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Intel Invests in Red Hat--Is It a Good Thing?

Sep 30, 1998, 07:12 (2 Talkback[s])

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Intel's purchase of a minority stake in Red Hat Software marks a turning point in the history of computing and sends a clear signal to Redmond that the Wintel alliance is breaking up.

Intel's motives are clear: Linux has established itself by capturing 27% of the Internet server market. Oracle, IBM, Syquest and Informix have all recently announced major Linux products. Intel wants to cash in on these market opportunities.

But is it a good thing for free software?

Advocates have concerns about whether the entry of big money may actually harm free software.

In the first place, buying a stake in just one Linux distribution maker may deepen the divisions that exist in the free software community.

All distributions use essentially the same software, but Intel's decision to buy into Red Hat amounts to an endorsement that will give it a decided sales advantage over other distributions.

Another concern is that Intel will have a corrupting influence on the free software movement. There is already considerable resentment about the Intel endorsed I2O specification not being an open standard. What comparable adulterations might Intel introduce into the products it helps Red Hat produce?

These concerns are legitimate.

On the other hand, advocates have been laboring tirelessly for years to have free software accepted. Finally, it is being accepted.

Now the enterprise is asking for Linux, but Linux is not ready for the enterprise. How many free software projects do you know which are struggling to produce a product with volunteer help?

When we wanted free software, it seemed only logical that we invest our time and energy to create it.

Now the enterprise wants free software. It is just as logical for the enterprise to make whatever investment is required to create the products the enterprise wants.

It is a challenging and awesome moment.

Publicly help corporations do not have a moral imperative to protect the spirit of free software licenses but only to bring the greatest return to their shareholders. Many of the free software licenses offer no protection against turning free software into proprietary software.

The GPL license offers the most protection that both the source code and its distribution will remain free.

Fortunately, Linux and the most essential software development tools are protected by the GPL. This, by itself, assures the continuity of the free software movement. So, fundamentally, we have nothing to fear from the entry of big money into free software.

Red Hat, from its foundation, has been committed to the free software movement. It is not likely that it will now start to produce proprietary products with Intel's money. If the Red Hat developers had had an interest in producing proprietary products, they would have left Red Hat long ago to join other companies for substantial increases in their salaries.

As the fruits of Intel's money will be more free software, the concern that Red Hat is gaining an unfair advantage over other distributions is tempered by the good it will bring to the free software community.

No company has worked harder to promote free software than Red Hat. They are well deserving of the opportunity Intel now gives them to do even more.

Congratulations, Red Hat! You deserve it.