August 11, 2009

LinuxCon: When Open Source Is Not Enough

Bdale-before.jpgAs LinuxCon moves closer, we've been talking to the keynote speakers for the event, to get a sense of what their message to attendees will be and to give attendees a better sense of where the message is coming from. Next up in our series of interviews is Bdale Garbee, Chief Technologist for Open Source and Linux at Hewlett-Packard. Garbee is a steady fixture in the Linux community, known for his work at HP as well as Debian Project Leader. His keynote "The Freedom to Collaborate," will delve into innovation from open source and how to keep that innovation alive. Can you give us the quick run down on your job with HP and some of your community responsibilities?

Bdale Garbee: I serve as Chief Technologist for Open Source and Linux at HP. What that means is that since 2001 I've helped to establish HP's technology and business strategies around Linux, advocated for greater engagement in open source across all of HP's many business units, mentored internal teams on how to participate as good citizens in open source development communities, and helping to establish and maintain HP's open source governance processes. Today I serve as one of the most visible points of interconnection between HP and various open source communities. I also represent HP on the boards of both the Linux Foundation and the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum.

But many in the Linux world may recognize me better as one of the longest-serving contributors to the Debian project. I've done a lot of things for Debian over the years, including serving for a year as the elected Debian Project Leader. I currently chair the Debian Technical Committee, and continue to personally maintain a number of packages that are essential to the system.

I am also President of Software in the Public Interest, which is the non-profit umbrella organization started many years ago to give Debian a legal and financial existence in the United States, which now also provides such services to a number of interesting projects like PostgreSQL,, Gallery, and the Open Voting Foundation. What's HP's overall philosophy regarding Linux and open source?

Bdale Garbee: I think we could distill HP's overall philosophy regarding Linux and open source down to three words: choice, integration, and confidence. We understand that customers deserve to have a meaningful set of choices, whether we're talking about hardware architectures, operating systems, application stacks, or the relationship they want to have with their technology providers. For open source choices to be meaningful, customers expect HP to have made the right investments and participated in the development community in ways that lead to high quality, well integrated solutions that directly address their needs. I think we mostly get that right, as evidenced for example by our position as the undisputed world leader in sales of Linux servers for more than a decade. All of that means that customers can confidently deploy HP solutions including Linux and other open source components to address the IT challenges posed by their ever-changing business needs. Given the current economic climate, do you anticipate HP's approach to Linux remaining constant?

Bdale Garbee: Yes, at a strategic level I don't see any changes in our approach. But at a tactical level, HP programs and employees related to Linux and other open source software have certainly been affected alongside everything else by the current economic climate. When you keynote at LinuxCon, what will be the theme of your talk?

Bdale Garbee: Rockets, of course! ;-)

Actually, I want to talk about the roles that freedom and collaboration play in support of innovation. One of the things I always look for when evaluating new open source projects is who gets to participate, and when. It's very clear to me that "being open source" is necessary but not sufficient, yet I don't think this gets enough attention in the flurry of excitement around each new announcement in our industry. What technologies or projects excite you when looking at the future of Linux?

Bdale Garbee: Most of my enthusiasm right now is around embedded and mobile uses of Linux. Linux now runs on a significant fraction of all of the servers in the world, and interest in Linux on the desktop continues to grow, but new device and service categories are emerging where we don't necessarily carry the baggage of prior experience and expectations. It's a huge win when users can have great experiences without having to think about the underlying technology. The opportunity to create compelling products that embody new ways of using technology to communicate and collaborate, all built around Linux, is pretty exciting! What are some of the challenges you believe Linux will need to address in the days ahead?

Bdale Garbee: The biggest challenge for Linux itself may be just that it works so well in so many places that it's becoming easier to take it for granted and let most of our attention be drawn elsewhere. But Linux itself, the kernel and common core of software packages around it that are at the heart of every distribution, are critical components that we can't afford to let get lost in the swirl of announcements about new technologies above and around us.