FOSDEM '09 is a free and non-commercial event organized by the community, for the community. Its goal is to provide Free and Open Source developers a place to meet.


Interview: Joe Brockmeier

Joe Brockmeier will give a talk about openSUSE at FOSDEM 2009.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name's Joe Brockmeier - most people call me Zonker. I'm the community manager for openSUSE.

What will your talk be about, exactly?

About one hour long. :-)

Seriously, I plan to talk about openSUSE - where we're at, where the project is going, how to get involved, some of the tools we use that may be of interest to any Linux developer or FOSS contributor, and so on.

Show up and see! :-)

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I'd like to inform people about openSUSE, encourage them to work with us -- if not on the distro itself, then on some of the platform tools (i.e., the openSUSE Build Service) and in finding ways to collaborate with us.

What does your job as openSUSE Community Manager at Novell look like?

Well, it's a lot of fun, very hectic and eclectic. I find myself working on a lot of different projects and tasks -- everything from giving talks at shows like FOSDEM, to show planning and budgeting, to actually working with the community and trying to work with our internal and external contributors.

How do you think openSUSE will evolve in the next 2-3 years?

I think the distro will continue to improve, continue to become easier to use, and will become radically easier to contribute to and develop on top of. The stuff that's being done to improve Factory as a development distribution and around the openSUSE Build Service is going to be amazingly good for openSUSE and likely other projects as well.

What are the biggest advantages of openSUSE? And the biggest disadvantages you would like to have solved?

Well, we have the openSUSE Build Service, YaST, Zypper, lots of great tools around the distro. But our biggest "advantage" is our contributor community. We have an awesome group of contributors, we just need to enable more and find better ways for our existing community to contribute more efficiently.

Our main focus should be on getting rid of any unnecessary hurdles to contributions. Having a well-defined roadmap, improving communication, and so forth.

How would you describe the openSUSE community? Is it friendly to new users?

I'd describe the community as a very smart, very focused and professional group -- people who are really interested in putting Linux on as many computers as possible.

Yes, I believe we're friendly to new users - in many ways. One of the goals of the project is for openSUSE to be the easiest Linux to get and use, and we're also interested in helping new users. Like any FOSS project, there are bound to be a few folks who are a bit gruff, but overall we're absolutely friendly to new users.

What do you consider the biggest openSUSE success stories?

Well, any of the millions of people who are using openSUSE successfully and getting their work (and play...) done on Linux thanks to openSUSE count as a success story as far as I'm concerned.

But, some of the things we've announced in the last year:

  • The 1.0 release of the openSUSE Build Service
  • The collaboration between Novell, the openSUSE Education Project, and HP
  • The work that's going on with the openSUSE Build Service and a port to the ARM architecture
  • The 11.0 and 11.1 releases -- which were very well received, and have been downloaded and installed literally *millions* of times now.
  • The inclusion of Smolt by default in 11.1 -- a minor collaboration with Fedora, which I hope will be one of many.
  • The new license in 11.1

And plenty of other major accomplishments.

You have been working for years as a technology journalist, writing about Linux and open source for several publications. Why did you decide to change careers and join Novell?

Primarily because I wanted to be directly involved with a project, rather than just writing about them. I think that openSUSE is a fantastic distro with a lot of great people working on it -- but not getting the attention that it deserves. My feeling was that this was a project I could make a difference in, and I hope that I have at least to some degree helped raise the profile of openSUSE.

I also had some concerns about the overall health of the tech publishing industry (which have been borne out), and felt like I needed a change. As Heinlein said "specialization is for insects," and my feeling is that the ability to do more than one type of work is really important.

If I ever go back to journalism, I'd be a far better tech journalist for having worked as part of the openSUSE Project and for having worked at Novell (or any vendor, to be fair). There's a lot that is opaque to reporters who haven't worked in the tech industry, and while I'd hesitate to say that tech journalists *should* work on the vendor side, I will say that it certainly improves perspective.

It's been an interesting year. Never a dull moment, except maybe some of the longer flights. :-)

Were you an openSUSE user before you joined Novell?

Yep, off and on. As you pointed out, I was a tech journalist covering Linux, so I switched distros quite a lot over the years. I also used SUSE for quite some time, so I have a long history with the Geeko. :-)

I do miss having time to really try out the other Linux distros. While I am perfectly happy with my openSUSE systems, it'd be fun to see what's being done with other distros like I did when doing product reviews. At heart, I love the Linux community and the technology, and I'm really happy to be involved with openSUSE and all the great work that's going on.

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.