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Interview with Michael Meeks of OpenOffice.org

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On the Novell website, there is a page dedicated to the company's Distinguished Engineers. One of these is Michael Meeks, a Cambridge graduate who began his Linux career at GNOME desktop start-up Ximian, and now works as part of Novell's OpenOffice.org team. Daniel James met him just prior to the announcement of the Novell/Microsoft agreement, and opened the interview with his favourite opening question to any free software hacker...

DJ: What was your first computer?

MM: I was encouraged to program by my mother, because she was a Head of Maths, so I had a BBC Micro and was doing simple BASIC programming. Then came the era of type-in games, so you could learn programming syntax. As my typing was not very quick, I had time to consider the constructs. Eventually I was writing assembler, and this led to x86; but all this was with proprietary software, really. Just on top of Windows, or DOS - a little bit of the Novell technologies crept in there, but only briefly. I left school and went to work doing PASCAL programming, on VT420's, VMS on Alpha machines, cross-compiling to 68000 embedded systems, real-time, the lot. Lot's of good stuff there, and quite interesting in many ways.

During my gap year I became a Christian, and at that point I realised my computer was riddled with non-free software, most of it stolen. So we had a big fight about this, me and God, and the voice of conscience was quite clear that this was not what should go on. So eventually, I ditched it to run Linux instead, which at the time was not good news. The hardware support, and anything graphical or visual, was just hopeless.

DJ: So it was a sort of 'forty days in the wilderness'?

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