Enterprise Unix Roundup: Red Hat in Stealth Mode

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted May 9, 2007

Brian Proffitt
As Sun, Novell, Dell and Canonical fight for the limelight and enthusiast support, Red Hat keeps mum. Is this part of its master plan to be the last remaining commercial Linux vendor left standing?

With all the hubbub surrounding Sun, Novell, Dell and Canonical these past couple of weeks, one company has been almost forgotten: Red Hat.

Curiously, this seems to be its preference, which is kind of odd on the surface, given its big customer and developer conference, Red Hat Summit, kicks off in San Diego this week. Since Sun's JavaOne Conference is happening at the same time up the coast in San Francisco, you would think Red Hat would be making all sorts of PR noise about the things it will be doing in the enterprise marketplace.

Instead? Hardly a peep.

Last week's not-so-unexpected announcement that Dell will ship pre-loaded Ubuntu PCs, with support and certification provided by Canonical, drew a lukewarm response from Red Hat, along the lines of: Gee, that's nice, but we're aiming for a different market, not the Linux enthusiasts. Which, really, is all it could say. This week's announcement from Dell (i.e., that it will also partner with Novell and Microsoft in its quest to interoperate the heck out of the enterprise) is likely to draw a much stronger response.

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If, that is, Red Hat is inclined to publicly say anything. What it could do is sit back, watch the industry reaction, then launch some kind of new business strategy designed to gut-punch its competitors — no fanfare required.

Take, for example, the expected announcement to launch Red Hat Exchange (RHX) on May 10. This program is a direct reply to Novell's third-party application Market Start program, and was first mentioned back in March when Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5 was announced. Since then, nary a word, until the company started introducing some customers to the press.

RHX is already garnering some positive reaction from resellers and independent software vendors (ISVs), possibly even more so than Novell Market Start. If that is indeed the trend, Novell is in for a world of hurt because in this arena, reseller and ISV connections are truly the bringers of corporate life.

This does not mean Red Hat is being completely quiet. General Counsel Mark Webbink wrote a scathing article in late April for Linux Magazine (registration required) where he derided the Novell-Microsoft deal and essentially said Red Hat would be the last remaining commercial Linux vendor left standing. For a brief moment, Red Hat slipped out from behind its iron PR curtain and said what was really on its mind.

Ironically, most of the people in the Linux community are still so ticked off with Novell for its partnership with Redmond that such comments get very little attention these days. If Red Hat had made remarks like that a couple of years ago, pitchforks and torches would have surrounded the corporate offices.

Today, however, Red Hat can stir up the community pot a bit. Ultimately, it knows the community is not important for revenue: Red Hat's market is not Linux enthusiasts, it sells to enterprise customers, remember? But it understands, perhaps better than any other Linux vendor, that the community is a very important resource for development. By making public remarks designed to stir up community resentment against Novell, it hopes to deprive Novell of important human assets, as developers abandon Novell and go to work for other companies or other projects. Recent departures from Novell indicate this tactic may be working.

In the meantime, Red Hat stays quiet about its own business strategies, letting everyone guess what it will do next.

Assuming this is its plan, how long this policy will remain sustainable is anyone's guess.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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