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Interview with Jeff Hawkins - Linux Products and Strategies

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature

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Posted: 16 Apr 2004

David Brower, Manager of Novell Academic Sales, and Bob Taylor from the Cool Solutions Team recently sat down with Jeff Hawkins, Vice President of Product Management, to talk about Novell's Linux products and strategies. The highlights of this interview are included below, with topic search links first.

1- What Ximian adds to SUSE 2- Bringing the desktop products together
3- Common desktop name 4- Timeframe for Combined Desktop
5- Marrying Ximian & SUSE technologies 6- Linux & NetWare
7- App support for SUSE/Ximian 8- Footholds with app developers
9- Investments to entice app developers 10- SUSE vs. Microsoft products
11- SUSE vs. Red Hat products 12- Changes to SUSE products
13- Consumer marketing 14- Common Desktop in higher ed
15- Linux training 16- Product enhancement code in open source
17- Microsoft borrowing iFolder 18- Keeping the iFolder name
19- Making money on free software 20- Novell leveraging education and government
21- Students using Linux and Desktop 22- Desktop vs. data center
23- Red Hat, SUSE, and geographies 24- IT adoption of Linux
25- Open Office vs. Microsoft 26- Linux indemnification program

1) David: Novell purchased Ximian to get the Ximian desktop and office suite. Then Novell purchased SUSE to get the Linux O/S and again got another flavor of the desktop O/S and office suite. All of it is based on the same open-source code. What does Ximian give Novell that SUSE did not already have?

Jeff: The Ximian acquisition consists of three major elements: a Linux desktop including Open Office and Evolution, a Linux management solution called Red Carpet, and a .NET implementation for Linux called Mono.

The Ximian desktop is a very elegant-looking environment targeted at the business user. When organizations combine Red Carpet and Ximian, they can quickly deploy and manage their Linux solutions. Now with the SUSE acquisition, what we have is a union of the best Linux desktop solutions in the market. SUSE has a hardened enterprise desktop offering built on an 18-month development cycle. As we integrate three major elements - Ximian Desktop, SUSE Linux Desktop, and Novell's Linux desktop - it will be a complete enterprise desktop solution that covers productivity applications, network connectivity, and collaboration tools. It will empower people to work together effectively and efficiently.

2) Bob: How will these desktop products be brought together?

Jeff: The SUSE Linux desktop and the Ximian Desktop are products on our price list, and you can buy them today. We need to simplify the product by bringing everything together. It will be attractive to both end users and administrators.

To do this we need to integrate SUSE Linux Desktop, Ximian Desktop and the many Novell clients and network connectivity solutions that you need. For instance, how will you connect to Microsoft Exchange and GroupWise? How will you do instant messaging? What about iFolder and connecting to NetWare file shares? How do you print and access all of the Novell services that have been in your environment for years? Many of these solutions have been made available for Linux clients over the past few months in alpha and beta form, and they will also be integrated into this common desktop.

3) Bob: So does the common desktop have a name yet?

Jeff: Internally it's the Novell Linux Desktop; it will be officially named later. Once it's in place the other products will disappear, and you'll see Novell with one desktop product.

4) David: If you had to guess on a timeframe for the combined desktop, what would it be?

Jeff: Fourth quarter, sometime before the end of the year. I want to point out that there are solutions available today that customers can begin using now that will solve problems. What I am talking about is the first release of the new integrated offering.

5) David: How will Novell now marry the technology that was acquired with Ximian with the technology acquired with SUSE? How long will that take?

Jeff: We now have an integrated team building this desktop solution. They have regularly scheduled meetings and have great attention from the executive staff. Chris Stone is involved in weekly meeting where we discuss the challenges, the things that need to be brought together, the partnership elements, and so forth. You will see our first integrated desktop solution before the end of the year.

6) David: Where do you see the strength of Linux and the strength of Netware? Where will they be deployed, and what are the futures of those products?

