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Linux.SYS-CON.com Editor Profile: Jon Walker, CTO, Versora

Desktop migration software from Windows to Linux

The thing I like about Linux.SYS-CON.com is that most of the authors by and large practice what they preach. Every one of our staff is involved with a Linux vendor company, a non-profit, or is an active user of Open Source technology.

I think it's an incredible benefit to you as a reader to have a practitioner's point-of-view rather than that of pundits who have to depend on the quality of their sources when reporting on technology.

You also get to benefit from the anecdotal information they get by partnering with Linux and Open Source users to solve their problems. For example, our reviews editor Matt Frye spends his days migrating applications from Solaris to Linux, Ibrahim Haddid works for the Open Source Development Labs (the home of Linus Torvalds), Greg Wallace is the co-founder of Emu Software (www.emusoftware.com), where as of January 1 I'll be his co-worker as Emu's VP of strategy and corporate development.

We also have the benefit of Paul Sterne who's an executive at Open-Xchange (www.open-xchange.com), the maker of the popular Open Source collaborative messaging server.

What I hope to do over the next few months is to highlight some of our editors and have them share their background and experience so you can understand their point-of-view and have faith in their ability to provide quality advice.

This month we have the pleasure of speaking with Jon Walker, the chief technical officer of Versora, the maker of Windows-to-Linux migration tools.

LWM: What got you interested in Linux?

Walker: I love change and learning new things. I saw Linux as a chance to make some changes for the better in today's operating systems. I have worked with Windows for a long time and while it's a good operating system (as is OS X), there are some ways in which a proprietary operating system actually hinders the kinds of applications that can be built. I think this leads to a less rich experience for the computer user than is possible. Linux has the potential to change that and frees you and me to use the computer as a tool instead of the other way around.

LWM: What's your background in technology?

Walker: I've been interested in computers since I was a child when a friend down the street had an Apple II and we used to stay up all night playing games. They used to print books in those days that had programs written in Apple Basic that you could type in. We used to do that as well. The Apple II didn't ship with a CPU fan so my friend's mother got pretty upset with us when we destroyed the CPU during one two-day session playing one of the games we typed in.

After graduating college I went to work in the software industry. I started out working for a company called Xing Technology, which was eventually acquired by RealNetworks. We were working on compression software for video, audio, and images and at the time it was pretty exciting stuff. Computers were just starting to be usable for multimedia. Since then I've worked for a number of different software companies and have been involved in shipping software used by millions of people all over the world. It's very rewarding to solve a real problem for someone with something you've built. I compare it to the feeling a builder must have when he looks at what used to be a dirt lot and is now a home that someone enjoys and uses.

Up until about two years ago I worked for a company called Miramar Systems that was eventually acquired by CA (formerly Computer Associates). Miramar was a good fit for CA because the Windows-to-Windows migration technology that I was largely responsible for developing filled a big hole in CA's enterprise systems management solution. It was very rewarding to be so closely involved in developing such an important technology.

LWM: What company do you work with now? Why was it started? What is the company's focus? What pain does your company solve in the marketplace?

Walker: My current company is called Versora (www.versora.com). We're focused on giving people freedom from the manual tasks associated with maintaining a computing environment. Specifically, we believe that the process of upgrading a computer or moving from one operating system to another should be painless and allow a user to bring all of the important information from his or her old computer to his or her new computer.

I'm taking a lot of my experience dealing with Fortune 500 companies at my previous company and trying to provide the same level-of-quality solution to their IT problems around mixed environments (Windows and Linux). I believe that the IT environment in most companies is moving towards more heterogeneity not less. IT staff is tasked with solving business problems and often the best solution to that problem may require a mix of platforms. That means that IT organizations have to have a broad knowledge base and support more solutions - usually with less staff than they had five years ago. To help them, companies like Versora are building products that make managing heterogeneous environments easier.

LWM: Describe your company's products. What do they do.

Walker: We have a product called ProgressionDesktop that automates migration from one operating system to another. It moves over all of your documents and settings: e-mail, browser bookmarks, network settings, and toolbars in applications like Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org. Unlike some companies that believe in Linux, we're platform-agnostic. That is, our software can be used to migrate from Windows to Linux but it can also be used to migrate from one version of Windows to another (e.g., Windows 2000 to Windows XP). We also support migrating between different applications (e.g., Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird).

LWM: Is Linux ready for the enterprise?

Walker: Yes, it's ready for the enterprise. My vision isn't entirely blinded by rosy Linux glasses. There are still some major problems to be worked out. Choice is good, but I think that standardizing on one desktop (either Gnome or KDE) would greatly accelerate Linux adoption. As an ISV I can tell you that it's difficult to develop software for Linux. A good user interface is especially difficult because of the proliferation of distributions and having to support the look-and-feel of two desktops.

Despite this there are some great applications available that run on Linux. Things like the Mono project are helping. I expect this and some of the other problems associated with Linux to be solved in the very near-term. I should also note that Microsoft Windows is facing a lot of problems. It's almost impossible to maintain a usable Windows system that's connected to the Internet. I'm not sure how Microsoft can solve this problem without taking away a lot of the usability of the operating system. I also think there's a dangerous trend toward taking away the freedom to use your computer as you see fit inherent in some current technologies such as DRM and trusted computing. Linux ensures users that the philosophy of the operating system will always be to let the user do more with their computer, not less.

LWM: In your opinion, where will Linux be in five years?

Walker: I think that Linux will be on most servers and have 30%-40% of the worldwide desktop market. I don't usually make predictions, but if I'm right I'd be happy to field offers from Gartner, IDC, or any other analyst firm. Linux today is the right choice for a much larger user group than is currently adopting it. There are a number of companies like Versora that hope to educate users on choosing the right operating system and making it easy for them to migrate regardless of the choice they make. I expect the gap between those who choose Linux and those who should choose Linux to narrow significantly over the next five years.

LWM: What are the roadblocks to Linux adoption? What challenges does Linux face regarding adoption?

Walker: I'm definitely biased as an ISV but I believe that operating systems are chosen for what a user can do with the applications that run on them more than anything else. The key then is to make it easy for people to create applications that can run well on any variation of Linux. Linux Standards Base (www.linuxbase.org) is a step in the right direction. I also think that letting people integrate Linux into their existing environment is important. That's why I'm a big fan of things like the Samba project (www.samba.org). I think interoperability is something that Linux currently does better than any other operating system.

LWM: What Linux businesses are exciting to you? Are there any holes in the Linux space that provide a good opportunity for new Linux start-ups?

Walker: Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said. "Everything that can be invented has been invented." He said that in 1899. Obviously he was wrong but many people share that same view of software today. I feel, however, that we are just getting to the point where we have a firm foundation to start building really exciting applications that will change people's lives. There's as much opportunity in the Linux and Open Source space as there is in software in general! A lot of the opportunities I see aren't specific to the Linux space. Wouldn't it be great if they were solved on Linux first anyway?

LWM: What Linux stories are you interested in reading?

Walker: I'm particularly interested in interoperability and systems management. I'd also like to hear from other software developers. Finally I'd love to hear from customers who are deploying Linux and Open Source in their environment.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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