Tthe company most hated by Linux fans is quite possibly … no, not Microsoft, but Red Hat. I often hear longtime Linux enthusiasts say things like “Red Hat has betrayed Linux” and “Red Hat wants to be the next Microsoft.”
If you look closely, its not hard to see why so much ire is tossed on Red Hat. Late last year, Red Hats CEO, Matthew Szulik, said that for home users today, Windows is probably “the right product line.” Thats sure to win the hearts and minds of Linux fans right there.
Then, Red Hat decided to kill off its low-end Linux distribution: Red Hat Linux. You would have thought from all the screaming in some Linux circles that Red Hat was proposing dog food be made from kittens. Some Linux fans even said Red Hat is on its way to becoming a proprietary software company.
Red Hats corporate enemies and, in one case, a purported partner—Sun—are jumping on this last point It isn’t true, of course. Red Hat is still an open-source company.
What is true, though, is that Red Hat mishandled the affair. Red Hat 9 had a life span of just over a year with its April 2003 release date and its end of support on April 30, 2004. Business customers, who usually expect to get at least three years of work out of an operating system, were as mad as wet hens to find their support disappearing from underneath them. Indeed, theres been enough outrage that several integrators including at least one mid-major Linux vendor—Progeny—are making a business of supporting Red Hat 9 customers.
The release of Fedora, Red Hats free and cutting-edge Linux distribution, doesnt appear to have been enough for some of these users.
Of course, what Red Hat really wanted was to have its commercial customers switch to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Some Linux fans were outraged because they felt they were being forced to upgrade.
Rant, rave, rant, rave … theres a lot of hate out there aimed at Red Hat.
But you know what? Theres nothing new about this. As early as 1999, I was writing stories about people who hated Red Hat for the same general reasons, which boil down to the fact that Red Hat is getting too big for its breeches. Heck, the ill-fated UnitedLinux consortium was in many ways an attempt by other Linux powers to take Red Hat down a peg.
Now, this isn’t to say that Red Hat hasnt made mistakes. Both the timing and delivery of its message concerning the end of life for Red Hat 9 were awful. It placed many of its customers in the awkward position of having to upgrade before they were ready. It left others, including yours truly, completely bamboozled as to whether Red Hat would even continue to have a desktop distribution. As it happens, Red Hat is offering a Linux desktop, but there never should have been any doubt.
Nevertheless, the move itself was one that Red Hat had to make. For better or worse, Red Hat has decided that it wants its Linux distribution to be a high-end, profitable business distribution. Given that, the Raleigh, N.C., company had no choice but to leave Red Hat 9 behind so that it would no longer have two competing lines.
You know what? Its been a successful move. Red Hats last quarter was its best ever. Why? In large part, it was because RHEL sales increased by 87,000 during the quarter while RHEL renewal rates remained at about 90 percent. Red Hat is a profitable Linux company, and its getting more profitable.
Perhaps thats the real reason why Sun has been so grumpy with Red Hat. Sun is much bigger, but its been declining, in large part due to competition from Linux in the server market, while Red Hat has been growing.
And maybe too thats the real problem some Linux fans have with Red Hat. The company has always been about open source and profits. To these fans, the idea that Linux is becoming mainstream, that their darling, iconoclastic operating system is no longer just for rebels, is abhorrent. For these vocal, malcontent users, Red Hat is the poster child of Linuxs commercial success.
These users will likely always hate Red Hat, but you know what? Get over it. For those of us who want a solid Linux that will be successful in the enterprise, Red Hat—blunders and all—is doing just fine.
A version of this story was published in eWEEK.