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L'interview de Anne Nicolas : une femme dans le monde Linux

28 Octobre 2007 , Rédigé par Sandrine Publié dans #networkings

DistroWatch.com : Interview with Anne Nicolas, Director of Engineering, Mandriva

Mandriva LinuxAnne Nicolas Women are rare in the Linux world and even rarer in senior technical positions of Linux companies. One exception to the rule is Anne Nicolas, Director of Engineering at Paris-based Mandriva. Since taking up the job earlier this year, the quality and development standards at Mandriva Linux seem to have improved considerably. What's the secret? Anne explains her role and contribution to the Mandriva development process in this exclusive interview with DistroWatch.

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DW: Anne, thank you very much for your time. As the first question, could you please introduce yourself? How long have you been working for Mandriva and what exactly are your responsibilities?

AN: I started working in open source as a support engineer at Edge-It six years ago. Mandriva then bought Edge-It in 2004 and I began my Mandriva adventure as a member of the professional support team. During the first two years I also worked as a consultant on several enterprise open source deployment projects. In 2006, I took over the redesign of the corporate product line, starting with Corporate Server 4.

Since May 2007 I am the manager of the engineering team at Mandriva. This team is comprised of engineers who do packaging and development for all Mandriva distributions and a team which is in charge of software and hardware quality assurance (QA). My main role is to organize the teams so that releases can be developed on time and to deliver the desired features. My other important roles are to set development priorities, to ensure quality of Mandriva's distributions, and to establish a good relationship model between the Mandriva employees and the Cooker community.

DW: Looking back at the development process of Mandriva Linux 2008, are there any features or design decisions that you were personally responsible for?

AN: I was specifically involved in ergonomic improvements of the Mandriva installer and the Mandriva Control Center. We wanted to make sure that the installer fit into the new simplified Mandriva product range. The installer was meant to be used by both the beginners and the advanced users, which makes it one of the easiest Linux installers. At the same time, I reviewed the Mandriva Control Center to make it much more intuitive to use. I also worked on Rpmdrake, especially on its ease of use, and made our DrakFirstTime wizard more friendly using web technologies.

Since one of our main targets is new Linux users, we wanted to help them with migrating from Windows. We took an old tool, Transfugdrake, and redesigned it so that it can help users to migrate their data from multi-boot system configurations.

More generally speaking, I also coordinated the main 2008 specifications so that our French and Brazilian teams work in complementary ways, together with other contributors.

DW: Judging by the readers' comments in the recent issues of DistroWatch Weekly, it looks like the new version 2008 is the most bug-free Mandriva release for quite a few years. What do you attribute this welcome change to? Have there been any major changes in the way Mandriva Linux is developed?

AN: We are all very happy to receive so many positive reviews and comments about the 2008 version. There are both technical and "political" reasons for the improvements. Technically speaking, Mandriva now has many years of experience in releasing distributions. These have always been quite good, offering all the best of open source technologies in a friendly environment. The point we had to improve was the general level of quality from one version to another. At the same time, many new distributions, such as Ubuntu, appeared and made Linux users more demanding in terms of innovation and features.

The early positive reviews of 2008 beta versions were really encouraging and they served as a motivating factor for the developers to improve quality. Also, the 2008 release cycle started with opening the Mandriva development process to more contributors - no more Access Control Lists in our Subversion except for some very sensitive components like the kernel. We created a bug triage team that works on bug management for Mandriva distributions; their main role is to increase the quality of bug reports, to obtain more information, and to assign each bug to a developer. It isn't perfect, but it has helped a lot. Moreover, much work has been done on our tools and build systems to make them more reliable and to give more feedback to packagers and testers.

Mandriva has always provided free software using open channels. But for sure, communication and formalisation weren't strong enough, so our upcoming objectives will be to reinforce this position and improve it.

DW: The open source software world can be a rough environment, often dominated by strong, young and bull-headed hackers. As a woman, how do you feel being part of this world? Have you ever regretted joining it?

AN: I must say, you are not the first one asking this kind of question :). I spoke about it with some guys from the team and one of them suggested this answer: "No, I don't have a problem with these guys because they are like my children most of the time - they eat trashy food, they speak trash, they behave like trash and they treat you like trash." Despite that I've never regretted choosing the open source world. It fits my view of software development perfectly and I really think that the open source model is one of the most dynamic and creative development models around. It provides plenty of scoop for creativity and cooperation and no doubt it's just the beginning.

As a woman, I feel like a human being working with other human beings (I hope so :) ). So one may encounter relationship problems in this team as in any other field. It's hard to avoid bias, and of course the Linux world is also suffering because it. But I must say I haven't had any major problems until now (I cross my fingers twice :) ). I think the most important words are open mind and dialogue, sane discussions and respect. Yes, there are very few women in the Linux world, but it's up to them to contribute and to become part of it. It's just a question of interest.

DW: From the technical point of view, what do you think are the biggest obstacles to Linux becoming a mainstream desktop OS?

AN: One of the main technical obstacles is the hardware support level. Even if lots of improvements have been made, there will be problems with more exotic hardware. Even with regard to supported hardware, the support can be incomplete or can lack important functionality. We can see it with printers, PDAs, graphical chipsets...

I would also add two other items: the ergonomic qualities of graphical environments and gaming. Both of them are essential in targeting a wide range of end users. As far as the graphical environments are concerned many improvements have been done, but unfortunately, old habits are difficult to change and the Linux desktop will have to deliver much more innovation. Moreover, the integration of open source software has to become a priority in order to help the users find the best open source software in a smooth, well-integrated environment.

Finally, gaming is also a weak point on the Linux desktop. Many users do not change their operating system because Linux lacks good games. But providing games for the Linux platform is essential if we want to attract more users.

DW: Anne, thank you very much for your time and keep up the good work!

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