Linux fans fear Red Hat takeover

To some in the Linux community, Red Hat Software seems to want to hijack the free Unix variant. In interviews with Computerworld, Red Hat President Matthew Szulik endorsed the Linux Standards Base (LSB), the official Linux standards group - but Szulik also said standards groups often slow down the pace of innovation. And other Red Hat officials in recent weeks have referred to standards groups as "overhead."

To some in the Linux community, Red Hat Software seems to want to hijack the free Unix variant. But in interviews with Computerworld, Red Hat President Matthew Szulik endorsed the Linux Standards Base (LSB), the official Linux standards group.

And Erik Troan, director of development at Red Hat, said, “We’re very supportive of what the Linux Standards Base is doing. ... Their emphasis on making applications portable is in the best interests of everybody.”

But Szulik also said standards groups often slow down the pace of innovation. And other Red Hat officials in recent weeks have referred to standards groups as “overhead.”

Szulik also said Red Hat, based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, wouldn’t want to see the LSB be used by other Linux vendors with less market share to catch up to Red Hat. (The LSB, based in Santa Clara, California, seeks to ensure that different commercial versions of Linux, called distributions, are just similar enough to run the same applications written for Linux.)

Daniel Quinlan, chairman of the LSB’s steering committee, said he believes Red Hat fully supports the effort.

But only a few weeks ago he wasn’t sure how Red Hat felt. “Earlier this month I think it was fair to say there were mixed signals coming from Red Hat,” Quinlan said.

Even with recent pro-LSB statements from Red Hat, the company’s zeal to sign development partnerships with major hardware and software vendors such as Computer Associates International Inc. and IBM -- combined with its mixed signals about standards -- has prompted continued questioning of Red Hat’s aims by some observers.

Red Hat’s business model depends on service and support revenue, noted Stacy Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

The company thus may want to differentiate its version of Linux so it can maintain that revenue stream, she said. But that could lead to fragmentation, Quandt said, unless Red Hat supports the LSB. “It’s not good for Linux overall if they don’t do that,” she said.

Red Hat may be trying to become perceived as the de facto owner of Linux, said Arthur F. Tyde III, CEO of the Linux support company LinuxCare Inc. in San Francisco. “This is a perception game, not a reality game. If you own the market, you own the standards,” he said.

Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said Red Hat may end up treating Linux standards the way Microsoft Corp. has treated standards such as the Web programming language, HTML: by embracing them, extending them and steering them to match the company’s strategy. Red Hat does realize that Linux will fail if it fragments, he said.

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