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Attachmate appoints Nils Brauckmann as SUSE head

Attachmate's acquisition of Novell caused something of a stir in the open source community, and in particular the Novell-sponsored OpenSUSE project. We talk to newly-appointed president and general manager of SUSE, Nils Brauckmann, to find out what's going on.

Brauckmann, a 20-year industry veteran with experience at both Attachmate and Novell, has been picked to lead the SUSE Linux project - with Attachmate severing SUSE's ties to Novell and allowing it to push forward as an independent business unit in its own right.

Brauckmann hasn't been involved in SUSE before, but brings with him a leadership team with a considerable amount of experience - starting with Ralf Flaxa, the vice president of engineering. "He has been the vice president of engineering for the open product group at Novell in the past," Brauckmann explains to thinq_ during our interview, "so continues to play a part and be responsible for all engineering of the Linux product.

"Then we have Ronald de Jong, the Dutch guy, who's based in the Netherlands - Utrecht - and he has been vice president of sales for Novell in the past responsible for the data centre solutions team and, to a large extent, for SUSE Linux, so he has a lot of Linux background as well. I'm happy that he will become the vice president of EMEA sales.

"The same is true for Terri Hall, she was the vice president of sales at the Novell organisation," Brauckmann explains, "so, again, I'm happy that she can drive our sales team for the SUSE business unit in North America. Last but not least there's John Delk, vice president of strategic accounts, partners, and alliances - also a former Novell guy. He brings a lot of experience in the SUSE business and the Linux world."

Not all those chosen to form the leadership team can be traced back to pre-Attachmate Novell or its SUSE arm, Brauckmann admitted. "There are only two guys, really, that are new to the leadership team. That's myself, and Michael Miller who is head of the marketing, product management, and global alliances at the SUSE business unit.

"I think it's a strong team, quite frankly, with the right background and the right passion for the business," Brauckmann claims - but it's the open source community that might have other ideas.

Since Attachmate announced it would be acquiring Novell, fears had been rising that it may result in drastic changes that would cost the open source world dearly - and in particular cause harm to the Novell-sponsored OpenSUSE community, built up over a period of years into a powerful partnership.

"I read a couple of blogs where there was a degree of concern, I would say, about the new ownership and the new management team that would come on board," Brauckmann admits, "and that they might change the attitude of the partnership with open source and FOSS communities in general, and with the OpenSUSE community specifically.

"Now, that is one of the things that are not changing," he clarifies. "We consider this relationship to be part of our strength. we will continue to foster a collaborative, productive relationship with open source and FOSS communities in general, and specifically with the OpenSUSE community. I am very committed that this relationship," Brauckmann claims, while confirming that that the newly-formed SUSE business unit will pick up Novell's sponsorship of the annual OpenSUSE Conference event.

"It's also about participation in the community," Brauckmann says. "We will still contribute to kernel development. We have many developers that are part of the SUSE business unit, but at the same time they are very proud and committed members of the OpenSUSE community and that is not going to change. We want them to feel like that. We want them to have that vision about themselves, and they will contribute in the future through means of writing code, or through means of showing up at events, participating in conferences, and so on."

While the fears of the open source world appear to have been assuaged by Brauckmann's comments, that's not to say that things are going to be business as usual at SUSE, but he claims the changes should all be seen as a positive.

"What will change in the future," Brauckmann explains, "is that we will have the SUSE business unit - a dedicated SUSE business unit, a unit with an organisation focus on developing, on marketing, and on supporting a portfolio of solutions centred around SUSE Linux Enterprise."

That's a major move for the company, which has previously focused on being a Novell subsidiary - but SUSE will be Novell no more.

"We will put more emphasis on the SUSE brand, on the SUSE company name, the SUSE logo," Brauckmann enthuses. "We will revitalise the brand, strengthen the brand, and leverage the value of this existing brand by putting more focus and more emphasis on it in our external communications. When we talk with customers, with partners, with alliances, it will happen under the SUSE name, under the SUSE brand - and that is something that is new, I would say."

Other changes are afoot that bring SUSE back to its origins - including a move back to Nuremberg in Germany for its headquarters. "That's actually where SUSE started, many years ago," Brauckmann explains. "That's also where we have a large group of engineers and a large knowledge base about SUSE Linux and Linux in general, in that country."

Despite a move back 'home', SUSE will continue to be a global presence, according to Brauckmann. "We are part of a US corporation, we're not a German company but are part of the US market, and our customers are spread out across the world. For that reason we want to be an international business. We want to be close for customers to present their expectations and requirements," said Brauckmann - pointing to SUSE's sales, service, and development centres in the US, Europe, China, and India as proof.

The Attachmate acquisition of Novell - and, by extension, SUSE - hasn't been without its casualties, however. "One of the unfortunate aspects of these kinds of mergers is that there are one or two redundancies, and most of the time you try to resolve those redundancies - and that results in lay-offs," Brauckmann admits. "We had a management overlap, which has been reduced.

"Beyond that, there really are no substantial lay-offs planned or happening in, for example, the development or customer service side throughout the SUSE business unit."

"I want you to understand that there's this new level of organisational focus on developing the SUSE Linux Enterprise solution," Brauckmann says - clearly passionate about the possibilities for the SUSE business unit under its new leadership. "I want you to understand that this gives us more ownership, direct ownership, a direct line of sight about what we do every day - what it means for our customers out there that want to buy these solutions from us.

"I want you to take away that we will strengthen the SUSE brand, we are very passionate - a proud team of people, actually - that develop the SUSE Linux product and take that to market and service our customers to make sure they have a good experience with us. That's what we try to achieve."

While in the short term the SUSE project may hit a few speed bumps - such as the SUSE-led Mono project, which laid off some engineering staff following the Attachmate acquisition only to find them forking the project and forming a rival group, Xamarin - Brauckmann clearly believes that the new leadership structure and stronger focus on the SUSE brand will lead the project to bigger and better things.