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Interview with Stormy Peters

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Swapnil: You’ve written in your blog: “I’m someone who thinks open source software is changing the way software works – bringing better technology solutions to us all faster.” That makes the first question, so please tell us a bit about yourself, and how did you get associated with open source?

Stormy:  I first got involved with open source software around 1999 or 2000. I was managing the HPUX desktop and we decided that having GNOME, a free and open source desktop, on HPUX would be advantageous for users. It was a platform with a vibrant community and new features that customers wanted. The technical part turned out to be the easy part. The harder part was explaining what open source software was and how HP’s intellectual property would not be compromised, and how free and open source software was changing the software business. I ended up with a new job teaching people about open source software and creating the Open Source Program Office.

Swapnil: Quoting the GNOME Foundation website: The “Foundation will work to further the goal of the GNOME project: to create a computing platform for use by the general public that is completely free software.” How much towards this direction has the project gone, and how much is left to achieve?

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Stormy: The GNOME project is a complete computing platform for end users and developers. Today we are moving it forward with many new features and projects for the web, multimedia and GNOME mobile, among others.

Swapnil: In your new role what are your responsibilities?

Stormy: My job is to help the GNOME Foundation make GNOME successful. I will be working closely with our sponsors, developing marketing and business development plans and in general, helping the GNOME Foundation run successfully day to day.

Swapnil: Will you be lining up a team of more executives to give a corporate image to the Foundation?

Stormy:
We will not be hiring more executives in the short term. The GNOME Foundation has many talented members who volunteer their skills. My job is to help coordinate and further those efforts. Our next employee will most likely be a system administrator to help us with our infrastructure.

Swapnil: What market segment interests you more-enterprise or home desktop users?
Stormy: Both! We have many of both users. We have large deployments in enterprises – several of our sponsor companies have extensive GNOME deployments, in schools – countries like Spain have deployed GNOME in many schools, and in homes – GNOME has a very large developer base and several of the GNU/Linux distributions that are popular with home users are using GNOME.

Swapnil: When it comes to homes users there are various major challenges especially from the point of driver or proprietary codec support. Unless users get out-of-the-box support, GNU/Linux will remain for ‘tweakers’ only. How do you plan to handle this challenge, if you do want to increase penetration into that market segment?

Stormy: Proprietary solutions like drivers and codec aren’t just a problem for the free and open source software community they are also a problem for users. Our ability to innovate and offer new solutions for users is often held up by proprietary solutions. The GNOME project is helping to change the dynamics of the market by developing free software solutions implementations of proprietary technologies like Gnash and swfdec,working with the companies behind these technologies, and providing a place for companies to discuss their plans with each other and the free software community.

I see a real interest in improving usability in GNOME among GNOME developers and sponsor companies. There have been several talks about usability here at GUADEC – including a couple of the keynotes. Many of the Linux distributions now “work out of the box”. (The laptop I ordered a few weeks ago arrived on my door step, booted up in Linux and found my wireless network with no effort on my part!) Another example is codec: the installation of codec is easy now since your open source multimedia application can tell you about it and can install the codec with a few clicks. We will continue to improve usability for end users as well as work with others in the free and open source software community to spread the word.

Swapnil: Most of the financially successful OSS majors target the enterprise segment, but those who do focus on home users don’t have any sustainable revenue generation model. What do you think about it?

Stormy: I think the enterprise and home markets are loosely tied together. As open source software becomes more pervasive in the enterprise, it will also become more pervasive at home and vice versa. People use what works and what they are familiar with. Open source software like GNOME provides an easy to use and affordable solution for both enterprises and end users.

Swapnil: In various interactions with solution providers like Red Hat and Novell it comes out flat and clear that desktop is not their primary interest area. What do you think is the reason for their reclusion of taking over this market?

Stormy: Red Hat and Novell are both very committed supporters of GNOME and the GNOME Foundation and they have both made public statements supporting the Linux desktop. In the desktop space, I think we are finding traction in the enterprise and technical workstation space. Both Novell and Red Hat are sponsors of the GNOME Foundation and have many developers working on GNOME technologies.

Swapnil: A new player can very easily topple the dominant players-Apple has proved that with its iPod and iPhone… they re-wrote the rules of telecom industry. Why is GNU/Linux stuttering on that one?

Stormy: GNU/Linux and GNOME have a very strong presence in the mobile market. Many cell phones and other embedded devices run GNOME and GNU/Linux. For example, in China, 30 per cent of all smartphones are running Linux.