Jeff: I see NetWare continuing to be a very strong part of the network. It is a solid platform, and the most effective and efficient platform for collaboration and file and print services. The entire operating system is designed around that principle. It will continue to carry those workloads for many years to come. Linux is a very useful and versatile tool for many different types of environments. It can be used for network services, such as DNS and DHCP. It can be used for web services and web hosting; it can be used for database applications, line of business applications, small business, and large business - with many different types of compute loads. Its versatility is perhaps its greatest strength. So, I continue to see NetWare being used where it is currently used and its strengths being leveraged, and Linux growing in its role.

7) Bob: Neither SUSE nor Ximian have the application support that Microsoft has. How does Novell plan on convincing customers to move to Linux or even stay with it when the most critical applications don't run on Linux?

Jeff: What I see here is the continual progress of the industry around support for Linux. We won't wake up suddenly one day and magically have all the applications we need available and running on Linux. What you will see is the continual progress of various ISVs, of in-house software developers looking at Linux as a profitable, valuable platform for them to put their applications on. We are already starting to see this type of momentum in the industry. I foresee in the near future that customers will have the same degree of choice on Linux that they have for their Windows applications - they will have the same level of support.

8) Bob: What are the major footholds that you have with application developers? Are there some who are already on board and pushing to support Linux?

Jeff: There are a number of different dimensions to this problem. One is the hardware and the device layer support. Novell has expert resources, as well as a lab that helps people develop and certify device drivers and hardware connectivity to Linux. We also have resources helping ISV's who want to port or move their applications to Linux. Further, Novell is part of the Open Source project Eclipse which helps developers create Linux solutions.

Lastly, we are a major contributor to Mono, a significant effort to help Windows applications naturally run and execute in a Linux environment. As mentioned, there are a number of different dimensions to this problem and Novell is contributing solutions to all of them. What's different is that we are not alone, this is an industry challenge.

9) David: What level of investment is being made by Novell to entice application developers to support the Novell operating systems? Who is handling that, and what programs do they have in place or planned to address this issue for Novell?

Jeff: I think that Novell has made a considerable investment. We recognize the importance of this challenge, and we have hired and dedicated a set of resources to managing partnerships with ISV's, OEM's, and others. We created PartnerNet, of which DeveloperNet is one dimension. We have put together a set of resources and programs and we are committed to reaching out to these developer partners.

10) David: What are strengths and weaknesses of SUSE products as compared to Microsoft products?

Jeff: There are a number of different ways in which SUSE products offer a compelling value proposition to customers. Perhaps foremost is the notion of choice. The customers really can choose in ways that they couldn't choose before. Microsoft has a way of tying all of their products together so that deploying one product requires deploying a whole bunch of other products. This ties you into their licensing scheme, and ties you into future releases and cycles of those products. You become more and more constrained in your future choices by your present choices.

Open source products, in general, give customers the flexibility and choice that they want, today as well as in the future. SUSE products also have a number of different superior solutions for various problems that people have in their environment. I think SUSE products have a far superior solution for web hosting, web serving, and web content. They have more cost-effective solutions for a lot of your networking infrastructure, like DNS and DHCP - proven technologies in those areas. It also provides a good backbone for some of today's mission-critical applications. For instance, with Oracle, all of your database solutions are certified and run extremely well, and are extremely cost-effective on SUSE.

A number of other enterprise and business applications are also available on SUSE. There are over 150 certified, proven applications today that people can deploy in their environments.

11) Bob: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the SUSE products as compared to Red Hat products?

Jeff:When I look at the strengths and weaknesses of SUSE products compared to Red Hat, a couple of things jump out. First, our support models are superior - the way we give our customers choice in how they deploy SUSE enterprise server products, and how they get support for it. By using our premium support models customers, can select the support program that is best suited for their environment. This includes things like the number of incidents required to complete the support objectives, the 24 x 7 service-level agreements, training and support programs, etc. We also include BrainShare passes and a number of other support training programs depending on your premium support level.

Second, I know that our SUSE staff is very proud of the engineering efforts they put behind the products. They consider it to be by far the best engineered, the most robust and most bullet-proof solution in the market place. They are very proud of the engineering that goes behind it.

12) Bob: Do you see the SUSE product line expanding, diversifying, or is it more focused on improving and fortifying what is already there?

