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Red Hat says customers don't care about open source software

It's all about the bottom line
Tue Oct 23 2012, 18:30
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LINUX VENDOR Red Hat knows that most of its customers do not care whether their operating system software is open source but instead simply look for the best bang for the buck.

Red Hat has a significant chunk of the enterprise Linux market and while the firm challenges Microsoft and proprietary Unix operating systems in the enterprise market, it also supports a number of open source projects. While open source software has several benefits, Red Hat says most of its customers are not interested in whether the source code is available for inspection.

Proponents of Linux have long argued for the benefits of Linux based operating systems over closed source operating systems such as proprietary Unix and Microsoft's Windows, with one aspect being the transparency of the source code. However Jim Totton, VP and GM of Red Hat's Platform business unit said companies are more interested in how well the operating system will support their business than whether its source code is available.

Totton told The INQURIER that the discussions he has with firms looking at Red Hat are less about source code and more about costs. "It's not going to be about open source or proprietary, it's going to be about how can I be most effective with my IT budget and meet the needs of the business," said Totton. He said the reason companies like Red Hat are able to win business is because of the benefits of using their software rather than presenting open source as a selling point.

Totton said, "The innovation model of open source is advantaged because the research and development budget of Red Hat isn't the only contributor to the value that we are passing through to the enterprise. We have the collaborative power of multiple companies' research and development investments innovating together, so in fact you've got the freedom of choice, agility to even have more innovation because you have multiple companies investing in that innovation. So the ability to bring innovations to market in a more rapid timeframe, perhaps with more robustness and more capability is accelerated in an open source model than sometimes the slow moving pace that innovation happens in a proprietary company."

While Red Hat could be seen as giving away some of its competitive advantage by allowing projects such as CentOS and Scientific Linux to repackage its work and distribute it for nothing, Totton said that those projects are not competitors because they are not rival companies, adding that large enterprises want "trusted partners". He also said that enterprises do not choose operating systems because they are free, though most Linux distributions are.

What is good for the open source community is that large businesses, which rarely look at technicalities such as the advantages of open source versus closed source code and instead rely on teams of bean counters and analysts to calculate metrics such as return on investment, operating expenditure and liability, are opting for open source software. Totton's comments mean that open source software isn't just ideologically sound but it also makes business sense, which is supported by Red Hat's own business model and financial performance, and that should start to worry closed source, proprietary operating system and applications software vendors.

Totton's comments highlight that it is not just the Linux kernel that helps firms control IT costs but the open source community that contributes to not only Linux but also the thousands of open source software packages and business applications that make up all Linux based software distributions. µ


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