Dr. Jeffrey Jaffe was recently named executive vice president and chief technology officer for Novell. He is responsible for Novell's technology direction, as well as leading Novell's product business units. Before joining Novell, Dr. Jaffe most recently served as president of Bell Labs Research and Advanced Technologies, where he established new facilities in Ireland and India, and served as chairman of the board of the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium. Dr. Jaffe was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Presidential Commission for Critical Infrastructure Protection.
Novell Connection caught up with Dr. Jaffe at this year's Linux World Expo in Boston and asked him about open source and Linux on the desktop.
Dr. Jaffe, welcome to Novell.
Thank you, it's great to be here.
Can you share some of your thoughts on open source development?
Open source development is truly changing the rules of the software development game. For years, the dominance of the Windows desktop platform has persisted because no vendor has had sufficient resources or is foolish enough to attack Microsoft on their "home field." IBM probably came the closest with their technically strong design in OS/2, but that wasn't successful. IBM's experience sent a clear message to other companies—resistance is futile. Traditional competition models wouldn't work.
That's where the open source community comes in—it represents another approach. As you know, the open source community consists of software innovators who practice a fundamentally different methodology to create software. It is created in the open. A research community—not necessarily from one company—collaborates to move software to the next level. The main buzzword is sharing. One takes the fruits of his or her innovation and provides a license back to the community. In this way, there is rapid innovation and popularity for a new set of ideas.
The characteristics of the Open Source community create the antidote for proprietary development:
- The openness of the software attracts the best and the brightest to contribute their ideas.
- The ease of acquisition (a simple download) creates a large community of participants.
- The large community of participants creates a virtuous cycle—the platform gets better, attracting even more participants.
- The growth of this community attracts venture funding which creates another virtuous cycle—more money flows into this community—making it more attractive for the next round of investments.
The numbers that surround open source are compelling. The Novell sponsored openSUSE project openSUSE.org has recorded more than 1.4 million installations since October 2005 and already has more than 25,000 registered members. (See Figure 1.) Well over 130,000 open source projects are tracked by SourceForge. And much more than a billion dollars of venture capital has been invested into open source companies.
Despite what others would have you believe, open source developers are not renegades or hobbyists: 58 percent of participants in open source are long-term IT professionals with an average of 11 years of experience. Finally, IDC projects a 24 percent growth rate for open source operating environments and middleware—more than twice the growth rate for Windows.
Despite what others would have you believe, open source developers are not renegades or hobbyists: 58 percent of participants in open source are long-term IT professionals with an average of 11 years of experience. IDC also projects a 24 percent growth rate for open source operating environments and middleware—more than twice the growth rate for Windows.
Of course, since you've joined Novell, you've had to make the switch to Linux, how has that worked for you?
Pretty well. Moving from one company to another has its share of excitement and apprehensions. The excitement deals with the opportunities. New responsibilities. New focus. The positive aspects of change. The apprehensions have a great deal to do with one's IT environment. Today's workers live with, and in many cases completely depend on, their machine and their IT environment. Transitioning email, personal files and bookmarks are nuisances that we live with.
For several years, I have been a satisfied customer of the Windows desktop. True, Windows is far from perfect. It is not comfortable to "Ctrl-Alt-Del" every time my printer driver gets confused and hangs the system. And viruses are a huge pain. Despite these and many other flaws, Windows is workable. So, leaving this behind became a source of apprehension as I recently moved to Novell. But to be honest, I did not know how far Linux had progressed, especially when it is fully supported by an IT infrastructure.
Did you use Linux at Bell Labs?
A dedicated few used the Linux desktop on a daily basis. After all, UNIX started at Bell Laboratories and a UNIX following remains. But I confess that I did not risk the wrath of corporate IT—running a desktop that was unsupported.
But at Novell, Linux is the primary desktop...
Yes. That's very different. Here at Novell more than 90 percent of our company runs Linux on their desktop, and almost half of them run Linux exclusively. That's amazing. What's more, there is not a feeling at Novell that Linux has a substantial deficiency. And of course there are tangible advantages to using Linux—the constant rebooting and the travails of viruses are all things of the past.
You have the perspective of a newcomer, how do you compare the Linux desktop to Windows?
Well, our entire company, Novell—a world-class technology company—performs its work with Linux desktops and other open source tools and software, and does not in any discernible way suffer in comparison to working in a Windows environment. So at a macro level, the two desktops are quite comparable.
Now, I wouldn't want to say that the current Novell Linux Desktop has full parity with the functions and features of the Microsoft desktop. It doesn't. For example, my favorite nemesis—plug and play—is not at Windows' level yet, but I have to admit, it's pretty good. And the next release, called SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, addresses many of the issues.
