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Editor's Note: Talk Is Good, Action is Better

May 14, 2004, 23:30 (38 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

When did Red Hat become the bad guy?

I mean, we've all criticized one company or another in the Linux community. It is the nature of an open society that people will speak their minds when they are opposed or in agreement with something. I've done it, you've done it, and it will continue to happen.

One of my jobs here at LT is to monitor talkbacks. The upshot of that is I get to read every single one that gets submitted to the site. Over the years, I have seen a lot of very large trends in this community, which, I believe, reflects that of the Linux community at large.

If you were to ask me right now which companies were most disliked by the LT community, I would draw up a list that would run something like this:

  1. Microsoft Corp.
  2. The SCO Group
  3. Red Hat, Inc.
  4. Sun Microsystems

I have always found it interesting that Red Hat has carried the brunt of so much hostility from vocal members of the Linux community. In talkbacks, at trade shows, at LUG meetings, Red Hat is usually mentioned at some point or another with almost the same amount of anger as is held for Microsoft.

And, I wonder, is this really a good idea?

Yes, Red Hat has done some things that have ticked people off. I certainly would not want to defend them. The departure from the low-end destop line, followed by the subsequent adoption of an enterprise desktop product line... it's enough to drive Linux fans a bit nuts.

Criticism exists on the enterprise level, too. Some Red Hat clients are increasingly unhappy with Red Hat's support policies, and with their seemingly proprietary API handling. And I agree that these are issues that need to be addressed.

But I think the community may be going about correcting these issues in the wrong way. Flaming and bile may look good on LT and Slashdot, but does it truely get any changes made? I do not believe so--in fact, I think this kind of rampant devisiveness only serves to harden Red Hat's resolve to move away from community-based Linux development and increases the opportunity for FUD from companies that don't want any part of Linux to succeed.

I would suggest a better way: vote with your wallets and pocket books. If Red Hat, or any other company, does not meet with your approval, there are countless opportunities to use other Linux distributions. The choices are fewer at the enterprise level, but they are there nonetheless. Mandrakelinux and SUSE are excellent enterprise platforms, and UserLinux, if it lives up to the hype, may be a good choice as well.

This is not about "giving in" to Red Hat, this is about exercising choice. If enough people in the community move away from Red Hat development projects and purchasing Red Hat support or licenses, then I think the message about their policies will be sent loud and clear.

Nor is this about "attacking" Red Hat. This approach to affecting change in a corporate situation can and should apply to any company. If, for instance, Novell gets too uppity in the future, then consumer-based protests may be a strong method to correcting their sins.

I am a huge advocate for free speech, and I am not asking everyone to settle down and play nice. I am proposing that instead of just talk and talk and talk, the community gets down to business and actually tries to affect the changes they seek. I think that when the Linux community blows a lot of hot air, they invalidate themselves. People and companies don't take them seriously.

I think that's wrong. I think the strength of the community as a force for change is severely underestimated. When we all participate, then I believe we will all be stronger for it.