Red Hat Counters Microsofts Education Offer

Red Hat on Tuesday offered an alternative to Microsoft's proposed settlement of more than 100 private antitrust cases against it: To provide its open-source software to every school district in the United States free of charge.

Red Hat, never one to miss an opportunity for publicity, on Tuesday offered an alternative to Microsoft Corp.s proposed settlement of more than 100 private antitrust cases against it.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said on Tuesday morning that if its settlement proposal, signed by the parties on Monday, was accepted by the Federal District Court of Maryland, it would donate more than $1 billion in reconditioned computers, services, software and training to some 14 percent of all the schools nationwide.

Red Hat, the Linux software and solution provider, has jumped into the fray offering to provide its open-source software to every school district in the United States free of charge. It is also encouraging Microsoft to redirect the money it would have spent on software to the purchasing of more hardware for the some 14,000 poorest school districts.

"By removing Microsofts higher-priced software from the settlement equation, Microsoft could provide the school districts with many more computers - greatly extending the benefits it seeks to provide school districts with their proposed settlement," Matt Szulik, the CEO of Red Hat, told eWeek.

But Szulik said he had not discussed his offer with Microsoft, nor would he be doing so. "I think the court and the judge are the people to talk to and we will be attending the public hearing on the proposal next Tuesday before District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore," he said.

Microsoft spokesman Rick Miller declined to comment on the Red Hat proposal, but said Microsoft would be happy to have Red Hat work with the independent national education foundation, which is to be set up in terms of the proposal, to provide additional software and services to schools across the country.

Red Hats Szulik welcomed that offer, and said his offer of free open source software and online support to every U.S. school district would stand, whatever happened with Microsofts proposed settlement.

The Value of Open Source

"Our company is based on social values and open source software is developed by individuals who mostly get no remuneration. So we want to give back to the community and do what we can to improve our educational system," he said.

Szulik estimates that the Red Hat counter-proposal would increase the number of computers available under Microsofts original proposal from 200,000 to more than one million, and would increase the number of systems per school from approximately 14 to at least 70.

Red Hat would also provide free of charge the open-source Red Hat Linux operating system, office applications and associated capabilities to any school system in the United States, as well as online support for the software through the Red Hat Network.

"Unlike the Microsoft proposal, which has a five-year time limit at which point schools would have to pay Microsoft to renew their licenses and upgrade the software, the Red Hat proposal has no time limit. Red Hat will provide software upgrades through the Red Hat Network online distribution channel," Szulik said.

But, given that Microsoft is a software company rather than a hardware one and, like Red Hat, is trying to gain market share and further establish itself as a dominant player in the educational market, the Red Hat proposal will likely not amount to more than wishful thinking.

Apple Computer Inc. currently leads the field in the educational market, holding some 23 percent of the market for kindergarten through grade 12 schools in the United States in the second quarter, figures from the International Data Corp., show.

Szulik said his companys offer would allow the schools to be "secure in the knowledge that they have not rewarded a monopolist by extending the monopoly. Its now up to Microsoft to demonstrate that they are truly serious about helping our schools."

While Szulik applauded Microsoft for raising the idea of helping poorer schools as part of the penalty phase of its conviction for monopolistic practices, he questioned the end result.

"We do not think that the remedy should be a mechanism by which Microsoft can further extend its monopoly," he said.