Jeff: Linux distribution, by its definition, aggregates the packages that exist in the open source community. As the open source community continues to expand, we will see solutions in a single package with more functionality, as well as new packages and new solutions. SUSE will continually expand its distribution to include those. Our value-add is our ability to harden and reliably test the interoperability of these packages as complete solutions, and to maintain this over time. When new hardware comes out, the distributions are hardened and certified against that hardware. As defects are found and corrected they are patched into the system in a controlled and managed way.

In addition, I see Novell building on top of this distribution and adding value. We will continue to promote and extend our One Net solutions in identity management, resource management, Web services, collaboration, and networking services. One Net solutions will be built on top of Linux; that's where we see additional value and diversification.

13) David: How do we market to consumers?

Jeff: You are not going to see us putting significant marketing efforts focused on our consumer boxed products. They will be available and help drive awareness and demand for other Novell products.

14) David: What about the students and faculty from the universities using our desktop?

Jeff: I believe that if we put our products it in the hands of students, they will learn and graduate with familiarity with the Novell/SUSE product family. They will have familiarity with the tools and management configurations. The more familiar they are the easier it is for them to apply that knowledge to their job when they graduate.

15) Bob: Training is an enormous issue for deployment of Linux. What are the plans that Novell has made to address the consumer knowledge base on Linux-based products?

Jeff: Novell believes that Linux literacy is a very important project over the next few years. We understand this because we faced similar challenges in the early days of NetWare. To help, we have created a Novell Certified Linux Engineer program. We are using standard industry mechanisms that include the Linux Professional Institute (LPI). We have adopted their levels of certification in our offerings to our customers. Now we can go out through Novell authorized education centers and education staffs, and train and help people become literate in Linux.

16) David: Linux is open-sourced code. Will Novell place product enhancement code into the open-source community?

Jeff: To answer the question you need to understand how open source works and the rules that govern the code. An open-source license really controls your usage and obligations for releasing your improvements to the code. Novell participates in the open source community consistent with those rules. We make enhance, we find defects, we improve code; and all those contributions are done consistent with the the open source license agreements.

There are other projects built on top of open source software. Novell has the opportunity to consider what type of licensing they want to release those projects under. I think one of the best examples of Novell's commitment to open source was our announcement at BrainShare that we would open-source the iFolder client for Linux. It is a fantastic piece of software, and it really demonstrates our commitment to open source.

17) David: What stops Microsoft from saying "thank you" and adding iFolder technology into Windows?

Jeff: Nothing stops Microsoft from taking that and adding it into Windows. We very much want others, such as Microsoft, Red Hat, and Sun to include the iFolder client in their solutions. We've open-sourced it for exactly that reason.

18) Bob: Does the iFolder name go away?

Jeff: No, the iFolder name remains; however, three different open-source projects were created when we open-sourced it. The Simius project is the object-oriented mechanism in the file system under iFolder that allows you to manage the relationships and the metadata associated with files. A typical file has creation timestamp and name and extension. There is so much more metadata associated with that file. Today's file systems are actually quite constrained in their expressions of metadata. Simius is an open source project designed to help innovate and create around the object-oriented nature of future file systems. Built on top of that is the iFolder client that allows us to merge a set of files, their replications, and current state. We also created another project around the Address Book. It has the ability for groups to form, bind themselves, hook up, and start sharing iFolders. The version that we released is a peer-to-peer, client-based iFolder, so that if the three of us wanted to create a folder to share on Linux Q&A, we could do that. We could also interactively edit and update it, share the content, and find each other dynamically. It is a very powerful open source project built around the same concept: empowering and enabling people to work together.

19) David: How does Novell plan on making money on free software? Can Novell maintain current revenue streams with the necessary changes in revenue sources?

Jeff: I think one of the myths associated with open source is the notion of "free." We often describe it as "free as in speech, not as in beer." Open source gives freedoms. You are free to choose it, you are free to modify it, free to compile it, free to use it any way you want, free to upgrade it. Those are the freedoms we talk about.

People are generally willing to pay for things that have value that they couldn't easily do themselves, such as compile the code, manage it, keep it up to date, and include security fixes, etc. That is where Novell comes in. Novell will provide a very effective enterprise-class distribution. We will license that to vendors to manage it, maintain it, update it, and support it. It's in those areas that Novell will make money.

