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Opinion: Linux is not Red Hat

Jun 05, 1999, 23:16 (227 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Arne Flones)

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Update: Make sure you read Arne's follow-up post where he states that the issue has been resolved.

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ] -lt ed

Contributed by Linux Today reader Arne Flones.

Last night I drove to Pasadena to attend the first night festivities of Red Hat's recently announced Revolution Tour. The program, indicative of any opening night, was complete with dysfunctional microphones, hung-up X screen savers and speakers with first night jitters. Other than these minor quibbles the presentation was good enough to make any Linux fan happy... except possibly me.

The problem stems from Red Hat's fast and furious deal-making. Many would argue that this is good for Open Source because it's good for the business of Open Source. I disagree. I think it could end up being a nightmare.

Red Hat and other Linux distributions are making deals with software vendors, in this instance, Red Hat's partnership with MetroWerks, the creator of Code Warrior. I have absolutely no knowledge of Red Hat's agreement with MetroWerks. But I can say that the main effect of that agreement is an exclusive relationship between MetroWerks and Red Hat made at the cost of all of the other Linux distributions.

Here's the scoop. MetroWerks is releasing CodeWarrior not as CodeWarrior for Linux but as CodeWarrior for Red Hat Linux. Yes, you read that correctly. Look at their Web site where you will also find the system requirements specifically mentioning only Red Hat.

As a current SuSE and former Slackware user, I have a real problem with commercial Linux offerings being made exclusively for any one distribution's benefit. I brought this objection to the MetroWerks and Red Hat people last night. Their response was that CodeWarrior was specifically designed to work with Red Hat's distributions. One of the MetroWerks reps added that there were some 39 Linux distributions and they couldn't target them all.

My response, "Yes you can--./configure; make; make install," was shrugged off.

Given that there are thousands of volunteers ready, willing and able to assist in porting CodeWarrior to other distributions, I find it interesting that MetroWerks would cite the proliferation of distributions as the reason that they are releasing CodeWarrior for only one of those distributions. This begs the question:
Why is one and only one Linux distribution to be supported by CodeWarrior when, by using the Open Source community, the cost to do one or two more of the other big distributions would be minimal and could be recouped quickly by sales?
This strongly suggests that there may be an explicitly exclusionary contract between Red Hat and MetroWerks.

As it stands, even if isn't intentional, the results are equally harmful. First, it puts pressure on all the distributions to adopt the Red Hat way, not because it is better, but simply because Red Hat got there first and received the most initial support of the Linux community.

The Linux business is still in its infancy. We haven't even figured out all the rules of an Open Source business. It's much too early to declare winners. Winners certainly should not be declared because of serendipity. This whole matter stands the peer review process inherent in Open Source on its ear.

Allow me to speculate of another future scenerio.

  • Red Hat makes deals with software vendors X, Y and Z
    Soon we get X for Red Hat, Y for Red Hat and Z for Red Hat.
  • Caldera hurriedly counters with deals with software vendors A, B and C
    Soon we get A for Caldera, B for Caldera and C for Caldera.
  • Debian responds with deals with J, K and L...
Well, you get the idea. The balkanization of Linux becomes a reality. All the good work that everybody has done to promote Open Source goes out the door. We end up with a pissing contest to decide which commercial distribution can sign the biggest and baddest commercial players. We may as well have formed the International Software League and sell tickets to the events.

Let the distribution wars begin... brought to you tonight by Flam Coffee and Blark Beer...

I don't see any gain in this except for the upcoming Red Hat stockholders.

If these dangers are real, how can we avoid this future.

  • Support the Linux Standards Base and only support vendors who support LSB. Let the rest be nonstandard pariahs.
  • In the meantime, encourage Red Hat and MetroWerks to be good Open Source citizens and support the entire Open Source community.
I take this very seriously. In spite of everything Red Hat's done, I consider exclusionary contracts (explicitly or otherwise) to be a serious breach of trust. I hope others will see the danger considering Red Hat's recently announced IPO.

I hope Red Hat and MetroWerks will see this as an important enough issue to do the right thing to re-level the playing field. The other distributions should be able to work with Red Hat and MetroWerks to make it possible to bring out CodeWarrior as a Linux product, not a Red Hat product.

By initiating exclusivity in Linux distributions Red Hat is in effect saying, "We're now the biggest and the baddest. Who else deserves to have the cream?"

My answer is simple. "We all do."
Linux is for everybody, not just the chosen few.

Linux is not Red Hat.