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David Patrick, Open Source Platforms, Novell

David PatrickSince acquiring Ximian and SUSE Linux, Novell has jumped into the Linux ecosystem with both feet. And as goes Linux' fortune, so goes Novell's.

Sitting at the helm of Novell's Linux initiatives is David Patrick, vice president and general manager of the company's Linux, Open Source Platforms and Services Group. Patrick was formerly the CEO of open source vendor Ximian before Novell swooped it up in 2003.

Patrick has been Novell chief Linux honcho since Novell Vice Chairman Chris Stone resigned from the company in November.

Patrick sat down with internetnews.com and clarified his role as Stone's "successor" and offered his take on Novell's Linux direction.

Q: Have you found it hard to fill Chris Stone's shoes? Or has it been a clean slate for you?

First of all I wouldn't necessarily say that I took over for Chris Stone. He was a vice chairman, and I'm responsible for the Linux business unit. I was CEO of Ximian and got wired into Novell with the acquisition.

My passion was to get as involved with the Linux story at Novell as much as possible. Both Jack and Chris created the opportunity for me to run the Linux business unit. So I was doing that before Chris left. It's the same job; it's just that now I report to Jack instead of Chris.

Q: Will the SUSE brand name continue or will it dissolve into Novell?

We see SUSE continuing as a product brand name. There is a lot of mileage in the SUSE brand name so we'll definitely continue to use it. The corporate branding of course is now all Novell, but in terms of product branding you'll continue to see SUSE as a brand.

Q: So SUSE Linux Enterprise Server will not at some point become Novell Linux Enterprise Server?

I don't think that would be a smart move. I actually think that SUSE has a better brand name, though we'll continue to do branding studies and look at the issue.

Q: SUSE Linux has always been tightly wound with the KDE desktop, and your predecessor company Ximian was, of course, the entity behind GNOME. Do you see those two desktop operating environments continuing in their development, or do you see it as an inefficiency that will eventually merge into one offering?

Technically, merging the two is not something that is easy to do; we've looked at it. One is based on Qt and the other on GTK. These are both open source projects, and what Novell decides doesn't make or break communities. Both have strong communities.

The way we've handled the situation is we provide both, and we are building a similar look and feel across both of them. So we'll have a Novell look across KDE and GNOME.

What is important is the platform and the applications that run on the platform. The graphical shell is a layer in between those two things, and we're really putting a lot of energy into applications that run on the platform. If they're Qt apps we'll run them; if they're GTK apps we'll run them.

We'll pick the best apps no matter where they come from and we'll build a Novell look across them.

Q: How do Novell's different collaboration platforms, such as GroupWise, Hula and Evolution, relate? Do they feed off of each other in any way or are they all separate entities?

We hope they feed off each other. GroupWise is a very important platform for us, but it's not open source. It wasn't really written and constructed to work well as an open source project. It's a very full featured platform with 10 million lines of code that have been maintained for many years. And it is not exactly what you would design as an ideal open source project, which should be small, modular and easy for people to compile and build and submit and commit new code to.

Novell is very committed to the collaboration space. We believe that collaboration is still a hugely important platform application; it could be a killer app for Linux or the app that motivates people to deploy Linux at the workgroup level. We want to continue to be a player there. It's a $110 million dollar business for us globally.

So we wanted to affirm our strategy with GroupWise, which competes with the current class of what IDC calls ICE servers, integrated collaboration environments, with Notes, Exchange and Groupwise.

At the same time, there is no open source leader for collaboration. There is no Apache of the collaboration space. So here we are, a company with a $100 million dollar collaboration business building out open source solutions everywhere. How do we help to create a standard around collaboration?

We actually had in-house Netmail, which was developed with Unix thinking in mind. Obviously we have knowledge of collaboration through GroupWise, so we were in a perfect position to create an open source project, and that's when we open sourced Netmail to create the Hula Project.

That engine is now open source, very modular, all open standards. Anyone can talk to this thing, download it and create their own product with it. The idea is to evolve it as the mail engine for an open source platform with lots of new functionality. We think we're off to a great start; the Mozilla Foundation has jumped on board with Thunderbird and Sunbird.

The goal here is to create a new-generation product and let it blossom. We will probably not have commercial products until early next year based on the Hula engine. But ultimately we will sell a commercial solution around Hula. Today the use-case model is quite different than GroupWise, which is high-end enterprise collaboration.

Q: Are there too many open source licenses out there today? Or too few?

I don't see this as a top of mind issue. We've selected the ones that we use -- mostly the GPL and LGPL. If the industry bands together and creates a new GPL license, we'll obviously participate. But we're not hampered by the current licenses that are available.

I think that we prefer that people rally behind the licenses that are there. We're not going to create a Novell open source license. Sun decided to open source Solaris under their own license, which is hardly what I would call open source. People do have a tendency to want to create their own license but we've rallied behind the community license. It's not a burning issue for us.

Q: Gartner's George Weiss, believes that Novell can hit parity with Red Hat in terms of market share if it executes well this year. Do you think that's possible this year or will it take another SUSE Linux Enterprise Server release (not due till next year) to hit that mark?

I can't make predictions on timing, but we're excited that George has a positive view on our prospects. Certainly that's a goal of our company, to move closer to parity.

Q: What is the goal for the rest of 2005? Is there a particular target or success criteria that you'd like to achieve?

With the launch of OES [open enterprise server] we'd like to see not only a large percentage of our core Netware users follow us to Linux but also new users, as well. OES is basically the trusted Netware services but now running on a Linux kernel. So we'd clearly like to see progress and acceptance of that by our customers. Initial feedback has been very positive.

Continued acceptance and market-share growth around SUSE Linux is also very important to us. Back before the Novell acquisition, SUSE had a very small presence in the U.S. market, so we want to continue to build that presence through our enterprise sales organization.