I met Agustin Benito Bethencourt during FOSDEM 2013 and we discussed Open Source software. Recently he moved to Linaro, one of the most promising and important Open Source projects, so we talked to him to understand his role at Linaro and to learn more about what Linaro does. Read on….

Swapnil Bhartiya: You come from SUSE/KDE e.V. so how is the transition or how does the prior experience work here?
Agustin Benito Bethencourt: Driving the openSUSE Team at SUSE has been very valuable. The experience I got there, making compatible the company and the community interests, is going to be important throughout my career. My previous experience as ASOLIF Manager Director is helping me a lot too. They have a lot in common. Both, Linaro and ASOLIF are business ecosystems (non-profits), both have a strong Free Software culture, are heavily distributed environments…

But most of what I know about Free Software communities and working in the open I learnt it in KDE. I wouldn’t have a chance to join Linaro otherwise. KDE is a first class learning ecosystem, and not just in pure technical areas. It has been, it is, the most important professional and personal experience I’ve had, together with my years as an entrepreneur back in the Canary Islands, Spain.

Agustin Benito Bethencourt
Agustin Benito Bethencourt

SB: What will be your role at Linaro?
ABB: I am Director of the Core Development Group. I direct four engineering teams: kernel, power management, security and virtualization. All together makes around fifty engineers. Some of them are Linaro employees and some others are assignees, that is, engineers employed by our members but working with us full time. We mostly work upstream, developing and maintaining technologies that our members are interested in. We also develop features requested by other Linaro Groups or specific members. Core Development engineering teams are heavily involved in FLOSS communities, especially in the Linux Kernel.

Linaro is growing fast so I am currently focused on management and development processes. Together with the technical leads and the project managers, my goal is to keep high levels of efficiency within the Group while growing, keeping the Free Software culture that has made Linaro so successful.

SB: Can you tell us a bit about Linaro? What do they do and how are they associated with Free Software and Linux?
ABB: As I mentioned, Linaro is a four-year old ecosystem of corporations collaborating around a non-profit organization. Our main focus is GNU/Linux and Android on ARM. In summary, Linaro does:

  • Development. Most of it takes place, or is pushed, upstream, in a variety of FLOSS communities.
  • Products (in the FLOSS sense). We release software on a regular basis that is used by our members and the community, for many different purposes. Check for instance our Linaro Stable Kernel (LSK).
  • Services to our members, taking advantage of the expertise we get working on the two previous areas. Testing our software in members hardware is one of them. There are many more.

Probably most people know us for our work in the Linux Kernel community and Android (ASOP), but we do many other things. Currently Linaro has more than 200 engineers.

SB: Android often doesn’t get credit for a fully Open Source project as AOSP. From what I see it fully adheres to the 4 freedoms FSF talks about and it has enabled competitors like Amazon to create competing platforms, what is your opinion about it?
ABB: Free Software used to be black or white. Now there is a lot of grey. It is the consequence of becoming mainstream. Android has opened, to some extent, an industry that was completely closed. It represents a huge step in the right direction. There is a lot left to do though. Probably many thought that Android (Google) was going to lead the industry further toward openness. Those unfulfilled expectations might be the reason why a lot of the criticism is focused on Android and Google. Others deserve that criticism way more than they do.

Linaro is doing a lot to “close the gap”, by the way.

Having more initiatives that show the way, even if they are small, would speed up this transition. And by “showing the way” I mean both, being open/free and being profitable. It is a big challenge but at some point somebody will succeed, like in other “impossible” industries.

SB: When we talk about company developed Open Source projects vs community developed open source projects, where do you see more innovation? Do ‘deadline’ that ‘companies’ reinforce and ‘better’ fed developer do a better job? I am asking you think question as you were related to KDE and that’s more or less a community driven project.
ABB: Innovation requires not just a lot of talent but also leadership together with a sustained effort over a period of time. You can find all that in both, companies and communities, at any given time. But if you take a look over a long time window, you realize how successful some communities have become with very limited resources.

To me, the answer depends a lot on the selected time frame and the variables you want to use to determine the ROI. In terms of investment vs. innovation, communities seem to be unbeatable. If we talk about disruptive innovation, then probably a company is a more successful set up since they have both, the capacity to invest a lot in a specific technology and to reach many users in a short period of time.

As a side note I would like to mention that the last few years communities driven by consortium/groups of companies are becoming very popular, in parallel with the adoption of Free Software in many industries. It will be interesting to follow their evolution from an innovation perspective, compared to “people driven” communities.

SB: With Android and Chrome becoming leading forces in the desktop space do you see traditional Linux desktop has become less relevant? I mean most people now already use non-Microsoft or non-Apple products. So have these two platforms liberated us?
ABB: Traditional desktops are very successful and relevant, more than ever. I talked about it in 2012 at Akademy. KDE is these days releasing the next generation of its desktop. It will be the fifth generation in a little more than 15 years. In this industry, I would consider that a success. Sun, Nokia, IBM, Novell, …. probably would consider it too 😉

Definitely GNU/Linux distributions do consider it and I hope that Apple, Microsoft also will… sooner than later.

Traditional Linux based desktops are better than ever and have hundreds of young contributors working with passion to make them even better. They also have more users than ever before.

It is easier nowadays to convince a user to try one of these desktops. Companies are closer than ever to business models based on Free Software so it is easier for us to attract them. The investment in FLOSS is now huge. I see more opportunities now than 10 years ago.

It is true though that these desktops missed a couple of trains… but as long as we stay healthy as communities, new opportunities will knock at our doors.

But we cannot achieve “world domination” with our current levels of investment. The desktop space is simply too big now (yes, what you use in your phone is a desktop) and requires levels of polishing and channels to “go to market” that we cannot achieve by ourselves at this point. Either we include organizations/companies into our models and promote entrepreneurship within our communities or we focus on other goals, more adapted to our current model. The key is accommodating our expectations with our future actions (and vice-versa) while keep being very ambitious.

SB: Can you talk a bit about how development happens at Linaro?
ABB: It happens mostly upstream or in the open (with upstream in mind).

For instance, Linaro is one of the top 5 company contributors in the kernel. You cannot achieve that by working inbound and then simply submitting your code. You need to be fully involved upstream. We directly participate in many other upstream communities and promote this development culture among our members.

As mentioned before, we also provide services and develop code for our members. Part of that code ends up upstream later on and part never does.

Check the videos from our events called Linaro Connect. All the information about this particular topic is there.

SB: Can anyone contribute?
ABB: Since most of our work happens directly upstream or in the open, everybody can contribute. Beyond our contributions on communities, we drive our own initiatives too. Probably LAVA is the most important one, and yes, anyone can contribute. In some other areas you need to be a Linaro Member to benefit from our ecosystem. We are a non-profit organization, not a charity 😉

Following the example above, if you want to contribute to LAVA, this page is a good start.

In general, the best way to interact with us is working upstream in ARM (or multi-architecture) related topics. The kernel is the natural place. Others are OP-TEE, XEN, Android (ASOP) or QEMU, for instance.

Linaro is hiring so please check our Career website[3] if you are interested in joining us. The best way to learn about Linaro is joining us at Linaro Connect. LCU14 is the next one. If you are interested in joining a great upstream community, KDE is one of the very good ones. Coming to Akademy is the best way to start. If you want to help KDE, please consider donating.