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The Journalist Who Came in From the Cold

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The world of technology journalism is a dangerous, seamy place, full of threats and malice. Everywhere you turn, a new danger awaits: a dangling participle, a misquoted subject, and the ever-present threat of your competition.

Sure, a bunch of middle-aged men and women might not seem dangerous, but the media community still speaks in whispers when they recall the LinuxWorld Press Room Rumble of 2005. Vaughan-Nichols still won't talk about it, though he certainly dealt enough pain that day with his reporter's notebook.

So it was with great relief when I heard that one of us was getting out, freeing himself to enter the much saner world of commercial-community Linux relations. Because we know nothing controversial ever happens in a job like that.

Tongue-in-cheek? You betcha. In reality, when I heard my friend and colleague Joe Brockmeier was leaving this Editor in Chief gig at Linux Magazine and going to work for Novell as the openSUSE Community Manager, the opposite thought ran through my brain. Press jobs actually tend to be relatively calm. Dealing with the Linux and Open Source community while working for one of the least-liked corporations in the arena seemed a tad masochistic.

But off he goes, leaving the land o' media for the corporate life. When he told me the news late last week, I fired off some questions for him to find out what the new job is all about.

Up first: What is the title of your new position, and what will it entail?

openSUSE Community Manager. The largest part of my job is to serve as an advocate for the community, to make sure that the openSUSE community has the tools it needs to continue developing and improving openSUSE. I will also be making sure that new users and potential contributors have a roadmap into the community, so they can join in and be productive right away. One of the hardest things about contributing to a project like openSUSE is often not the work itself--it's figuring out where to start.

The other major part of my job is to spread the word about openSUSE.

Make sure people know what's going on in the project, that it's as

transparent as possible, and to get it out in front of as many

potential users as possible.

I'd been aware that Novell was looking to fill some sort of "evangelist" position for quite some time, not realizing the title had been changed. Which explains the framing of the next couple of questions:

Is this is new position in Novell? If it is, why does a Linux company need an evangelist? Isn't evangelism implied in the choice of services and product offerings?

Well, it was originally called "Linux evangelist," but really, that didn't quite fit the bill, which is why the title was changed to openSUSE community manager, to better reflect what I'll be doing. Plus, I'm not crazy about the "evangelist" label. Too often, Linux advocates are derisively referred to as "zealots" and called

"religious" about their advocacy--so I'd like to avoid a title that

lends itself to that sort of thing.

Is your evangelism focus going to be mostly outside the company, or will there be an internal need to spread the word more within Novell?

I think Novell is fully behind Linux and open source, but I'm not sure that Novell is as attuned to the needs of the community as it could be. Part of my job will definitely be to facilitate communication between Novell and the open source and Linux communities.

I say "communities," because, as Linus Torvalds recently, and rightly,

pointed out there isn't a singular entity that one can point to and say "there's the open source community,"--what we often call the "community," is really a collection of communities focused on different projects that shares several common traits--most specifically, shared enthusiasm for the open source development model and the use of a license that fits the OSI definition of "open source."

So, I'm going to be trying to make sure the channels of communication

are open both ways, and will be lobbying within Novell for change,

when necessary and reasonable, to better cooperate with the

communities that make up the larger open source community.

Of course, there's the elephant in the room: the Novell-Microsoft partnership...

A lot of people see Novell's relationship with Microsoft troubling (at best). What is your take on the Novell/Microsoft partnership, and where do you see it going from here?

Well, I remember when the deal was announced, and I remember being

fairly skeptical of the deal--I mean, if you've been supporting

Linux and open source for a long time, it's hard to be entirely

objective when it comes to Microsoft. Microsoft has done very little

to endear itself to open source supporters over the years. I am

concerned that it's going to make my job, working with the community,

more difficult.

However, after more than a year, I think we can see that the deal

hasn't had a major impact for the open source world. I also think that

the deal was, from Novell's perspective, what it needed to do to drive

Linux adoption within the enterprise space, where a lot of potential

adopters saw Linux as a legal risk. Like it or not, we live in a

heterogeneous world--both sides are going to have to learn to get

along if we're going to meet people's needs.

Also, I really hope that people would not focus exclusively on this

deal and exclude all of the great work Novell's employees (like Greg

Kroah-Hartman, Miguel de Icaza, Nat Friedman, and many others) are

doing for open source, and the work that Novell funds that benefits

open source. I think that would be a major mistake.

Personally, knowing Joe for many years (disclaimer: I was a co-author on a chapter in his book Install, Configure, and Customize Slackware LINUX (Premier Press, 2000)), I think he's certainly a good fit for this position, and perhaps a strong indicator that Novell is making an strong show of taking its openSUSE community seriously.

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