Eye2Eye: Dirk Hohndel of SuSE Linux, Part II

Dirk Hohndel, chief technology officer with SuSE Linux, talks about Intel's Trillium project, the advent of 64-bit computing and the paradigm shift that open source represents. This exclusive Eye2Eye interview with ZDNet's Will Knight, concludes today.

Dirk Hohndel, chief technology officer with SuSE Linux, talks about Intel's Trillium project, the advent of 64-bit computing and the paradigm shift that open source represents. This exclusive Eye2Eye interview with ZDNet's Will Knight, concludes today.

What about Microsoft Office on Linux? Would that help with the adoption of Linux on the desktop?

Every other month, there is a rumour that Microsoft is porting Office to Linux, and the day they do they're going to loose the monopoly on the desktop. I'm actually hoping for the trial in the US to result in a split of the company, because once there is a unit of the company that does the Office application, it will be forced to port to Linux, and by doing that, they will kill their OS unit. Business desktop are going to be even more interested in Linux.

You mentioned the enterprise server space. Linux will have to take on Windows 2000 in this area, but have you had a chance to look at this?

Yes, I have had a chance to look at it, and to read through all the promises that come with it. But I will stick with what most IT managers are saying, and that's, "let's wait and see". There is this very interesting rumour that there are 64,000 known problems in Windows 2000. Obviously, the rumour is wrong. What I think is interesting is how many people believe it -- the number of people who accept this rumour on face value. I find that very, very interesting. There are a lot of people who think it is very reasonable to believe that there are 64,000 bugs in Windows 2000.

How do you see Window 2000 affecting the position of Linux in the server market?

I see Windows 2000 as a big chance. If you look at the administration interface, everything changes. Many old applications don't work anymore. So, if a company is considering moving to Windows 2000, they're considering retraining their staff... moving to new applications. That is the point in time when we need to talk to them. If they want to move to Windows 2000, they can move to Linux. We have, I think, for many people, a much more attractive offering here. I view 2000 as a big opportunity for us.

The Trillian project saw a number of Linux distributors and Intel working together to develop the forthcoming 64-bit Itanium processor. This seems like a major step forward for Linux development. Would you agree?

What happened was Intel publicly announced that it was supporting two operating systems, and in that public announcement they said in this order: "Linux and Windows". The reason why they are pushing Linux so hard is that at the end of the day, Intel wants to sell processors, and the chances of having a full, 64-bit ready operating system from Microsoft at the time of the Itanium launch are slim to none. But Linux will be ready. Today it is 64-bit ready, and there is no 64-bit version of Microsoft, as you know. So, Intel's move to fully embrace Linux is kind of obvious. Intel has invested in most of the major players in the Linux market for that purpose: To make sure that Linux is ready for the IA64.

On the Xfree86 Web site, it says that the one thing you need most is developers. What can distributions like SuSE do to attract more?

There is no-one who has hired more people than SuSE. We're investing in the future very heavily, and we have done so for the past five or six years. We are investing in the future of Linux. We try to be part of the community and talk to people. If someone is interested in a working in a particular area, then we try to steer them into that area. One of the good things about being in such a company is that if you see an area where work is needed, you are able to say, "okay we'll hire a few people and have them work on that". We're trying to give back to the community and further the technology that we all live from.

So what makes a good developer?

As a rule of thumb, one of 10 people turn out to be productive. Usually what I recommend to people is that if they want to join, they should have a clear goal. There should be something that they want to work on. It's usually people who say there is this one feature that I've always wanted, or there is this one card that doesn't work that ends up being productive. Funnily enough, people who join with a very narrow focus get addicted and start doing a lot more things. I am one of those people. It's the very same for the Linux kernel. You look into an issue and say, "oh, I can fix that", and then you start understanding more of the code, contributing more to development. This is how it goes.

What would you say to people who have difficulty believing in something that is built by people in their spare time?

Quality speaks for itself. The quality of Xfree86, for example, is very high. Interestingly enough, some commercial vendors are reshipping Xfreee86 as part of there products. For example, the GUI in the newest version of Novell is actually an old version of Xfree86. So I believe that Xfree86 has a very strong position.

As a good friend of Linus Torvalds, can you share some insight into how does he deals with the attention he recieves?

He's an extremely level-headed guy. It's very interesting to see how he switches modes when he's in public and not. In public, you need to create some distance, otherwise they kill you. If you're with him in private, he's an extremely funny and very friendly guy. He has a very good grasp on what is happening and very reasonable goals for where he wants this to go.

Linux and the open source movement have come a long way in the last few years. What do you see as the future?

The future for the open source community is to extend into other areas of the market and niches. We are already in some pretty big niches. We are very successful in the enterprise server market, especially in the Internet-related part. We're fairly successful in the desktop market for technically interested, technically experienced people. We are in this for the long run. We want to succeed as a paradigm. This is a shift in paradigm. We're moving away from the old binary-only, proprietary model to a new model of open source technology where people compete on things like service, convenience and how you fulfil you customer's needs. The open source community has shown that this collection of genius and talent has resulted in very good solutions.

See also Eye2Eye: Dirk Hohndel of SuSE Linux, Part I.

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