Brockmeier: Addressing Linux Challenges at LinuxCon

Article Source Community-cation
June 25, 2009, 9:10 am

Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier is a stable fixture in the Linux community, spreading the word about Linux and open source to all who will listen.

In his latest role as openSUSE Community Manager, he offers a unique point of view from the corporate and community sides of the Linux ecosystem. Naturally, the Linux Foundation was very pleased Zonker agreed to keynote at our first LinuxCon event on September 21-23, 2009 at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront in Portland, OR. I recently talked to Zonker to find out what topics he plans to cover in his address. Can you give us the quick run down on your responsibilities with Novell?

Zonker: Sure. I handle community relations for Novell’s open source efforts, primarily with openSUSE. This includes working with the openSUSE community as an “ombudsman,” and working to get the appropriate infrastructure in place for the community to work effectively. I’m not the only person working on openSUSE infrastructure, but part of my job is identifying areas where we lack appropriate resources and then work with Novell to get those into place when possible. This ranges from being directly involved in projects (like the trademark guidelines, licensing changes, the push to create a foundation) to being a “squeaky wheel” and pushing for
changes where necessary.

Promoting openSUSE is also a major part of my job. This ranges from working with the openSUSE Ambassadors to going to shows and speaking about openSUSE, and writing and blogging about openSUSE and working with the press.

And, some less exciting behind the scenes stuff such as budget planning for activities, advising Novell on open source matters, and providing input for other marketing activities and media strategies. It’s a pretty diverse set of activities, and I don’t often get bored. How are openSUSE, and Novell, approaching the big IT challenges in the current economic climate?

Zonker: Those are two very different questions, really. Novell is approaching the “big IT challenges” in the same way as many companies: Hunkering down and concentrating on the best way to meet customer needs and make sales in a very challenging environment.

The openSUSE Project doesn’t really have the same pressures. We have no quarterly revenue targets and the downturn hasn’t been a negative for use of FOSS. In fact, we may be seeing more interest by individuals and companies as a result of the downturn. It’s hard to say. I know by your schedule you travel a lot, speaking to the community at various events and gatherings. What’s been the overriding theme of your message of late?

Zonker: It varies a lot depending on the conference. Sometimes I “just” do a talk about openSUSE or the openSUSE Build Service, so there the goal is to introduce people to the distro or our build service and help them understand what we’re about as a project.

I’ve also given a few keynotes recently on the topic of expanding the reach of communities.

The overriding theme is that we need to continue to broaden our horizons if we want Linux and FOSS to appeal to more people, and to become mainstream. When you keynote at LinuxCon, what will be the theme of your talk?

Zonker: I’ve thought about this a lot. Obviously, the LinuxCon attendees don’t need to be sold on the benefits of Linux or FOSS, and I think that most of the audience is going to be very adept at community building already, so they don’t need to be told how to do that.

What I’d like to address is where we need to go and what needs to be done to get to “world domination” from here. This is a pretty large topic, and I’d love feedback ahead of LinuxCon to hear what other community members think about this. What are some of the challenges you believe Linux as a whole will need to address in the days ahead?

Zonker: We still have some major challenges in front of us in terms of addressing mainstream users. In many cases the problems aren’t that Linux isn’t ready for users on a technical level, it’s that we’re not doing the best job of reaching new users and educating them about the benefits of Linux and free software.

This is a huge hurdle. The other OSes have vendors with billions of dollars in marketing budgets alone, and they’re coasting and building on existing name recognition already. Nobody needs to explain what “Windows” is, and it’s pretty rare to have to explain to mainstream users what Mac OS X is — but Linux still needs a lot of explaining, and that’s before you even get to the good parts and the benefits of Linux for mainstream users.

And we often start that conversation on the wrong foot — i.e., by talking about abstract concepts like “freedom” and “open source” to people who have no intention of ever looking at a line of code, and who aren’t impressed by the ability to examine code or modify it. That’s not to say those things aren’t massively important, but they’re not a big selling point for mainstream users.