want to turn the community in any way," Stepka said.

"In this particular case, this opens up Docker to everybody who's in the ecosystem in the same way that SocketPlane did. Docker containers needed networking. It's one of the fundamentals to what Docker is and everybody else can continue to build and extend their technology on that."

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