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Novell's Open Source Rex Talks Linux

Markus Rex, Novell

It's not all about the code in the Linux ecosystem. Any Linux project needs leadership. Markus Rex is one such leader.

For most of the last year, Rex was the CTO of the Linux Foundation, on loan from his employer Novell. Now, he's back with Novell, where he is responsible for Novell's open source and open platform technologies, including SUSE Linux Enterprise. Rex has been working at SUSE Linux since 1999.

Rex has particular insight into the inner workings of the Linux Foundation, a group that was formed two years ago as a result of the merger between the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) and the Free Standards Group.

The Linux Foundation holds a position of particular importance in the Linux ecosystem with a goal of trying to provide standards, like the recently updated Linux Standards Base 4.0 that are intended to promote application availability on Linux.

In an interview with InternetNews.com Rex discussed what working for the Linux Foundation was like, what he's got in the works at Novell and what challenges he sees on the road ahead for Linux and Open Source.

Q: What was it like to be the CTO of the Linux Foundation and how is it different from working at Novell?

It was a tremendously positive experience. It was very different to go from a big corporation to a small non-profit. It was certainly an interesting experience.

It gave me the chance to broaden my point of view way outside of your typical corporate point of view where you look at quarterly numbers and product cycles. With the Linux Foundation what we're doing there is thinking about what we can do to strengthen Linux's position in the industry

The other impact that we made last year is that we invested a significant amount of time and money into developing tools to help us with ISV and application compatibility on Linux.

Q: Does the LSB 4.0 standard actually work such that an ISV could test against it and their software would work across all compliant distros? Or is it still a work in progress?

I think that, especially with LSB 4, we are certainly in a better position today than we were a few years ago when it really was a bare minimum baseline.

What we found was that giving the ISVs the help to understand what it really means for them to create a cross-Linux distribution application and to certify that on top of the LSB, we found that by creating tools it does make a tremendous difference.

Now the ISVs are able to understudy and analyze what problems they really have.

As a technical example for most tasks there are numerous libraries out there and an ISV could pick one or the other.

We give the ISV a tool that shows them if they use a particular library they will have a stable API and a personality they can rely on and certify Whereas if they go the other way they might get the same functionality but it's not necessarily stable or certifiable.

All things being equal, the ISVs in most cases will choose the standard one but they have to know. It's a bridge we're able to cross far more efficiently now with the LSB 4.0.

Q: Talking about your position at Novell, what's your role and what's the mission now?

This is a step back into something I'm very used to as compared to something that was totally new.

If we look at the state of Linux at Novell, Linux is certainly a core component of Novell's strategy.

The difference between now and, say, a few years ago is the degree to which Linux is used in mission critical applications. We as a vendor can provide customers the necessary piece of mind to have their applications rely on Linux.

To some it might seem like talking about doing ERP or mission critical deployments on Linux is Stone Age, since people have been doing it for years. If you think about the total number of customers out there that are now getting into using Linux in more advanced workloads, this is a steadily rising number.

Typically, Linux has this association of saying 'once you start using Linux costs go down' and it's a message that resonates rather well these days.

Going forward Novell is going to think about how it approaches the market. The Novell Linux business is not doing bad; we are seeing growth.

There are probably tweaks that we can do here and there but all in all I think if we just continue to strengthen our value proposition to the market we'll be in good shape.

The other thing is we have an upcoming launch of our main product SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 which is coming up in the next few months and that's exciting for us.

Q: In terms of Novell's interoperability relationship with Microsoft? What are you doing?

We are continuing to work on the virtualization side so both Windows and Linux work well together. The other area we're continuing to work on is accessibility between Windows and Linux.

The always present dilemma is the different office suites so we're working on office format interoperability where we see a lot of customers have interest.

Q: What are the challenges you see for the business moving forward?

I perceive a challenge always as an opportunity. It gives us the opportunity to change to a better way from the way things have been done in the past.

The other thing is in both Europe and the US the rise of the unemployment rate is something that is rather unprecedented. The open source community to a certain degree is dependant on the willingness of people to contribute. We see no indication that anything might change there, but who knows? People need something to live off.

I don't think that the open source community is in any sort of danger right now but the question for me going forward is how effective can the open source community react to the change in the outside environment.