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"Linux Jobs Are On The Rise"
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"Linux Jobs Are On The Rise"  
If you are working in the open source space, you have all the chances of being hired by the biggies. Linux jobs are on the rise, claims Ralf Flaxa, vice president, Engineering, SUSE. And he has his reasons for making this claim.   
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Sunday, August 11, 2013 You repeatedly say that Linux jobs are on the rise, globally. What gives you the confidence to say that?

As the engineering vice president of SUSE, I have been hiring a lot of people in the last few years. If you look at our website, we constantly have 15-35 engineering job openings for SUSE, depending on our approvals and requirement. So, SUSE is growing and so is its engineering team. We are doing well as a company, but I think Linux, in general, is doing great and is witnessing tremendous growth. A lot of traditional companies that used proprietary operating systems for their own development work have now taken serious cognisance of Linux. After adoption of Linux, obviously they need some expertise in-house, which is where you see the demand for Linux professionals. There are times when companies realise that they need expertise and they contact companies like us.
We are seeing a general trend towards open source and Linux. A number of companies that have never used it before are now considering it, and are contacting us as an enterprise partner to help them with that. So, in that context, we are growing with these partners and hiring engineers. Also, there are some technology areas that are particularly hot for Linux, like the areas around the cloud. Everything is new in this space, so there is no legacy. It has not been done with a different operating system earlier, so now that it is starting out, it is beginning with Linux. Another big area is mobile computing on smartphones, tablets and netbooks that run Android and Linux. This is why I say that Linux jobs are on the rise.

SUSE, OpenSUSE, Ralf Flaxa, Engineering, Smartphones, Android, Netbooks, Ubuntu, Tablets, Linux, Linux Jobs,

You just mentioned that the smartphone and tablet space is getting hotter. What is holding back SUSE from entering this space?

Frankly, business in this space is difficult. Everybody likes this space but the margins there are very, very small. We have had a lot of requests from people wanting to work with us but given the fact that there is very tough competition in these segments, margins are reduced to a minimum. It’s actually hard to make money in that space. The mobile and tablet space will definitely continue to grow, Linux and Android adoption will also continue but I am not sure if we would like to get into something that has very slim profit margins to offer. We don’t have any active plans to enter this space anytime soon, but of course, if we are able to cut a big contract, we would be willing to try it out. But so far, the business cases that have been presented to us have not been interesting enough. There have been big OEMs who came to us, but we were not impressed by the deal we were offered.

So, it’s not about big OEM partners, it’s about the business case we get. Just because everyone is doing it, we will not do it. We are a professional business company and so we look at the business case. We make upfront investments only if we see long term returns. Getting into the smartphone or tablet space is a feasible option only when you have enormous volumes.
It may sound strange but have a look at the companies with operating systems… how many of them are really making money out of the operating systems is the real question. Google is giving Android away for free. Besides, I cannot see a platform which is anyways a success, be it in terms of popularity or in terms of making money. Hype doesn’t mean money!

OpenSUSE 12.3: Sheenless but feature-rich

Let’s talk about your latest release OpenSUSE 12.3. It comes with a lot of improvements in terms of features but doesn’t have the cosmetic changes. What stops you from doing the cosmetic enhancements to the product?

I think it’s a question of how much effort can be put into every SUSE release vis-a-vis how much effort you can put into an enterprise release. The OpenSUSE products come out every eight months, so they have to be churned out very quickly and they are available to the users for free. There is cost but no revenue involved in it. So, I do not have the capacity to make OpenSUSE very great, but I need my engineers to make our enterprise very nice and stable, and ensure that everything works nicely. Contrary to our competitors like Ubuntu, who see the consumer market as their business model, SUSE sees the enterprise market as its business model. We absolutely leverage the open source development model and we contribute a lot back. There are quite a few areas where we are ahead of our competitors and we are investing in those areas. But when it comes to things like artwork and themes, it takes a lot of time and investment, which we would like to put into our enterprise version of the operating system. At the end of the day, the investment we put in the free products is certainly limited compared to the enterprise products, for which the customers pay.

What are the highlights of OpenSUSE 12.3, according to you?

