Hubert Mantel: "I'm back at Novell".
I had more than 1 year of time to think about my future and came to the conclusion that the thing I'm most interested in still is Linux." During an exclusive interview to Data Manager Online and pc-facile, SuSe co-founder confirms - after he left one year ago - he's back at Novell since the beginning of December.
1. When did you first start working with computers?
My first contact with computers was at school in 1979 on a Tektronix machine with 8 KB of RAM. I started paid working with computers in 1987 at a small company near Erlangen where I studied.
2. We know that computers aren't the only reason of our lives, so what do you do for fun?
Well, I have three little children, so that should answer the question already :)
3. Why did you decide to create a Linux distribution with your friends (Roland, Burchard and Thomas)?
This was more or less by accident. We founded a company to do software development as we all worked in the IT industry while we studied. Only some weeks afterwards we first heard of Linux, tried it and loved it. Back then (it was 1992) almost nobody had internet access, so many interested people asked where to get this new open source operating system. So we started distributing SLS (the first Linux distribution by Peter Mc Donald) and later Slackware (by Patrick Volkerding). Very soon we learned that in order to be able to give support for the system, it would be much better to create an own distribution. We started development of YaST and built our own distribution based on Jurix by Florian La Roche.
4. What sort of help have you received?
We received all sorts of help from many of the well known open source people including kernel developers that we hired later on. We did not get any money from investors or so. This only started some years later when the high tech bubble started.
5. I don't believe in the GNU world, how would you try to convince me to embrace this strange (for me) philosophy?
It's all about freedom. If you had to choose between a car that can only drive certain roads (defined by the manufacturer) and a car that allows you to travel wherever you want, which one would you pick?
When I worked for some big company several years ago, we needed a tiny change in the SunOS kernel the application was based on. It was quite some work to get this done; in Linux the whole issue would have been resolved in just one hour, because you have the source and can modify your system in any way you want.
I also just feel better to connect to the internet with software that has been reviewed by many independent people; I do not like the feeling of using a black box where I don't know what it might be doing behind the scenes.
I'm happy you called the GNU/Linux movement a philosophy, not a religion :)
6. What do you think about the Microsoft/Novell deal?
I think it is a good thing especially for the users. If you think some years back, Linux was not taken seriously. Now even Microsoft acknowledges that it exists and will not go away. I understand that many people don't like it as Novell is collaborating with the "evil empire". But I don't like this way of thinking; we are not working against somebody, but we are working FOR Linux. Fundamentalism always leads to pain. What's important is that Linux is free and will remain to be free. The source code is open to everybody, this is what counts for me. Some people seem to be torn in an interesting way: On one hand they want "world domination", at the same time they don't like the feeling that Linux has grown up and needs to deal with the real business world out there. We have a saying here in Germany that goes along the lines of "wash me, but do not make me wet". If you want Linux to succeed, you cannot live in your own separate universe.
7. We know you left Suse/Novell, Why?
Bascially I just was burned out. After many years that consisted of nothing else than work and some unpleasant experiences with our investors, it didn't took very much to throw in the towel. I simply needed some time off.
8. What are your next engagements? Any plans for the future?
Well, in case you don't know it already: I'm back at Novell/SuSE since beginning of december. I had more than 1 year of time to think about my future and came to the conclusion that the thing I'm most interested in still is Linux. Also I do have many good friends at SuSE and I really like to work with and for Linux. So I just came back :)
9. In your opinion, what will be open-source's future?
Linux and open source have grown up, it has entered mainstream. I think that open source and proprietary software will co-exist. While I prefer open source, I do understand that there also exists software where the source code is not freely available. And this kind of software always will exist. For me it is important to be able to choose. Competition is always good. Noone knows how the world would look like if Linux and open source would not exist. I think it already changed the IT world in a big way.
10. What is your relationship to technology?
In principle, technology is there to solve problems. If you ask from a business perspective, we need to develop and evaluate new technologies that are appropriate to help customers succeed in their businesses. If you ask from a private perspective, I can say that I like technology, but with getting older, the interest in all the newest toys decreases. For example, I still have an ancient cellphone that can do nothing but telephone calls. No camera, no browser, no MP3 player :)
11. The new Microsoft OS is considered expensive, not for the software itself, but for the hardware required. Could this be an incentive to switch to open-source?
Are you referring to Microsoft Vista? Vista needs high performing CPU and graphics to work well; their visual effects seem to be more demanding for the hardware than the 3D graphic acceleration subsystems (Xgl/compiz) included in SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. Such requirements can drive people from Windows to Linux.