Linux Users Detail Their Red Hat Gripes

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-05-20

Linux Users Detail Their Red Hat Gripes

After writing my column on why Linux users hate Red Hat, I got numerous articulate letters on the topic.

It turns out there are many reasons why some Linux users hate Red Hat Inc., while others think Red Hat is just fine. Here are some of the thoughts our readers had to share with us.

"Its not commercial success or having to share Linux with the masses, or even that Linux is becoming a Windows clone" that bothers Linux fans, said Curt Wuollet, a Minnesota-based control engineer and father of the Linux programmable logic controller (PLC), aka the Puffin Projects.

Instead, its that "Linux is about community, Red Hat is about Red Hat," he said. "No one had really big problems—remembering that Linux folks are a diverse lot—with Red Hat making money. Its when they split with the community that the screaming really started.

"Its about fundamentals," Wuollet said. "Now, theyve got this special Linux, quite in the spirit of proprietary extensions, which is frowned on in the community. Its proprietary value-add, whether it violates the letter of the GPL [GNU General Public License] or not. And its a manifestation of exactly what killed Unix. Thats an issue some of us are quite sensitive on."

Davin S. George, operations manager at Xtempus Ltd., a U.K.-based service provider for the mobile-phone business, seemed to speak for many when he said that those who hate Red Hat do so because the company has abandoned its first customers.

"Red Hat is a great company with a great product in general and one of the most successful out there, but not the only one," George said. "SuSE has a similar product but unlike Red Hat hasnt ditched the low-end version for the common man."

Click here to read about Red Hats new desktop Linux offering.

John Robb, a senior software developer at a biotechnology firm, took a purely business angle on why Red Hat is so disliked. The company, he said, "basically ruined their name in certain corporate circles, or at least in ours."

"You see, we worked really hard to convince management that we should use Red Hat—or any well-supported, free-as-in-libre OS—that it was a safe bet, that we could purchase security updates and apply them to this server in a timely manner," Robb said.

"They didnt care how inexpensive it was, just that it would be there when we needed it. My colleague and I thought we had this thing beat with Red Hat and Red Hat Network."

Then, he said, things went wrong. "So, we get this really expensive machine from Dell with Red Hat SMP installed. I immediately registered the box with RHN and signed up for a year of support; Red Hat happily took the money even though they only were going to support the distro for another couple of months—this arrives at the heart of what they did wrong.

"Then, we get the news that Red Hat was dropping support, and I had to explain to management what had happened and why we now had to figure out support for ourselves. This was prior to Progeny getting in on the act; by the time they did, it was too late.

"To make this short, the project died right there. Every bad thing management had heard about FOSS [free and open-source software] had come true," Robb said.

Next Page: "The trust is now and possibly forever broken," Robb says.

Broken Trust

"The long and short of this is that we not only paid Red Hat for the OS, we paid it for support—and if they had no intention of providing support, they should not have sold it.

"If they had, then they should have felt some obligation to make good on the monies that they took in good faith. That offer of a discount on RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux] or WS or whatever the hell it was makes the whole thing look like one big bait-and-switch scam," he said.

"They didnt earn the monies I had given them, why on earth would I give them more for what was essentially what we paid for in the first place?" he asked. "The trust is now and possibly forever broken. I know they will get no more of my money, that is for certain. And will this engineer ever recommend them for anything important? Puh-lease!"

Tom Huber, a software architect at a Fortune 500 company, said he thinks it is matter of "purists" versus the establishment. The purists would rather see Linux remain "free" from commercialization, he said.

Unfortunately, Linux would never mature under those conditions to become a viable enterprise—or even home—alternative to other operating systems, Huber said.

"There is a certain nostalgia associated with the early days of computing," he said. "I really think the whole open-source movement is a throwback to that time, and Red Hat represents a threat to the freedom people enjoyed back then.

"Unfortunately, Red Hat is the least of the threats, and the sooner that our Red Hat haters learn that, the better. ... But human nature, being what it is, will likely not change. The real threat to the future is the current scramble to acquire IP through patents and copyrights," Huber said.

But Charles Rutledge of small Linux integrator Centauri Computer Works said he "cant fault Red Hat for moving exclusively into the enterprise server space, since thats where the money is. [Its] certainly not among the propeller-hat Linux crowd."

"Linux has grown up, and companies like Red Hat need to make money to survive," Rutledge said. "But they also give back to the community by funding development of open-source projects that otherwise might not be.

"And personally, if they want to concentrate on the bigger corporations, they can be assured that consultants like myself will be around to support Fedora (or Slackware or whatever) on the mom-and-pop network servers. Which in turn keeps us all making money," he said.

"Yes, theyve boggled things, and most of my clients wont pay for the Red Hat Enterprise Server, but Linux needs Red Hat to show us what we can become," Rutledge said. "Theyve done good, and I wish them well.

"And the people who liken them to Microsoft should remember theyre not trying patent all core standards so that you cant move off their platform," he said.

"After all, the first word in open source is open. There should be room for us all."

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