There's no doubt that Windows has extra features. But face it, those extra features (which are used by very few users) come at a real cost, they have turned Windows into bloat-ware. And that's why the Windows world features so many trips to the reboot key. The frequent disruptions to one's workflow is an unfortunate but very real consequence of the Microsoft architecture. Every additional feature in Windows is a double-edged sword.
Are you saying the Linux desktop is better?
No, I'm saying it's good enough. Linux may be perfectly sufficient for a company even if it does not fit every individual user. When it comes to the major corporate applications needed for an office worker, such as an office suite, Web browsing, IM, e-mail, etc., a company does fine with Linux. (See Figure 2.) Of course with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 there are also areas of innovation and leadership.
How has the open source approach benefited desktop development?
In my opinion, the open source community is the ideal location for desktop development. Every engineer, writer, designer and office worker on the planet has a desktop, and all of them have individual ideas on how their personal desktop could be made better. That's a lot of potential creativity that can be unleashed at the desktop. Open source is a perfect platform for bringing those billions of individual wants, needs and preferences together. Therefore, it's no surprise that many open source innovations are focused on creating a better desktop.
At Novell, we participate, lead, maintain and follow the open source community. We contribute to and benefit from open source. Through the GPL, our contributions are available to all. We benefit through our work with colleagues throughout the entire open source community; their ideas and innovations inspire and spur our own innovations. For users, it's the best of all possible worlds.
To be sure, there are areas for improvement in the open source methodology. Teams and individuals operate independently—according to their own views. As argued before, this is the best way to innovate. A thousand flowers bloom. But it has limitations in terms of integration.
What has Novell brought to the Linux Desktop?
Novell seeks to integrate all of the open source innovations into a Linux distribution that has the reliability that corporations demand. We bring a passion for the user, a focus on usability and a commitment to end-user success. Our engineers are working tirelessly to make Linux desktops viable in business, not just for the transactional and fixed function use cases where Linux has always been strong, but for basic office workers and knowledge workers.
In comparison, the Novell team building SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is a small one, but it leverages the efforts of thousands of developers that work on dozens of different open source projects. Novell has created many projects which help to align the open source community around desktop improvement.
The openSUSE project, openSUSE.org, which was recently acclaimed the outstanding technical achievement of 2005 at this year's CeBIT conference, and was named "Best of Show" at April's Linux World Expo Boston, brings together a broad, dispersed community of desktop innovators. As I mentioned before, we have more than 25,000 registered members in the openSUSE community and SUSE Linux is installed more than 7,500 times every day. That's a lot of potential innovators.
Our Better Desktop project, betterdesktop.org, exposes for scrutiny some of our usability methodologies. (See Figure 3.) We have a human factors lab in which users from a variety of backgrounds (Linux, Windows, Mac) execute simple tasks using our desktop. We observe them—see where they struggle—and use this to make a more usable system. But significantly, Novell is doing this work in the open, anyone can come to our site and learn from our experience. We also encourage everyone to look at the site and tell us how to do better.
Much of Novell's investment in SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 has been to provide the seamless integration of many open source components:
- a new graphic algorithm
- a new search facility
- an improved office suite
Novell also acts as a kind of editor; there are numerous, overlapping open source projects addressing related topics. It's not practical to include all of them in a particular distribution. We try to choose what is best, or what fits best with everything else.
We also spend a great deal of effort making sure the desktop is complete. There are many "mundane" programming tasks (drivers, for example) which will not get 100 percent coverage without the support of a large vendor. Novell is enthusiastically encouraging others ISVs (independent software vendors) and IHVs (independent hardware vendors) to provide a complete solution. And for certain critical needs, we are rolling up our sleeves and filling in many of the holes ourselves.
Of course, for the Linux desktop, in fact, for Linux to succeed in business, it needs to be delivered in a consistent, secure and hardened distribution that is fully supported and guaranteed. That's a place where Novell's market position, history and scale—unique in the Linux industry—addresses many concerns.
> Any final thoughts?
Since joining Novell, I've discovered that Novell has a very special team. The commitment of my colleagues to solve business issues for real businesses is unequaled in the industry. Our platform approach to Linux—our launch of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 this summer—will give customers more options to integrate Linux and an Open Enterprise approach into their organizations. Novell is at the beginning of a great run—just two months ago, at the LinuxSolutions 2006 conference in Paris, my colleague Nat Friedman got a standing ovation for his demonstration of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. This ovation from 1,000 attendees at the conference was a spontaneous expression of joy, satisfaction and teamwork that the Linux desktop has more than arrived. That was a great moment for Linux and for the Linux desktop. But there will be many other great moments that Novell will be experiencing and sharing in the months and years to come. The Linux desktop is just the beginning of a great new chapter for Novell.
I'm really excited about our future.