Linux Foundation CTO Markus Rex: Linux 'Now an Accepted Choice'
"We've managed to create a really good solid standard from an operating system perspective, and now looking forward, we have the chance to do a similar thing for the application provider. What we have so far is a great base. Now we need to build on that to have the standards become a centerpiece of application development."
The Linux Foundation recently scored an executive coup when it nabbed Novell's Markus Rex, a well-respected Linux-focused business executive. Rex is now the chief technology officer of the nonprofit group, which is dedicated to accelerating the growth of Linux. Rex comes to the Linux Foundation with a strong history of Linux product management and strategy. At Novell, he's served in various vice president roles in which he has worked on services strategy and managing Suse Linux efforts.
Before Novell, Rex served as Suse Linux's head of development, followed by vice president of research and development. He oversaw Suse's growth from 15 engineers in 1999 to more than 200 in 2004, when Novell acquired the company.
Technically, Rex is only on loan to the Linux Foundation, and he'll return to Novell at the end of 2008. In the meantime, he brings a strong technical leadership to the CTO position at the organization, where he's expected to energize the next generation of Linux standardization.
LinuxInsider: What's it like being able, in your career, to take a break from Novell's working environment and shake it up a bit by taking on the CTO role at the Linux Foundation?
Markus Rex: For me, this is really great. I've been interested in Linux standardization for like, forever. I started following this whole thing in the mid-'90s. In a previous life, I used to be a sysadmin (system administrator) and we had a bunch of Unix machines and I always hated it -- everything was totally different. I think this is a fantastic position to be in, to be able to do something about that. I certainly had the opportunity at Suse and Novell to do things from that end, but there's a difference.
LinuxInsider: How were some of your previous job duties at Novell complementary to what you'll be doing for the Linux Foundation as CTO?
Rex: There is a completely different perspective that I'm looking forward to. I have been working for one of the two major Linux distributors for the last eight years or so, and I always saw things from that perspective and looked at helping from that perspective.
Of course, you can't be in the Linux business and play open source by ignoring others, so certainly every open source person looks at what others are doing. Right now, the interesting piece that comes up is, we have the opportunity right now to create something really meaningful.
We've managed to create a really good solid standard from an operating system perspective, and now looking forward, we have the chance to do a similar thing for the application provider. What we have so far is a great base. Now we need to build on that to have the standards become a centerpiece of application development. I think this is a really interesting challenge.
LinuxInsider: The Linux Standards Base -- why is it so critical to the success of Linux moving forward?
Rex: First of all, the LSB standard is being mostly driven by what the open source community is producing and what the Linux distributors are adopting ... so when there's a universally accepted method, technology, or practice, the standard will incorporate it.
The LSB is not so much running full steam ahead and saying, "OK everybody, if you want to do Linux, this is what you have to do." It's more like, "OK, we found out that this is a common practice, so it's safe to standardize it now."
What we have done so far is we have created a really solid specification, and we have also created in the last year, a very advanced test for those applications and Linux distributions. This was done by the Academy of Sciences in Russia, in Moscow.
And this new test framework and application test tools allow developers, distributors, and the application vendors to have a clear and easy way to find out if they are conforming to the LSB standard. This is a major step forward. The previous tools ... you had to be a real fan of Linux standardization to use the previous tools.
LinuxInsider: How do you characterize the use of Linux in larger businesses and organizations? Do enterprises, for example, have concerns that affect Linux development and initiatives?
Rex: At the beginning of this week, I was part of a company that makes a lot of money selling Linux to enterprise customers. . . . Linux is now an accepted operating system, an accepted choice. I remember the days that you had to justify that you are doing Linux and justify why Linux is viable -- and now those days are long gone.
Now, Linux is being measured on features, functions, cost, stability -- nobody asks about open source any more. People accept it. If you're a bank and you run your trading application on it ... nobody really cares. Customers are seeing that Linux is just a tool -- like Unix is a tool, like Windows is a tool -- that can solve a kind of business need.
If you think back five, six, seven years, people were doing Linux for ideological reasons and whatever, but it was never at the heart of the big datacenter in a huge enterprise company -- you would never get in there just on ideological reasons. And the pure fact that Linux can be found in those places now demonstrates that Linux has now reached a totally different level of acceptance.
LinuxInsider: What are some of the other areas that you hope to work on while you're at the Linux Foundation?
Rex: There is one thing that the Linux industry has to think about going forward, and this is, how do those new technologies that come up, like for example, virtualization, how does virtualization affect things like standardization? How does it affect things like, which forms of your operating system are consumed going forward? Most of the things that the industry does right now are based on the old notion that you have one operating system running on one machine -- what happens when you change that paradigm?
Linux is huge, and there are new things coming up that you have to figure out what to do, whether it's concerning the standard or if it's a good thing for Linux moving forward. Somehow I have the feeling I will not be bored.