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.
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