Concern is growing in the Linux community that the forthcoming UnitedLinux distribution will not be able to meet the enterprise server challenge of Red Hat Inc. in the United States.
Red Hats dominance is worrisome to some industry players, who say the Raleigh, N.C., company needs effective competition to prevent it from becoming a Microsoft Corp. among Linux vendors and to ensure the operating system continues to develop in an open way.
International Data Corp. reported this month that Red Hat won nearly three-quarters of the $80 million in U.S. Linux sales last year. Most of the balance went to SuSE Linux AG, the report said.
UnitedLinux partners say there is strong interest in their product despite the strength of Red Hat. Caldera International Inc.s new president and CEO, Darl McBride, said the UnitedLinux group will offer Linux users and enterprise customers an alternative to Red Hat Linux. “Also, if you combine the assets of the United-Linux members, we are the biggest Linux vendor,” McBride said.
Sun Microsystems Inc., new to the Linux field, is going so far as to claim that the more Red Hat penetrates the enterprise, the closer it comes to making a proprietary version of its Advanced Server, according to Jonathan Schwartz, Suns executive vice president of software, in Santa Clara, Calif.
Stacey Quandt, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc., also in Santa Clara, said this is not the case, although Advanced Server does contain bleeding-edge I/O and performance customization that is not available in standard Linux distributions. This could have led to perceptions that it is becoming proprietary, Quandt said.
Red Hat Vice President Mark de Visser scoffed at the notion that the companys products are becoming more proprietary. “We started as an open-source company, and we remain one,” de Visser said. “Our commitment to open source remains absolute, no matter what our competitors are saying.”
: Does Comparison Go Too Far?”>
Some users said comparing Red Hat to Microsoft goes too far. “Red Hats product is open-source. The product comes with the hood wide open rather than welded shut like Microsofts,” said Jamin Gray, a programmer in St. Louis and a contributor to the GNU Network Object Model Environment Project.
Lewis Mettler, a software developer in Mountain View, Calif., said the kind of activities Red Hat could engage in are in no way equivalent to what Microsoft could pull off. “Things like Product Activation and more stringent end-user license agreements would drive Red Hat customers away in a heartbeat,” Mettler said.
Nevertheless, concern remains regarding the declining U.S. operations presence of UnitedLinux partners Caldera, Turbolinux Inc., SuSE and Conectiva S.A., perhaps a sign that they have ceded the U.S. market to Red Hat in favor of global markets.
Last week, Turbolinux, of Brisbane, Calif., sold its Linux business to Software Research Associates Inc., of Tokyo. The new Turbolinux business will be based in Japan and have fewer than 10 U.S. employees. Earlier this year, Caldera laid off 15 percent of its global work force and shut offices in Massachusetts and Germany. SuSE last year laid off 30 of the 45 people in its Oakland, Calif., office and shifted much of the responsibility for North American operations to its headquarters in Nuremberg, Germany.
As a result, some Linux users say Red Hats lead is unassailable. A software engineer at a large global media and communications company in California, who requested anonymity, said Red Hat has the U.S. market “pretty well sewn up. My company uses our own modified version of Red Hat on over 1,200 Linux servers. Like many other large companies, we have standardized on Red Hat and see little reason to change.”
Dan Agronow, vice president of technology for Linux shop Weather.com, part of The Weather Channel Enterprises Inc., in Atlanta, disagreed, saying his company moved from Red Hat to SuSE Linux. “We found value in another Linux distribution,” Agronow said. “American businesses want choice, and having two enterprise-targeted distributions gives us that.”
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