Linux is not Red Hat
By ColmSmyth on Nov 18, 2004
Communication is, well, tricky, especially when hard core open-source and business folks are talking to each other. That's why I'm tentative in what I say about the Newsforge article Linux is not Red Hat.
The reason is, I agree with a fair bit of what the author says - but I also see why he's wrong in his interpretation of Jonathan and Scott's comments.
The author, Jem Matzan, clearly has well above average knowledge of open-source projects and products based on Linux, and also non-Linux open-source operating systems like OpenBSD. But the problem is not that someone (such as a well-informed open-source commentator, or for that matter almost any UNIX developer or system administrator) who is in touch with open-source knows that Linux is not Red Hat (and vice-versa). That's a given.
The problem is that companies who look for a well-supported operating system to run their business are not going to use freshmeat.net or the Linux Online list of distributions to find some code to run. They are going to look to a leading vendor. And right now, Red Hat is the company most closely identified with Linux, not any of the other admirable distros he mentions such as Debian, Gentoo, or Slackware. Not even Suse, which is beginning to become more important (and whose Linux Enterprise Desktop is used as the base of Sun's Linux-based Java Desktop System) comes close in terms of recognition among large businesses. Or for that matter, commercial developers, or folks looking for Linux skills certification. In that sense, Red Hat is Linux, and in the sense that some Linux technologies such as RPMs carry the Red Hat brand. And it is in that sense that there is some work to do before the Linux "brand" and the stamp of "Linux-ness" can really be applied to non-RH distributions. Aside: the ongoing efforts of United Linux, standards like Linux Standard Base, and other initiatives have some way to go before they are a large enough target (in terms of completeness, broad support from open-source stakeholders, and recognition from businesses).
The only place where I would highlight that Jem is 100% mistaken is where he gives some different projects the same weight; while an open-source hacker may have respect for the code or say the "potential" of free distributions like Fedora, and praise them for being in some respects more "leading edge" relative to some more stable Linux distribution, it is not correct, either technically or from a support perspective, to compare a product like Solaris 10 and a project like Fedora in terms of value simply because they are both free. The difference is one of quality, reliability and, of course, support for businesses who can't afford to walk the tightrope of an operating system without a major company standing over it. And Sun is widely recognised for the significant innovative capabilities in Solaris 10, which Jem acknowledges at different points.
It's clear that Sun is mis-understood by some folks working with open-source even though Sun is, balls to bones, a company built on the philosophy and ethic of open-source; it's also clear that Sun's focus on open standards as a mechanism for replaceability is not always valued by some open-source folks (even though we all take for granted the ability to plug a monitor cable from one desktop into another). But I think the most important part of Jem's article is the fact that he had the opportunity to have a conversation, however brief, with Scott and Jonathan. That's another step on the road to better communication, which is where this blog entry came in.