August 26, 2002

Commentary: Is Red Hat the Microsoft of Linux?

- By Jeremy Hogan -
It seems like a week can't go by where someone doesn't fling the
"Microsoft of Linux" accusation at Red Hat. It's sort of tepid and lazy to even bother to say that. Why not
"The Starbucks of Linux?" Makes more sense if you think about it,
but I'm not sure the accusation has much to do with thinking.
There's a few directions a "rebuttal" can take, depending on where the
question comes from.

Laziness, as above. It's too hard to find a comparison within the industry
and some folks can't translate the metaphor outside of IT. To say
democracy, or the industrial revolution, or the renaissance.

If you mean that we are, and will continue to be a dominant
player in technology and innovation, the answer is yes. You bet.
Amen and halleluiah.

Microsoft was once something to behold. They saw an idea or two, cribbed
them, took them to market, and steamrolled it into a new metaphor for success.
Things would be fine if they continued to make strides like they made in the
first half of their life. But they didn't. Then one day they looked on the
horizon and said, "We can't generate the revenue we need on the current
license renewal trending" and began to announce features that would never appear,
and withhold critical bug fixes to invent reasons to upgrade. Then that blew up,
and they had to threaten audits and lawsuits to keep the herd in front of the glacier.

And let's not forget, illegally leveraging their monopoly into markets they were
sure would one day help keep their revenue projections in line with reality.

So, if you mean to indicate Red Hat will become a monopoly steeped in
our own domination, and then wield it against partners, customers and
competitors alike, the answer is no. Hell no.

How can you trust Red Hat not to do that? Simple. Our cards are
on the table. All of them. What can we hide to lock the world
into our platform and standards? Nothing. Both are wide open. You don't
have to trust us, we have nothing to hide.

Why would we attack our own users for money for something they know
they own right down to the code?

Why would we attempt to strong arm OEM/IHV partners into agreements
they have struggled beneath for a decade? Why would they let us?

I begin to wonder which way folks want it. I hear complaints on one hand
that UnitedLinux is proof positive that the Linux world is finally splintering
like UNIX. Ironic that, considering it's the product of mergers and market
consolidation efforts, but anyway...

On the other hand, smart folks see that as proof of the market. Many here have
said it before, but I'll say it again:

"Red Hat does not want to be the leader in a market of one."

Sun's foray, however long in the tooth and short on foresight it
may seem, is proof of that same market. As are the Linux initiatives
of vendors formerly holding their own UNIX above water.

Let's just say all that was not true, what is the danger to the market of a single Linux vendor? (I'm aware there are more distros than I mention here
but for the sake of argument, I'm focusing on Red Hat and UnitedLinux, as
do most reports). If the code were closed, maybe we'd be able to get
a monopoly on Linux. But what about the other OSes? Would they shrivel
up and die because Red Hat "won" the Linux market? Not hardly. They'd
click their heels that they only had the one target to attack. To be a monopoly
you need to own an entire industry.

I also see comments from people afraid that if UnitedLinux does not make a
strong play for the rest of the Linux market, Red Hat will have
a stranglehold on the enterprise (again assuming all of the enterprise is
homogenous enough for us to take it all over, in a night).

That gets me a bit closer to the fear; a lock on 3rd party ISV support.
Folks are afraid that they will only be able to get enterprise level apps
on Red Hat Linux or Red Hat Linux Advanced Server. If that's the case,
the question should be, "When will Red Hat become the Sun of Linux?"
as that's who's had the the lion's share of 3rd party ISV stacks in the
enterprise. And it's easy to answer. Right about the time we get into
the hardware market. Current estimates put that two days after never.

Which brings up another point. It used to be a world where the OS vendor
could dictate what applications they would support. We're in a world
where those vendors will be free to choose Red Hat, UnitedLinux, Debian,
Mandrake or their very own Linux. It's sounding less and less like
conditions that can harbor a monopoly to me.

I think that to even level the accusation dilutes the real danger of
a real monopoly. It undoes the severity of what Microsoft has done to the world
by making it seem s though we could stroll in leisurely and do likewise.
Which gets us right to the heart of the fear.

"We do NOT want another Microsoft."

Message received. Years ago. The fact is, the market simply will not allow it.

Monopolies are created, and subsist on the idea that you can only get this
one thing, from this one source. They can't accidentally happen. They certainly can't
happen in a truly open environment where the recipe for the secret sauce
is on the menu along with the burger.

Should UnitedLinux fail, and I am not alone in hoping it doesn't, it will not
be because Red Hat made it so, it will be because the market of today does not
have room for that many competitors to Microsoft in a world conditioned to believe
there can be only one choice in vendors.

And should it fail, those engineers are still going to work on Linux. That
code base will still be out there for someone, anyone, even (God forbid)
Microsoft to pick it up and run with it.

To me the real danger would be to Red Hat ourselves, by allowing folks like
Microsoft to have only one target. One enemy. I forget where I read it,
but someone recently said:

"Microsoft is very good at targeting and crushing enemies. With open source
it's less like fighting an enemy, and more like fighting the weather."

Well said. The momentum is predicated on an idea whose time has come. If Red
Hat were to try and co-opt or own this revolution, we too would be fighting the
weather. The market, our customers, and the very evolution of this industry
has incensed us all against the idea that such a tyrant can be allowed to rise again.

To do such things as Microsoft is doing and has done would cost us our market,
key personnel, pride and any sense of decency we've managed to perpetuate about ourselves. The same way it's eating at them.

Further, any company in a market as fickle as ours, and in an industry
where obsolesence is the pillar of progress, we would be naive to think
we could ever maintain such a monopoly, especially without stifling, binding, ties to
revenue for the sake of revenue like dubious licensing scams and back room bullying.

Microsoft tried, and was forced to become criminal in its activities to do so.
Who would willingly do that again? What true long term gain is there in feeding
your own girth without advancing your product line or its merits? What fruit is
there in eating at your own customers?

People need to get around the idea that you can draw direct parallels between
Microsoft and Red Hat, it's apples and oranges. Scratch that, it's plankton and
mammals. There is a built in checks and balance system we couldn't get around if
we wanted to. Our place in the market, as well as the Linux market itself, is built on
this foundation of openness, freedom from oppression, and meritocratic hierarchy.

The press I've seen claiming "the community" is up in arms over the dominance of a player
they themselves have helped make dominant is, well, stupid. Those claims more often come from
Linux vendors and their supporters who set their sights on Red Hat, rather than
Sun or Microsoft, and are given too much credence by journalists looking for sex appeal in the
post anti-trust trial world. Those folks are devaluing their own
dog food by "admitting" they back a losing play. Which suits both MS and Sun just fine. And which is why you'll
find the same bunk slung from their respective shills. FUDsters are paid good money for that.
Leave it to them.

My question for those wondering when we will "Redmondize": "When will we punish the O.J. of the technology sector?"

Pause for effect...

Sound strong? That's the level of the insult you are flinging at Red Hat when comparing us to Microsoft on any level. With this infighting, we are giving them the very ammo they've
begged for.

"I've seen the enemy, and he is us." -- Pogo

If you truly fear monopolists, get rid of the one we have now, and do it right soon.

If you fear Red Hat, you fear success, change, innovation, the future and, of course,
the weather."

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