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VNU Net: Man in a Red Hat: the Colin Tenwick interview

May 26, 2000, 13:34 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by David Rae)

By David Rae, VNU Net

Red Hat was formed on the back of the continued success of Linux to become the strongest brand around. Colin Tenwick was appointed vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at the beginning of July last year.

In what way do you think the breaking up of Microsoft will affect the adoption of alternative operating systems?
I think the judge was saying that the company has not been operating in the interests of the consumer, and what it has been doing is an abuse of power. In my view, anything that further enables free competition in the market is good news.

I think it's interesting that, even without the judgement, the rise of Linux seems to beat all records. It is driven by the shift to new economies on the web, with the majority of people now using Linux as an operating system in that environment.

Other things were powering the growth of open source. The judgement simply proves that the old 1980s proprietary environment personified by companies like Microsoft is not good for consumers.

Do you see Red Hat making significant inroads on the desktop market because of it?
It's a completely different issue on the desktop side. By the time the ruling goes through all its various claims, counter-claims and appeals, we may be looking at a totally different front-end technology anyway.

To be honest, as a platform the desktop side is a pretty boring environment. Yes, it's around but, increasingly, the belief is that the post-PC device is the area that will see the most growth.

Our aim is to be the platform of choice on those devices, and we are doing pretty well. That said, if the break-up means we will see the ultimate success for Linux, with all the productivity tools ported over to Red Hat, then it's very good news.

So do you feel that third-party support is holding you back?
I think we are making big inroads. When we floated the company in August last year we had about 200 applications certified for Red Hat. By the end of last quarter it was in excess of 3000. That sort of growth has never been seen before.

The applications we have cover a very broad area, ranging from the enterprise level with Sap, Oracle, Sybase and Informix, down to a whole raft of ecommerce software. You would always like to have more applications, but given the pace of what we are doing I believe we are making huge inroads.

Analysts say the only way to solve this problem is to open up the Windows source code. Will this happen?
Until we see it, I don't believe it will happen, because it's so counter-cultural for these companies. I suppose it was similar with Sun and its community sourcing, which is like being half-pregnant.

I think any company that started in proprietary mode will find it difficult to give away its core technologies. What we are starting to see, which is very interesting, is intelligent debate about what their core businesses are. In many cases, parts of their technologies would benefit if they were open sourced.

Examples are starting to appear, such as Intel releasing $20m (£12.5m) worth of code into the open source community a couple of weeks ago. I think some companies have really neat technology that isn't critical to their future success but that, by open sourcing, can get a huge boost in terms of development.

If, 18 months ago, you had said companies such as IBM, SGI, Dell and Intel would be releasing code into open source, most people would have said you were crazy. I think we have demonstrated with the open source community that it is a fundamentally different way of going about things.

Do you see Sun's Solaris 8 community sourcing as a threat?
What you are starting to see is people having to react to this new approach. One reaction is to ignore it, while another is to open up some code or take away the cost issue by making an operating system free.

The reality is that people don't use Linux because it's free but because of its total value - its technology, its momentum and its TCO.

When we talk about the high end, however, such as the big EUR10000 platforms, there are huge advantages with Solaris that Linux can't get to yet. However, we are demonstrating that, with the pace of change and innovation, you can measure that gap in months rather than years.

What impact do you think the eagerly awaited Intel IA-64 will have, and will you design code specifically for it?
People are only just beginning to see the huge impact that IA-64 will have, and we have been writing code for it. The fact that open source development and debugging kits for IA-64 have been around for some months means that Red Hat will be available for those products when they become available.

I think what you'll see is an architecture that provides Unix performance at Intel pricing. Once you have an operating system that is beginning to scale to 32 or 64 processors, then you start to have interesting conversations about what role proprietary operating systems have to play. If you look at all the IDC data, Linux is growing predominantly at the expense of traditional Unix and that's where most of the market is going.

Why is Linux winning Unix customers?
There are a number of reasons. From a Unix hacker's perspective, Linux delivers what Unix always promised. From a platform basis, it gives someone with Unix skills an easy transition, and the cost involved is relatively low.

The more popular an operating system gets, the more targeted it is by hackers. How do you see this affecting Red Hat?
I think that there are a couple of issues. One is that there are more people checking and developing code in an open source environment than a proprietary one. The second is that you will always get issues with software, but with the open source area you have the best talent working on fixing the bugs.

For example, the US Department of Defense used the open source community to help it fix bugs on some of its major sites. I think there is a lot of misinformation spread around the market. Architecturally, Linux is safer than, let's say, an NT environment.

Do you see the many different flavours of Linux holding it back?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Linux is an operating system - it's not. Linux is a series of packages based on a common kernel and it's that kernel that gives all the various projects their family tree.

There is a clear focus from all the major players to remain true to that development model. By having all these packages, and a consistent method of integrating them, what you get is different flavours of Linux for different areas of the market.

Red Hat is targeted at the server market, and now at the embedded space. We do not aggressively target the desktop market. What you'll see is companies focusing on particular niches, and that's inevitable. Red Hat is the market leader now but our competition is not the other Linux distributors, it's the big guys.

What do you see the next two or three years holding for Linux?
There are two critical areas that Linux is going into. The first is to continue developing its strength, which is dotcoms. We are worldwide market leader in web servers now, with 34 per cent market share.

The second is that we are moving towards embedded space. This is the exploding market where Linux becomes more apparent to a new generation of users.

So you'll be hoping that the dotcom bubble doesn't burst?
I think that the dotcom bubble won't burst. But clearly there are going to be winners and losers.

You have recently purchased internet performance management vendor, Bluecurve. Why?
It is the first of our steps towards building more functionality into server management services. The next stage is to build up the service offering because it's clear that customers need more automated tools, such as automated load balancing.

The other thing we have announced is the formation of Red Hat Ventures, which is a fund of up to $50m (£30m) that will let us invest in developing the economy for open source. This will allow us to make selective investments into companies to help develop new technologies or services that are open source oriented.

[ First published in Network News ]

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