OpenSUSE Starts Steering its Own Course

Monday Nov 3rd 2008 by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
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It's not easy for a Linux company to let go the reins of control over its community Linux distribution. Just ask Red Hat, which started to let go of Fedora and then decided to keep managing it. But, now Novell is loosening its apron strings on its community Linux openSUSE.

It's not easy for a Linux company to let go the reins of control over its community Linux distribution. Just ask Red Hat, which started to let go of Fedora and then decided to keep managing it (Red Hat keeps its grip on Fedora). But, now Novell is loosening its apron strings on its community Linux openSUSE.

The first step was to allow a community-elected board to take charge of the project. While Novell still has a large say, the company appoints the chairman and half of the board's members come from Novell, the community of openSUSE developers does get a larger say in the popular distribution's direction.

From the non-Novell side of the community, Pascal Bleser and Bryen Yunashko are the newest members. While, from Novell, Henne Vogelsang and Federico Mena-Quintero have been elected to the board. Novell appointed Michael Löffler, the openSUSE Product Manager, as the new board's chairman.

Novell is pleased by these first steps. Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier, the openSUSE Community Manager, said "I think this is an important milestone for the project. As you know, the previous board was handpicked by Novell -- and I think that the company made good choices for the "bootstrap" board, but it's necessary for the project to elect its own members for the community to really feel like it's being well-represented."

Yunashko, a consultant and developer, is looking forward, as a member of "the first Community-elected Board" to "focusing on laying the groundwork for the present, as well as future, Boards, clearly defining our role within the community and exploring ways we can continue to close the gap between Community and Novell. That's not to say that there is a huge gap because I think currently the Community and Novell do work well together. But there's always room for improvement in any organization."

Specifically, Yunashko wants to improve openSUSE's usability to end users and, in particular, improve its "accessibility through computing, otherwise known as a11y ."

Yunashko adds, "I have Usher Syndrome, which causes deafness and blindness, so for all intents and purposes, I'm defined as a user with low-vision needs. The thing about a11y is it embodies my basic philosophy. Most people see 'a11y' and assume it is about people with disabilities. On the contrary, 'a11y' is about equal access regardless of your physical or mental abilities. I apply that philosophy to everything I do in the Community, where we should all have equal access as a community to participate in and contribute to it."

Löffler believes that the new board's main goal should be to maintain the process of opening and transparency we see already over the past years (bugzilla, openSUSE Build Service, public meetings, public mailing lists etc.). And give the community more possibilities for implementation of their ideas and take over responsibilities (e.g. new openSUSE) is a 100% community effort)."

"We should provide better ways for community interaction," continued Löffler. "This year's hackweek where we already invited approximately 10 community members to our development locations was a great success and everybody benefited from it. This need to be enhanced and we might come up with a openSUSE conference to get as many developers and users together at one place to exchange opinions and hack together."

Löffler also feels that since "Linux is currently at the step to enter significantly the desktop market e.g. with netbooks. Therefore openSUSE in my opinion should address more the needs of people new to Linux. This is already addressed pretty good in the distribution but could be improved in the wiki and in places where user having a questions, hitting an issue refer to (e.g. forums, IRC, support database)."

He concluded, "The other big improvement we should address is the possibility to contribute to the distribution and the surrounding packages. We do have already impressive tools like the openSUSE Build Service, Bugzilla, the wiki, users.opensuse.org and should try to combine them to get an easy to access platform for contribution."

These are all big plans and it will be interesting to see how well openSUSE's new board does in addressing them. Hopefully, they'll do a good job both for the sake of openSUSE and Linux at large.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the operating system of choice for PCs and 2BSD Unix was what the cool kids used on their computers.

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.

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