We will also make money on the value that we add above open source software. Open source, the operating systems, and the Linux distribution enables so much more that can be built on top of it, such as our One Net solutions. We get very fixated on Linux and on open source, when in fact Linux is a means to an end. People are purchasing Linux because they have a business problem, they have a business need. It is those business problems, and those business needs that Novell can solve. That is why people are willing to pay money for it.

20) David: Some of the first adopter communities for Linux seem to be educational institutions and European government agencies. What do you see Novell doing to leverage those communities?

Jeff: One of the reasons why I see educational institutions, and not just European governments but governments around the world, getting so excited about Linux is because for the first time in a long time they have choice, they have the option of doing something different. Further, they are not constantly at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating prices for the things that they need.

Educational institutions, particularly the engineering departments, like it because they can actually teach the concepts that are embedded in the open source software. Linux had its beginning in education purposes; that is why Linus (Thorvalds) started it; it was a replacement for an operating system kernel for education. That where it had its beginnings, so it is not at all surprising that it is so attractive to them. What we will do is make our products extremely attractive to the education sector. Not just the products but also the training, and the certification programs so that when students come out of college they are literate in Linux, they are literate in Novell/SUSE , and they are able to take that knowledge and apply it in the work force.

21) David: How do you see Novell getting students using the Linux OS and the desktop suite?

Jeff: I think that it is happening right now. Every once in a while I'll show up on campus to do college recruiting or for a speaking engagement, and I run into Linux everywhere - there are lots of university user groups. Price is one of the major drivers for its adoption. What's interesting is that open source extends not just to Linux but also to Open Office running on Windows, and that is very attractive to students. In short, the engineering students will be your early adopters and as the solutions mature you'll see a growing, widespread adoption throughout the campus.

22) Bob: Novell's strength has been in IT infrastructure products rather than consumer-based software products. How does Novell plan on handling the differences in marketing, distribution, and support of consumer products like Open Office and a desktop O/S?

Jeff: A desktop is a different environment than a data center. A desktop product for enterprises requires a different level of marketing, distribution and support. That's because you and I as users have issues and problems - my wireless doesn't work; I can't exchange this file; I can't VPN into the system; my password is expired ... so we need access to support infrastructures unlike a data center. This creates a support challenge. The kind of relationships that Novell builds with enterprise now around desktops is going to be a little different. We need to help them develop the skills and the tools in the call center so that Novell isn't necessarily the first line of support for a customer. We have to change and improve our support mechanisms for desktop offerings, and we are doing that.

23) David: Most higher education institutions in North America are using Red Hat over SUSE. Why is it that SUSE was so successful in Europe and Red Hat dominates North America? How do you see Novell overcoming that particular academic market?

Jeff: I think if you look at the size of the sales staff and the support infrastructure SUSE has had in North America, it's no surprise that Red Hat has a dominant position. Given Novell's acquisition and now the strength that we can bring through our channel, direct sales force and our programs, I foresee this changing quite rapidly. Novell is placing a significant importance on North America right now.

24) David: Linux offerings currently have the reputation of not being as robust as the Microsoft solutions. Other than the popular feeling of wanting to go with the underdog verses the perceived evil monopolists, why would a customer go with Linux?

Jeff: In the end, IT makes rational decisions. I think that for the most part corporations are taking a very studied, methodical look at Linux, and they are applying it where it has proven itself. IT managers are driven by business economics. They do not want to take all of the heartache and the backlash that would come from putting out an inferior solution with nothing more to say for it than "See, I stuck it to the 'evil monopolists' ?" What will happen is Linux will continue to make steady progress. In those areas where it has a superior economic profile, it will be used. Today, Linux makes good business sense.

25) Bob: How long do you think it will be before programs such as Open Office catch up to the functionality of Microsoft?

Jeff: I think in many ways it already has. It's the old 80/20 rule - 20% of the functionality we use 80% of the time. There are people who are power users, and maybe their favorite keystroke or their favorite feature is missing, but those are quickly being added in. I believe Open Office is a viable solution today.

26) Bob: Thanks for your time, Jeff. What else would you like to say on this subject before we close?

Jeff: Recently we announced an indemnification program for Linux users. You can read about it at:

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