As Red Hat Software Inc. CEO Matthew Szulik sees interest in Linux pick up, most recently with Sun Microsystems Inc.s announcement that it is backing the open source operating system, he is looking to push the envelope on collaborative software development even further. Szuliks company last week acknowledged that it had purchased some collaborative development technology and hired developers from ArsDigita Corp. to aid in this push. Szulik recently discussed the future of Linux and open-source development with eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft.
eWEEK: Whats the significance to Red Hat of Suns announcement that it will support Linux in a big way?
Szulik: We didnt see much of an announcement. I think it provided some comic relief to see [Sun CEO] Scott McNealy dressed up as a penguin. We should look historically at the comments that Sun has made over the last three years about open source and Linux…things Sun has said about Linux not scaling and do you trust your enterprise to a bunch of renegades. It sort of reminds me of Gandhi, who said: “First they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”
I think what were seeing now is that Linux and open source is really producing wonderful products, reliable products, scalable products at an unprecedented rate compared to proprietary software development. When you look at it youll see that customers are continuing to receive benefits. One CIO recently told me that he can actually spend less money and he can get better performance and better value. Thats fantastic because its certainly what Red Hat has been all about. Its been about choice, low cost and high value.
So I think the IBMs, the Compaqs, the larger players in the industry are finally recognizing what we have been telling the industry for a long time and most important the customers are benefiting.
eWEEK: So you dont see Suns announcement benefiting Red Hat?
Szulik: The benefit that Red Hat has received has been through IBMs entrance into the category. By far IBM has been a great partner to Red Hat, an investor in Red Hat. They continue to support us globally. Our relationship continues to expand with IBM. I think Sun is a laggard. They got into the market way after everybody else. And for somebody that has been such a strong supporter of open source, what took them so long?
eWEEK: What are you doing to foster a development community around Red Hats solutions, especially around Web services?
Szulik: I think Web services are getting an incredible amount of hype right now. Its sort of reminiscent of teeanage sex. Theres a lot of people who are talking about it, but not a whole lot pf people doing it.
I think youll continue to see a lot of hype about it. But in the enterprise customers were speaking to right now, the budgets are incredibly tight. And were not seeing a lot of exploratory work. What were seeing is fundamental ROI [return on investment] and going back to Red Hats core business, were seeing major shifts off of proprietary systems onto a combination of Red Hat Linux and Intel as a standards-based platform. I think thats getting a lot of attention. I think thats getting a whole lot of attention.
When it comes to application development, were trying to see them move more and more large enterprise apps over first and I think that will spawn new categories and new opportunities for app development.
eWEEK: Is Red Hat doing anything in particular to support Web services?
Szulik: Right now our core focus is to continue to build up the OS stack. Were finally at a stage now where we can run responsively 8-way servers and beyond. Were trying to move that up into the higher rank functionality to really accelerate the Unix to Linux migration on the Intel platform and the upcoming AMD platforms as well. Because that seems to be the base that will allow us to get more and more applications from [software developers].
Remember, were also in the tools business. So when you talk about application development, were responsible for the GCC (Gnu C Compiler), OGDB(Gnu Debugger) and all the libraries within that. I think that markets really in its infancy right now.
eWEEK: The open source tools market is in its infancy?
Szulik: Absolutely. Companies like NuSphere are doing interesting work. But I think how you monetize that can become very difficult. Because there has to be a greater migration of Oracle-class, Veritas-class applications over. And I think thats very, very early at this stage. So as it relates to Web services, we would like to see that category mature a little bit.
eWEEK: What were those tools you mentioned?
Szulik: The compiler is the GCC. Its one of the leading open-source compilers. GDB is the debugger. Were in the embedded systems software development marketplace. A lot of the [commercial software developers] are using GDB and GCC tools for their compiler and their tools. Theyre not structured development tools that you would find from a Borland. Theyre not as graphical and dont necessarily have their home in a Windows environment. But for C developers I think they are increasingly becoming quite pervasive on a global basis. As that starts to work out, I think it will be interesting to see what happens with collaborative software development tools.
eWEEK: Is that the future?
Szulik: For us it is, very much so…Were proving that it works. If you look at the revision rate of Red Hat as an operating system, the frequency of being able to update and provide real, true performance benefits to a customer for a marginal cost is unprecedented. If you look at the historical patterns of the proprietary software industry its years. Its a fact now, through the act of participation in the open source community youre seeing an improvement in function at really a marginal if not negligible cost to the consumer. That with increasing performance with the Intel and related chipsets and the fact that Dell comes out and talks about the aging population of the desktop and server marketplace and how much of that is going to get replaced in the next three to five years, that provides really a fantastic opportunity for Red Hat and for open source at large.
As an example, Postgres, an open source database is improving. If you look at the tool chain, GCC and GDB are improving rapidly. You look at the growing success that Apache is having. And the advances that the true open-source security solutions that are being built or wrapped around open source technology vis-à-vis Kerberos, as an example. And not security in obscurity, the way that proprietary software vendors do this. All of these examples, increasingly, customers are starting to buy into this.
Its very, very exciting. And for the proprietary software industry that has so much of their fixed costs tied up to a proprietary model this is going to be a very interesting challenge to them. For the consumer I think this is what theyve been asking for for the last 25 years is to have a choice.
eWEEK: Are we going to see Red Hat buy more application software like they did with ArsDigita?
Szulik: Ha ha ha ha. That was a good question.
eWEEK: What is your strategy behind the ArsDigita software acquisition?
Szulik: The basis of our business is based on collaboration and is focused on being able to share knowledge. And the more solutions that we can build around that concept in an open and a collaborative environment and get the most value that we can create as part of our offerings.
eWEEK: Miguel de Icaza, president of the GNOME foundation, which is working on the GNOME (GNU Object Model Environment) project to create a Linux desktop, said he wants to make the underpinnings of GNOME based on Microsoft Corp.s .Net, does that concern you?
Szulik: We have a lot of people at Red Hat that are GNOME board members. I have not seen that. But when we ship our Linux distribution we ship it with multiple desktops. For us, its really not a matter for us to decide. I dont think youre going to see us get into an Open Look and Motif war. Its ultimately up to the customers and I think if you can continue to provide choice with quality products were going to continue to do that. So I dont really see that as a Red Hat issue.
And by the way, what is .Net? Consumers are getting very smart and I think that if theres a benefit to open source, its that customers are now being able to measure against something thats real versus measure against something thats ethereal or vapor.
eWEEK: Can you point to successes where youve replaced proprietary systems?
Szulik: Absolutely. We told Wall Street that on March 18 the day of our earnings call, were going to quote 12 referenceable enterprise accounts that are migrating off of historical proprietary systems onto Red Hat Linux.
IT executives over the last 30 to 40 years have been asking for a common operating environment that is simple and easy to maintain – that they have the flexibility to maintain at the lowest possible cost. What does Red Hat Linux represent? It runs on a handheld device and that same code runs on an IBM mainframe product, completely scalable with the same code base. So the economics of that and the platform that can fit, that creates for an enterprise buyer, a standards-based computer environment, which is what the industry has wanted for the longest time. And if youre a developer youve been looking for this too.
So Im excited. Im not surprised that Mr. McNealy dressed up like a penguin.