Some days, I just want to reach out on Slashdot and just shake people. Recently, I've wanted to do that even more thanks to all the "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" (FUD) surrounding UnitedLinux and Red Hat. First things first. Both UnitedLinux and Red Hat are here to make money from Linux. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Some days, I just want to reach out on Slashdot and just shake people. Recently, I’ve wanted to do that even more thanks to all the “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” (FUD) surrounding UnitedLinux and Red Hat. First things first. Both UnitedLinux and Red Hat are here to make money from Linux. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Here’s the first FUD: Red Hat is becoming the Microsoft of Linux (meant to be taken in a bad, bad way).
No, they’re not. Red Hat is full of good people that have capitalized on delivering a business-class Linux that big partners like IBM and Oracle can take seriously. And, thanks to Red Hat’s smart marketing folks — specifically Bob Young, Red Hat co-founder, and Melissa London, former PR director — Red Hat’s become the first, brand name of Linux.
Sure, Red Hat wheels and deals with the big boys of computing, and because of that, they have the biggest slice of the Linux pie. But, they don’t own the Linux market, and they don’t play Microsoft dominance games. Red Hat is simply successful (at least by Linux market standards). For some people, success seems to be reason enough to accuse them of being like Microsoft. Trust me, I know Bill Gates, and Matthew Szulik is no Bill Gates.
Of course, Red Hat bashers have also attacked Red Hat for doing things like unifying the KDE and Gnome default settings in Red Hat 8.0 so that both desktops look the same. So? You can still change KDE and Gnome to your theme of choice. But, you know what? New users and administrators like a consistent look and feel. Making money from Linux means not making Linux for techies. It means making Linux for Joe Office User.
Next, let’s move on to UnitedLinux. OK, right off the bat, UnitedLinux is not an attempt to unify Linux, and it’s not a commercialized Linux Standard Base (LSB). (UnitedLinux does incorporate the LSB, but the LSB is a limited specification.) UnitedLinux is an attempt to create a best of breed Linux business server. They’re taking SuSE’s Linux, with a lot of add-ins from Caldera’s Linux development crew (who now work for SuSE), some clustering technology from Turbolinux, and language help from Turbolinux and Conectiva to make a new distribution.
UnitedLinux is also not an attempt to put the other Linuxes out of business. It is, just like Red Hat Advanced Server (RHAS), an operating system that’s designed to appeal to businesses that need big honking servers. Unix, Windows 2000 Server, and .NET Server are the targets. If that means that the other commercial Linuxes can’t keep up… well, welcome to capitalism.
What’s really amazing in the Linux business is how nice the companies are to each other, even now. Compared to any other branch of competitive business computing, the Linux companies are wooly, little lambs. Don’t think so? Read up on Sun vs. Microsoft, Novell vs. Microsoft, Sun vs. IBM, Intersil vs. Texas Instruments, and then say that.
Next FUD: UnitedLinux is charging real money — $1,000, according to rumors — for a binary license. How dare they?! Because they want to make a profit. Notice how well ‘free’ worked for the dot coms? Notice how profitable the Linux companies are? Not!
If you want UnitedLinux but don’t want to pay a cent for it, go ahead, the source code is still free. Knock yourself out and build that kernel.
Over in Business Land, most companies don’t want source code. They want a product they can trust to run 24x7x365, a service contract (which is included with that thousand bucks), regular, methodical updates, and technical support that doesn’t come from a “HOW-TO.” For a thousand bucks that’s what UnitedLinux will provide. And, oh, by the way, RHAS? It goes for about $800. Want to bet they’ll be about the same price soon?
UnitedLinux and Red Hat only lose money because they throw profits away on marketing. If they just invested in technology, they’d be doing great. Lord save me from clueless techies who don’t know squat about business.
To paraphrase Bob Young, “good marketing and a bad product will beat bad marketing and a good product every time.” He’s right. Don’t believe me? What’s Windows doing on 90% of all desktops? Some of that was Microsoft strong-arming OEMs, but a lot of it was marketing.
Marketing, especially for something like Linux that comes with this unusual-to-suits development model of open source, is hard. Doing a good marketing job is far more important to Linux’s success than the fact that the XFS journaling file system was finally merged into Linux as of version 2.5.3.
Like it or lump it, the future of Linux in business lies in the hands of UnitedLinux and Red Hat.
Mandrake? Debian? Linux companies that only sell to techies are history.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a long-time Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.