By now, many readers are likely to have encountered this eWeek
comparing Red Hat to Microsoft. It includes nice quotes like:
"There is a backlash against Red Hat from many consumers and
government agencies, who fear it is increasingly becoming the
Microsoft of the Linux world with respect to its dominance and
attitude," said David Turek, IBM vice president of Linux Clusters,
in Somers, N.Y.
Is this "backlash" real, and should it be?
Red Hat is certainly the Linux distributor with the highest profile and the
most evident success. But success does not make a monopoly. To justify
charges like this, it is necessary to point out where Red Hat has tried to
use its strong market position to force out competitors and extract
monopoly prices from its customers. So let's look at a few things from Red
- Red Hat continues to sell a 100% free distribution which anybody can
download for free. The "advanced server" product is not available for
download, but it remains free software; anybody with the interest and
time could reproduce it (including things like Red Hat's kernel
patches) and make it available. Red Hat's customers are probably not
feeling the squeeze too badly at this point.
- The company employs a large number of high-profile free software
developers. These developers collaborate with developers employed by
other distributors on a regular basis, and make their work available
to everybody, including competitors.
- Development versions of Red Hat's distribution are made available to
users (and competitors) through beta releases and the "Rawhide"
distribution (though you have to know where to
look to find it). It is difficult to be surprised by the contents
of a new Red Hat release.
This is not the sort of behavior that one normally expects to see coming
out of Redmond.
Anybody wanting to criticize Red Hat need not look too far. It would be
nice if the company had supported the Linux
Professional Institute rather than creating its own certification
program. The company's software patent policy is not to everybody's
liking. Red Hat has pushed its users toward bleeding-edge versions of gcc
while providing (and requiring) ancient versions of Python. They have
blown a couple of attempts at coordinated, multi-distributor security
updates with too-early releases. And so on.
Complaints like these, however, show only that Red Hat is not perfect. But
every free software user has benefitted greatly from Red Hat's work, and
will continue to do so, whether or not they have ever bought anything from
Red Hat. Linux users are not suffering under the yoke of some Red Hat
monopoly, and it is difficult to see how such a monopoly could develop
Charges that Red Hat is the next Microsoft look more like FUD designed to
divide the Linux community against itself than like anything based in
fact. Let's keep an eye on Red Hat - all free software companies can
benefit from some vigilance to keep them honest. But let's not get taken
in by people trying to create fears of a monopolist where none exists.
Comments (11 posted)
Back in June, 2000, the company then known as British Telecom exhumed an
old patent that, it claimed, covered the hyperlinking used in the World
Wide Web - at least, in the United States. Seeing a potential gold mine,
the company sent its lawyer squads off to the U.S. to shake down ISPs, all
of which, it claimed, were violating this hyperlink patent. Prodigy got
the dubious honor of being the first company to be targeted with an
Prodigy, happily, did not choose the "pay them off and hope they go away"
response; instead, the company fought the claim in court. And, on
August 22, the company was vindicated: U.S. federal Judge Colleen
McMahon dismissed the suit outright, ruling that there is no way that a
jury could find that infringement had taken place. The company now known
as BT has the right to appeal the ruling, but, one way or another, BT looks
unlikely to prevail. We can continue to make links without writing checks
This result is a victory for the Web, but it is a limited victory. The
judge has simply determined that this patent, filed in 1980, does not cover
the technologies used on the web. Had the patent been written differently,
the result could easily have been different. Other patents with claims on
fundamental technologies will certainly surface in the coming years, and
they will not all be so easily disposed of.
(See also: the
text of the judgement, in PDF format).
Comments (none posted)
First the good news: it appears that most of the issues with credit card
donations have been worked out. With luck, we will actually get our hands
on the bulk of the money that you all donated to us a month ago, with the
rest due to arrive in September. Hopefully, this particular unneeded
hassle is just about behind us.
We are, however, still without a credit card account we can use to sell
subscriptions, which puts a bit of a damper on our plans. We're
still working on that one. If any of you have experience with a merchant bank that
is friendly toward online subscription services, we would sure appreciate
any pointers you could send our way. We need to get this one solved, or
it's all going to fall apart before too long.
We'll keep you posted as things happen; meanwhile, we're trying to keep the
news coming as best we can. Thanks, yet again, for your support.
(Note that we didn't get any letters to the editor this week, so there is
no letters page this time around).
Comments (6 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: IPv4 mapped address harmful?; New vulnerabilities in linuxconf, gaim, Mailman and more
- Kernel: The device model; hyperthreading in the kernel; BK license change
- Distributions: Caldera International becomes The SCO Group; SCO Linux beta
- Development: OpenPKG, Gaf 20020825, HPIJS 1.2.1, ZEO 2.0 beta 1,
Mod_python 3.0 beta 1, WaveSurfer 1.4.3, Mozilla 1.1,
KDE 3.1 Beta 1, GnuCash 1.6.8, Gnumeric 1.1.8, Privoxy 3.0.0.
- Commerce: Interesting press releases in Miscellaneous section this week
- Press: UK's DMCA, Open Source for Government, Big StarOffice deployment possibility, the GPL examined, the rise of open-source development tools.
- Announcements: TerminatorX tootorial, 2nd Open Source CMS conference, RSA Conference 2003 CFP, XML Application Awards 2002, LPI-News.