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16 December 2009, 18:20

Interview: Joe Brockmeier, openSUSE Community Manager

Interview by Adrian Bridgwater

Despite some downsizing in response to the fragile economic climate Novell have managed to keep up the pace of new development. The H Open spoke to openSUSE's Community Manager Joe Brockmeier for his views on the recent changes at Novell and his take on the future of openSUSE.

It’s always a shame when a vibrant open source-focused company is working hard to reinvent itself during an economic downturn and news of a few job cuts overshadows some of the better work being carried out beneath the corporate underbelly.

Although the company has admittedly shed a few pounds of employee flesh over the last year, Novell has come to the fore with its support for Moblin 2.1, its enterprise collaboration platform known as Pulse and its new Mono Tools add-in module for Microsoft Visual Studio.

At a time when enterprise open source implementations are blossoming and talk of Windows to Linux interoperability is fervent, Novell is hedging its bets on commercial implementations of OpenSUSE 11.2 and hoping that desktop/client Linux is about to witness a renaissance the likes of which have never been seen.

Zoom Joe Brockmeier, openSUSE Community Manager
But has OpenSUSE developed into the fully blown distro that it needs to be to sit well in the enterprise space with the required level of interoperability? What makes it different from the next distro and why should we care? The H spoke to Joe Brockmeier (known to his friends as Zonker) , who is OpenSUSE's Community Manager for the inside track on the newest iteration of the Novell enterprise Linux stack.

The H Open: In the recently announced reorganisation, the "open platforms" division (Linux and open solutions) has been subsumed into the ISM and SRM management structure (proprietary solutions). This has already led to suggestions that Novell is de-emphasising Linux. Should this move be a worry for Novell's Linux customers and openSUSE users?"

Joe Brockmeier: To answer your question, Novell has a mixed source strategy, offering our customers open source and proprietary solutions. Our Open Platform Solutions group will continue, as before, to be run by general manager Markus Rex. Nothing has changed there. We remain committed to open source and to our SUSE business. By better integrating across our OPS, identity and security, and systems and resource management products, we can offer our customers solutions that can securely manage Linux-based workload across physical, virtual and cloud environments."

HO: You have a background as a technology writer yourself. Given the industry commentary viewpoint this has afforded you, what would you say are the biggest factors influencing enterprise adoption of Linux today?

JB: Put simply, it’s down to features, price, stability and flexibility. When you're talking about enterprise adoption of Linux, really server adoption, then Linux is doing quite well. It’s mature and ready to handle the most demanding workloads and there are few – if any – enterprises that aren't deploying Linux today.

HO: Novell appears to have set itself high hopes for Mono and you say that this is the first commercial development tool for the rapid creation of .NET applications for Linux, Unix and Mac OS X within Visual Studio. Is it really the ‘first’ tool of this kind and what do you think will appeal most to developers about its form and function?

JB: As far as I know, it is the first tool of its kind. But I'm not the ‘Mono guy’, so I don't spend much so time with it – but I would say that the most appealing thing about the tool is what you've emphasised in the question: that it allows rapid development of cross-platform .NET applications. Giving developers an opportunity to easily target cross-platform development with a language they're already familiar with is a big incentive.

HO: You have said that OpenSUSE 11.2 is not necessarily suited to new users but is more attuned to the needs of developers with a degree of experience. Why is this so and what kind of functionalities would an experienced software engineer new to SUSE recognise that would let them know they are working with a more sophisticated product?

JB: I would say it's not necessarily suited to all new users and is very well attuned to needs of developers. What many openSUSE users come back for again and again is the well-integrated selection of development environments/tools on openSUSE. Whether a developer is working with C/C++, Java, Mono/.NET, Python, Ruby, PHP, or whatever – openSUSE is up-to-date with a solid stack of development tools.

HO: Interoperability between Linux and Windows is crucial if IT infrastructure costs are to be kept low – we know this. What have you done to aid this cause?

JB: Me personally? Not a lot. :-) But Novell has done a fair amount of work in the Interop lab to work on interop between Windows and Linux. It's not as large a focus for the openSUSE Project itself, though the project does benefit from some of the work that goes into things like Samba and

HO: What’s next around the corner for desktop/client Linux as you see it?

JB: I think 2010 is going to be crucial for Linux on client devices. To be honest, I don't see it making huge inroads to the 'traditional' consumer desktop, but I do see big changes coming on the netbook, thin client and mobile devices. Linux and open platforms have an opportunity to rule the roost here.

Moblin is a pretty interesting project and I think it stands a strong chance in the netbook market. It's very well suited to netbook form factors and provides a very user-friendly interface for those type of devices.

We also need to make sure people are thinking about mobile devices as computers. Benj. Mako Hill has been talking about “the computer in my pocket,” as a way of talking about cell phones as computers – and I think that's important. What we carry around in the form of smartphones have more computing power than desktop computers 10 years ago and they're omnipresent in our lives in a way that desktop computers aren't. We need to be ahead of the curve offering full-featured open platforms for these devices. We have an opportunity to spread free software on mobile devices that's much greater than the opportunity we've had on desktop systems. That frontier is ours to lose or win.

HO: Mono project founder Miguel de Icaza said recently that he is keen to bridge the gap between Microsoft’s IDE and Linux. Isn’t he really just saying that he just wants to build a profitable bridge to connect to Microsoft’s highly lucrative .NET development channel, which is currently populated by over six million software engineers?

JB: I don't think I'd say that, no.

HO: In recent years Novell appears to have understood the process of building a Linux distro i.e. compassionately and with a true respect for the community contribution model rather than a heavy handed corporate ‘top-down’ approach. What aspects of this development process have you been most excited about?

JB: The most exciting thing for me has been the continual improvements we've made in opening the development and decision process in openSUSE. Over the last two years the project has come a long way in terms of independence and providing contributors with access to the tools to make contributions as well as lowering the barrier to make contributions in terms of our policies. As always, there's more to be done, but I'm encouraged by what we've done so far.

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