Novell has joined the trend in appointing a community manager for its SUSE Linux distribution. Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier spells out what it is all about.

As a journalist, Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier had a job he loved. Since 1999 he brought passion to his coverage of Linux and open source. Now, he's taking his advocacy to a whole new level. His new role as community manager at Novell will enable him to further the cause of openSUSE, the Novell-sponsored community project to develop and maintain a general purpose Linux distribution.

Tell us about your new role. What do you see as the purpose of a "community manager"?

First and foremost, I plan to advocate the community's needs to Novell. I'll consult with users, openSUSE contributors and the upstream developers who work on projects that are rolled into openSUSE to discover pain points and what's working well. Novell can use that information to create tools the community can use to solve problems and improve openSUSE.

We'd also like to provide a roadmap into the community for potential contributors, and I know that existing community members will be able to help with that. Particularly for non-developers, figuring out how to get started with a project can be a bit difficult, and even intimidating. I want to remove barriers that inhibit people from using and contributing to openSUSE.

At the same time, I want to make sure people know about openSUSE, what's going on with the distribution, where improvements are being made, and why they should try openSUSE if they're not using it already.

What attracted you to the position?

A few things. First, I've been covering Linux and open source as a journalist since 1999, and I'm very interested in seeing Linux and free/open source software succeed, so the opportunity to be directly involved with a project like openSUSE is extremely exciting for me. It's a chance to have a direct impact on accelerating the adoption of Linux and open source. I'd like to do all I can to make that happen.

Second, I think although openSUSE is an excellent distribution, it hasn't been quite as well-promoted as it could be, so I want to have a hand in getting the word out about openSUSE (and Novell's other contributions to open source) and seeing that the distro has its due.

Third, Novell seems genuinely interested in strengthening the openSUSE community by giving people the tools they need to grow and build an even better distro, and Novell also seems interested in giving non-Novell community members a more prominent voice in openSUSE development.

The long-term success of Linux and open source rests on a happy balance between the community and the companies that use open source software as part of their product offerings. Novell is actively trying to find that balance, to both its benefit and the community's.

I'm also excited about learning from and working with the openSUSE team.

Finally, I've been a big fan of the work that Max Spevack, the outgoing Fedora project leader, has done with Fedora. He's done a great job (not alone, of course) of improving Fedora as a distro and of improving Red Hat's relationship with the community outside of Red Hat. I want to have the same kind of impact on openSUSE and Novell.

What do you expect to be the hardest task you'll have to tackle?

Obviously, there are some lingering bad feelings about the Microsoft agreement [Brockmeier is referring to SUSE community backlash against the agreement made on November 2, 2006 by Microsoft and Novell to improve interoperability between Microsoft Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise].
I'm concerned that it's going to be an obstacle when working with some members of the open source community.

Novell definitely could have better explained the deal and addressed concerns. I know I was skeptical about it initially as well. I mean, Microsoft hasn't been full of warm “fuzzies” for the community,? However, Novell needed this deal to help drive adoption of Linux with customers worried about Linux's perceived legal risks. We live in a heterogeneous world, and both sides are going to have to find a way to work together to satisfy the users' needs.

Novell and the openSUSE community have made, and continue to make, valuable contributions to the open source community. There are a lot of strong community contributors, like Miguel de Icaza, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Nat Friedman, on our team. I think it'd be a shame for people to focus exclusively on the Microsoft deal and ignore what we have and how we can improve Linux and open source, and how we can drive Linux adoption.

Each Linux distro has a different community feel. What makes SuSE's unique? For good or ill?

If I had to sum up the "community feel" of SUSE and openSUSE, I'd say it's "professional"--we're dedicated to putting together the best Linux distro possible for people to use to get their stuff done, whether their "stuff" is using a desktop system or running a server.

I think that's a good thing, by the way.

What are the biggest issues the computing industry has to cope with in operating systems (generally) and Linux (in particular)?

Different shops have different problems, but I think one of the biggest problems across the board is management--how to manage multiple systems effectively. That's an issue no matter what OS you're dealing with.

How do you think SuSE is perceived in the business community compared to other distributions...both in technology and in business terms?

I think SUSE is perceived as an excellent OS--very solid, very reliable, with great support.

What do you think makes developers and techies (such as network admins) choose one distribution over another?

I think a number of factors figure in to that choice--the management tools that ship with, or are available for, the distribution; how long the distro will be supported for security patches and new hardware drivers (service packs); the cost of vendor support; the distribution that the admin is already familiar with; and most importantly, whether the target applications run on the distribution or not. It doesn't matter if distro X is the best distribution in the world if your mission critical application isn't going to run on it.