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DLS Interview: openSUSE's new Community Manager, Joe Brockmeier

Joe Today, Novell announced that Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier is taking the reins as openSUSE's Community Manager. Those familiar with the open source world might recognize Joe from his work with various Linux and free software publications.

A long time open source advocate, Joe began using Linux in 1996, after purchasing a set of Slackware CDs at a local store. He says, "...I was blown away by the concept of 'free as in beer' software. The idea that you could share software, and even modify it and distribute it, was (and is) extremely exciting to me.

"I also find the community aspect of Linux and free and open source software particularly compelling. I love the fact that people around the world can come together and build useful tools, and then make those tools available for anyone to use. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be part of that community."

We recently got the chance to talk with Joe about Linux, Novell, and the direction openSUSE (and open source) is headed.
Download Squad: What drew you to the openSUSE project in particular? What do you think makes it unique from all the projects out there?

Brockmeier: I think that the openSUSE project is excellent, technically, but under-appreciated, which is a problem for many open source projects. So I'm looking forward to getting the word out about the distribution.

A couple of things set openSUSE apart from other distros. For example, openSUSE has YaST as a configuration tool. YaST is really easy to use and very comprehensive.

openSUSE also provides the open build service, which allows developers and users to create packages for most popular distros, and to create packages of newer software for older versions of openSUSE and SUSE, so
it's possible to use the newest software without having to upgrade the entire system, if you don't want to.

openSUSE also offers, as of 10.3, a "one-click" install feature, which allows users to launch an installer from the Web browser, when they see a "one-click" button on a Web site. For example, openSUSE users can install the KDE4 packages using the one-click install here: http://en.opensuse.org/KDE/KDE4

That's the sort of easy to use feature that we need to get Linux on a lot more desktops. All in all, it's a well-polished and very user-friendly operating system.

Download Squad: What do you feel is the most important role of the community manager, at present? Do you think this will change over time?

Brockmeier: At least for now, the most important part of the role is for me to serve as a advocate for the community and to work to make it easier to participate in the openSUSE community. To help build the tools we need to have a strong community that can work efficiently on making openSUSE better and more fun to use than it already is.

Over time, as this happens, I think it will be necessary to focus on ways to help the community scale, which is always a challenge when a community grows.

Download Squad: It looks like a lot of interesting things are shaping up this year, in general, for openSUSE. Not just the release of openSUSE 11, but the eventual release of the openSUSE distribution (and variations) through the openSUSE Build Service. Can you tell us about the Build Service Client? Where do you hope this will take openSUSE and open source projects in general?

Brockmeier: The clients provide ways for users to interact with the build service in a way that simplifies building packages. I'd like to see it become very, very easy for users to build packages through the service -- not
only for openSUSE, but for any distro. I know what a pain it is when you're using a particular distribution and find that the application you want to use is available as a package only for distributions other than the one you're using.

In general, I hope this helps level the playing field between Linux and other OSes, by making applications available across all distros -- so users don't run into the problem of not being able to install a piece of software easily on their distribution of choice.

Download Squad: There are open source community members who are quite vocal in their distrust of Novell. What are their objections to Novell, and what do you think you (and Novell, of course) have to do to overcome
these suspicions?

Brockmeier: Well, I don't think I'd like to try to articulate someone else's objections. I suppose the primary objection is the agreement with Microsoft.

Initially, I was skeptical of this agreement, too -- and was hardly convinced it was a good idea. I definitely think Novell could have done a better job at informing the community of the agreement and addressing concerns from the community.

However, at the enterprise level, a lot of customers need assurance that they're not going to be at risk for deploying Linux, and I think the agreement was necessary for Novell to be able to drive Linux adoption with those customers. I don't think that it's anti-GPL. We need to get used to the idea that, particularly in business, it's a heterogeneous world and that means being interoperable with Microsoft.

I think it's unfortunate that some folks focus exclusively on this deal, and ignore Novell's larger contributions to the community.

The agreement, or at least the controversial component of it, wouldn't have been necessary at all except for the poor state of software patent law. Novell is trying to fix this through its work with the Open Invention Network (OIN), and I'd like to see people focus on software patent reform and remove this issue altogether.

Download Squad: Thinking out beyond the end of 2008.... In what new directions would you like to see openSUSE heading? Reaching out to new users? Supporting a wider range of hardware and devices? What can we expect to change over the long term with openSUSE?

Brockmeier: I'd very much like to see openSUSE growing the pie, bringing more new users to Linux and helping increase Linux's market share. I'm not interested in trying to "sell" openSUSE to people who are happy with other Linux distros -- if you're already using Linux and happy with it, I think that's great, and I don't really care which distro you're using. We would gain very little by trading users back and forth between different Linux projects - much better to offer a home to the millions of users who are ready for a secure, free, stable, desktop that offers them choice rather than lock-in.

I want to see openSUSE become even easier to use, and offer a solid community that can provide friendly support for people who are new to Linux.

For those wishing to try openSUSE, it is currently available in 32-bit, 64-bit and PowerPC formats, as well as on a LiveCD.

Tags: community manager, CommunityManager, interview, Joe Brockmeier, JoeBrockmeier, Linux, management change, ManagementChange, Novell, open source, OpenSource, openSUSE, Zonker