First of all, it is going to be the base of our next enterprise product. So, a lot of technology seen in OpenSUSE 12.3 will become the standard not only for the SUSE Linux enterprise version but also for all major Linux distros. Supporting UEFI and secure boot are its biggest highlights. It’s a big problem today. If you take other distros and try to install them, there’s a lot of work that is required for a successful installation. We have tested our software. We purchased the hardware and we tried different distros, including Ubuntu and Fedora, apart from OpenSUSE. In many cases, OpenSUSE was the only one that was installed without any problems. So we are definitely ahead of others with OpenSUSE 12.3. With this version, we are looking ahead to future technologies. Of course, we have some issues to be resolved because it is a pretty new technology. The highlights here are for people who want to prepare for what is coming in the next couple of months and years. In these areas I think OpenSUSE is pretty much ahead on the curve. We also have support for KDE and GNOME, so for users who want a choice between KDE and GNOME, OpenSUSE is the perfect option. OpenSUSE 12.3 is the best you can currently get in terms of booting the dual boot software in the hardware.

Was it a deliberate move to choose the Linux 3.7 kernel in OpenSUSE 12.3?

That’s the question of stabilisation. There is a certain point in time when we freeze the kernel version for release, and then we port fixes and features of Linux kernel 3.8. But the version number is 3.7++. Again, if you want to have driver support for hardware, almost everything in Kernel 3.8 is on 3.7. But in terms of the dependencies of the built, we freeze the kernel at a point in time and then we just add patches from the newer version. So, my answer is: yes, it’s called Linux 3.7, but if you look under the cover, you will find that it is almost Linux 3.8.

The new avatar of SUSE

How has SUSE changed after being acquired by the Attachmate Group—in terms of the policies related with the software?

There have not been many changes in SUSE engineering. All our engineering processes have worked very well before as well, and so we continue to keep them. I think what has really changed is the unleashing of the SUSE brand. Now you see more green everywhere as well as the new branding. We have been able to be more innovative again. Under Novell, we were more limited as far as innovation was concerned. For example, on the enterprise products, we were the first ones to release an enterprise grade 3.0 kernel in the SUSE 11 service pack 2. We released the Kernel 3.0 with our enterprise product. And we just did not release it, but we first made it compatible to the product certifications. So, users could upgrade from service pack 1 to service pack 2. Red Hat, which is comparatively much bigger and more popular, still doesn’t have the 3.0 kernel out. I think these are the areas in which we are again able to be more innovative.

SUSE and the open source community

What role has SUSE played in adding value to the growth of Linux and open source?

SUSE just had its 20th anniversary last year. I think we are one of the grandfathers of Linux. We were one of the first to create a distribution to make Linux consumable. We have the first enterprise product with the Linux enterprise server. So in terms of productising Linux, we have definitely been a key player. SUSE has also been good in terms of hardware support, whether it was for the graphic cards where you had to use SUSE to do your work or the secure boot machines. The members of my staff each have between 10-20 years of Linux experience and they are all very active in the upstream community. So look at any popular open source project like GNOME, KDE or the Linux Kernel, and you will find SUSE people working there. All the engineers at SUSE have two roles. One side of them is very business oriented, while the other side is very community oriented. So, we never forget that the success of Linux is not because of SUSE or Red Hat, it’s because of the community. We contribute heavily to the community and we will, forever, continue to do that.

What percentage of SUSE employees interact with the community on a regular basis?

Some of the people in SUSE Labs devote most of their time to community initiatives. They help in building the Linux kernel, something that we at SUSE also need, but they all do upstream work in their productisation phase. While there are other people in the company, like in QA, who spend comparatively less time upstream. But they watch mailing lists and submit back reports. It’s hard to give a general answer but like I mentioned earlier, every SUSE employee has two sides—business and community. The mix depends on the role they perform. Interaction with the community is almost mandatory for all SUSE employees. It’s actually a criterion for hiring. So our first question to an engineer is, “What have you done in terms of open source? Have you contributed to any community; do you know about open source developments?” And so on. These are the key questions in our hiring process.

How much of the contributions to the OpenSUSE project come from India?

The Indian community has traditionally been very active around GNOME and Evolution. In the bigger picture, many majors like Intel and IBM have a couple of luminaries in India, and a handful of them can be seen at the Linux Kernel summit. Though the number of contributors from India is in no way proportional to the country’s population, there are some really good contributions coming from the country. But you see more contributions coming from North America and Europe. I think it is still the early stages for open source in India and it is not so compatible with the culture. The open source communities can be really harsh. In the Indian or the Chinese culture, if you get flamed publicly on a mailing list because your patch wasn’t perfect, it gets intimidating to a lot of people. While, in the western culture, being open and critical is not seen as a personal insult. Instead, it is seen as a method of making things better. The tone on these open source communities can be very rough, which is hindering the contributors from both India and China.

Diksha  P Gupta, EFYTIMES News Network

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