Swapnil: Open source offers too many choices, do you think as a bane or a boon?
Stormy: That’s a good question. Studies have shown that consumers like choice but too many choices can be overwhelming. I think it’s very good that developers have choice and then we make recommendations to end users. Choice combined with knowledge gives people power over their technology and their lives. GNOME provides both choice and ease of use by picking good defaults but enabling users to change them if they wish to.

Swapnil: If I am an start-up and want to come out with a new software, why should I go open source and what revenue-generation model can I have? What I mean to ask is most of the start-ups go for closed source even if they use FOSS for their own infrastructure, how to encourage them to go open source?

Stormy: There are a couple of open source software business models that are well understood by companies and investors such as the create an open source software project and sell support for it. Other models are not so clear so I think high-lighting open source software company success stories is key to encouraging others to start with open source software.

Swapnil: Companies like Adobe and Corel which offer ‘dominant’ graphic software don’t have much for the Linux platform from professional point of view. How do you plan to motivate them to be OS agnostic, if you do plan? This is another major constraint for Linux to penetrate the market in such professional environments.

Stormy: I agree. One of the things the GNOME Foundation does is to bring vendors together to discuss plans and standards in the desktop space. The GNOME Foundation is excited that Adobe recently adopted the GNOME platform for Acrobat Reader and started working with the open source model with projects like Flex and Tamarin. We will continue to work with and encourage companies like Adobe to embrace free software in a way that enhances their businesses and provides better open source solutions to consumers. We will also continue to support open source solutions like GIMP and Inkscape that provide open source alternatives to consumers.

Swapnil: Proprietary companies thrive on channel partners, system integrator and ISVs. GNU/Linux is still lagging behind. Don’t you think that FOSS players need to educat and train such partners to equip them with FOSS soultions so that they could enable the migration? How much sense do you think this makes and how could this be done?

Stormy: This is happening and we’ll be seeing more of it. The GNOME Foundation provides a neutral and confidential place for system integrators, partners and ISVs to discuss their plans. We are working to expand that ecosystem.

Swapnil: What kind of market do you see in India?
Stormy: I’m hoping to make it to India soon! GNOME has a strong presence at FOSS.IN in India. We will also be having our first GNOME.Asia conference in China in October, where we expect to see people from India and many other different countries. This event will move to another country next year. Maybe India?

Swapnil: Governments tend to go for FOSS technologies, but there are still some glitches at the implementation or the adoption front. What do you think?

Stormy: I agree. Governments, from European countries to the US Department of Defense are adopting free and open source technologies. Countries in Africa and Asia are looking at encouraging open source software development in their countries to create new businesses for their citizens. But any large technology deployment requires technical expertise and help. Local GNOME developers have helped school and governments, hosted GNOME user days and encouraged others to join the GNOME community. For example, a local linux user group in Brussels helped Dupedi migrate to GNOME – they’ve been happy GNOME users for the past 7 years. Others organizations using GNOME include Macedonian schools, Brazilian community centers, and school districts in Extremadura and Andalucía in Spain. We plan to encourage more of this by showing the value of GNOME and helping organisations adopt GNOME.

Swapnil: When we say free as in freedom and not beer, how much role do you think cost plays for the adoption of open source technologies? Considering various economies?

Stormy: I think from an enterprise perspective the lower total cost of ownership is what draws them to open source software. Later they discover other benefits like more flexibility, developer retention, reliability, etc. From a government and individual’s perspective, cost is a consideration but the freedom is a key piece. Freedom to use, modify and redistribute. I think this is becoming particularly important when it comes to individual’s data.

Swapnil: This is the high time when Windows is fumbling, how do you plan to take advantage and capture some market before Microsoft hits back with Windows 7 or Apple does some irretrievable damage by taking over that market, just because Linux players were not ready with marketing strategy?

Stormy: The GNOME Foundation hired me. 🙂 Seriously, we will be doing marketing and outreach to show people the value of the GNOME experience. A free, accessible and internationalised user interface that is fun and easy to use!

Swapnil: There is a major issue regarding awareness about Linux and open source. Where is this ‘education’ awareness campaign in your radar. Novell sometime back did a nice spoof of the Apple ad, wherein Linux was poised as a girl who goes with the latest trends. What do you think? Any plans for such campaigns?

Stormy: We plan to spread the word about that GNOME is a great developer platform and free and open source desktop. Stay tuned!

The interview was previously published in LINUX For You magazine.

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