Linux Foundation does CTO switcheroo

For the Linux consortium's top tech spot, it's out with Sun Microsystems' Ian Murdock and in with Novell's Markus Rex.

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Markus Rex is leaving Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server project for the time being to take over as chief technology officer of the Linux Foundation.

At the foundation, Rex replaces Ian Murdock, the Debian Linux founder whom Sun Microsystems hired to be chief operating system officer in March. Rex will take Murdock's role not only as CTO of the foundation, but also as chairman of the Linux Standard Base (LSB), a years-old but so still incomplete effort to make it easier for software companies to ensure compatibility with various incarnations of the open-source operating system.

"I need a full-time CTO over here. (Murdock) is a busy guy at Sun. The intent was always to replace Ian as CTO," said foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin. In addition to overseeing the LSB, Rex will handle technical duties such as leading the foundation's interactions with programmers and a program that lets developers sign nondisclosure agreements so they can write software support for unreleased hardware

The foundation was formed last year through the merger of two other organizations trying to oversee some elements of Linux, the Free Standards Group and the Open Source Developer Labs.

Rex joined then-independent German Linux seller Suse in 1999 and stayed with the company through Novell's acquisition in 2004. He's held various roles, including running the SLES business unit, but for the last six months has worked on strategy for SLES services and consulting. He's scheduled to return to Novell at the end of 2008, the foundation said.

Zemlin, not surprisingly, bridled when I asked if the LSB has been chiefly of "academic" rather than practical interest. It's true that the allies working on the standards effort have put many years' work into winning support from those who sell or distribute Linux and writing software that makes it easier to test for compliance to the standard.

But he and Rex did acknowledge that software companies by and large still certify not to LSB, but to specific products such as SLES or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

"Now that we've got LSB permanently anchored in all the operating systems, we need to get application vendors to adopt it and encourage application vendors to use LSB as their basis," Rex said. "For that, we have some work to do. We have to broaden the scope."

Even for those such as Adobe Systems who don't certify to LSB, though, they often use LSB as a stepping stone in the certification process, Zemlin added. And, he added, Rex is the "perfect guy" to build relationships with software companies and encourage them to use the LSB's testing tools.

Update: In an e-mail, Murdock said he's stepping down as LSB chairman now that there's a new Linux Foundation CTO. "Markus Rex is eminently qualified to lead this important effort forward, and I look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role," he said.