Novell Revamps openSUSE Community Pitch

In the battle for the heart and minds of the Linux community, community outreach matters. Aggressive outreach has been part of the recipe for success behind Red Hat’s Fedora Linux. Ubuntu has also emerged as one of the leading Linux offerings based on the strength of its community.

Now Novell wants to catch up in hopes of capturing mindshare and respect for its openSUSE community Linux distribution.

One way Novell is seeking to boost openSUSE’s fortunes is by pulling in former journalist Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier to help spearhead community efforts and ultimately improve overall adoption.

“I’m going to try to spread adoption of Linux and openSUSE in particular,” Brockmeier, who is now Novell’s openSUSE community manager, told “One of the things I’ve noticed from the journalist side is that openSUSE is a really good distribution but it doesn’t get as well covered as Ubuntu or Fedora and I think that needs to change.

“So I’ll be going out and promoting it a lot and making sure that things happen in the community so we can produce the best distribution that openSUSE can be,” he said.

As part of the effort to make openSUSE more community friendly, Brockmeier may borrow a few ideas from his peers at Fedora and Ubuntu. In particular, he said that he believes Ubuntu has done a very good job of giving the community the tools they need.

In terms of Fedora’s community efforts, Brockmeier said he was “super impressed” with Max Spevack, Fedora’s former project leader.

Spevack had been instrumental in helping Fedora gain its own voice and independent community direction within Red Hat.

“Fedora has become a more independent community project than it had been initially,” he said. While his role isn’t identical to Spevack’s, “I want to take some lessons from Max there and do something similar for openSUSE in that respect.”

One of Spevack’s key initiatives at Red Hat involved properly identifying and reporting how many users Fedora actually has. Spevack told nearly a year ago that he would welcome other distros, including openSUSE, in an open statistics effort.

To date, an open statistics effort hasn’t come about. But with Brockmeier in place at Novell, that may change.

“I don’t think you can effectively market a project unless you know who your users are and what they are using it for,” Brockmeier said. “I don’t know what the technical hurdle would be in terms of implementing what Fedora is doing but assuming that it’s not something that would be too difficult to do. It’s definitely something I’d like to do.”

One problem Brockmeier may have to tackle early is the controversial November 2006 patent covenant deal between Novell and Microsoft.

The agreement between Microsoft and Novell centered on interoperability and patents. But some indications have shown the issue may be hampering openSUSE adoption.

“It is a concern — not because I think it’s a bad, horrible deal,” Brockmeier said. “When it was initially announced, I think Novell dropped the ball a little bit in terms of explaining it to the community. Last year has shown us that the empire is not going to crumble because that deal was made.”

“I hope that people look at all of the things that Novell and openSUSE are doing for the community and realize the larger contributions that we’re making and not focus solely on one issue.”

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