Once in a while, I bump into posts praising Red Hat for the fact that its
Financial Worth in the Stock Market has crossed the 1 Billion Dollar.
Every time I read these posts I shiver. And let me explain why.\
It's not that I have something against the technical merits of Red Hat.
In my daily work, I support mostly CentOS and Red Hat servers, and I
enjoy using them. However, at home I use Debian almost exclusively. But
my point is not that Debian is better or worse. I just want to use
Debian as an example of how Open Source drives new economic models,
while counting the stock market worth of Red Hat is old style economy.
So let's see what I mean.
First, I shiver when I think "oh god, how short is people's memory".
Just two years ago, the stock market collapsed and literally vaporized
many many people's savings, but the same people who were "managing" this
stock market industry went home without losing a cent, and today? The
stock market is alive, and people keep buying stocks - and if the worthy
of Red Hat is increasing, it's because people are willing to pay more
for a tiny piece of Red Hat. But what is a Stock worth if the company
has no real holdings - besides it's office buildings ? Not much, unless
you are promised that the company will pay you dividends, or that the
stock price will go up. Unfortunately, the current stock market does not
promise any of them. Red Hat directorate can decide to give you
dividends, but you are not promised, and if you are living in California
or Paris, I am not sure it's worth traveling to Virginia to stock
holders public meeting and vote on giving dividends to yourself and
other share holders.
Now, I am asking myself, what is the interest of all these technology
writers promoting Red Had by yelling "Look, Red Hat is worth a billion
dollar" besides making other people buy a Red Had stock, and making sure
the price goes up. They, Technology writers, just promote what I call
the Red Hat Bubble.
Unfortunately - or fortunately, depends how look at it - Red Hat has no
really holdings, besides it's skilled employees (whether good coders, or
good sales personnel). Theoretically, anyone could take Red Hat and sell
it (removing trade marks). Fortunately again for Red Hat, it's target
customers are Old Economy giants (I need to explain that term, and I
will get to it later). For example, the same stock market where Red Hat
stock is sold is powered by Red Hat. A huge amount of R&D in the Auto
and Defense industry is done using Linux Clusters, and CAE\CAD
workstations powered by Red Hat and so on. Red Hat targets mostly the
following industry: Banks, Defense, Oil & Gas, Automotive, Aeronautics.
Luckily for Red Hat, these companies used to pay a lot of money for Unix
and other Propriety OS driving their systems. Therefore, paying the Red
Had support fees is not much. Big companies also love big companies.
CEO's and Managers go and hang around with one another so they cut fat
deals, sometimes regardless if it is the smartest thing. So RH wins
again. But that is all old style economy.
Out side the borders of America, there is another giant, an almost
invisible giant which drives many many small and medium companies and no
one gets to buy or sell it's stocks because it's totally available for
everyone. That giant is Debian, which is found on thousands of computers
in schools in Spain and Brazil, that powers the city of Munich, that
powers many supercomputers in research centers in Europe, the is being
shipped in many retail stores in China via Ubuntu.
To me, although Red Hat uses and sells, and even contributes to many
Open Source projects, it still represents an old style company and
economy. That is: a centralized product, which is developed and owned by
a relatively small group of people.
When compared to the reach ecosystem driven by Debian, I think Red Hat
is a very weird phenomena I am not sure how I should treat.
Debian is a do-ocracy, where if you want something achieved you can pay
for someone to do it, or role your sleeves up and just do it. This is
why it has so many supported packages, and it has so many ports
available, including 2 different kernels. In comparison, Red Hat has
maybe just a sixth of the packages supported and no so many
architectures. Further more, Red Hat officially supports just the 2
major desktop environments. But what if I don't like neither of them?
It is no secret that GNOME 3 was developed by a small disconnected group
of people, and the fiasco was, how to put it gently, quite embarrassing,
and that is even before GNOME 3 rolled into the desks of thousand
engineers using RH on daily basis (I can't wait to see how our customers
respond to Red Hat EL 7 with GNOME 3). Here is what Mark Shuttleworth
said about GNOME
and I am not a big fan of Unity either, but at least it is another
alternative, among many like XFCE, Mate or even KDE or Trinity.\
Now try to imagine a world where the hype around Red Hat stock would
have been equal to the technological hype around Red Had. In a world
like this I'll be probably working on a desktop powered by Red Hat
(luckily, my company uses in House OpenSuse 11.4 for our workstations).
And my 3 Laptops would have been running Red Had (as I said before, they
run Debian), and Distrowatch had one Linux distro in it, you know
already, it would have been Red Hat.
This reminds a postcard someone sent me from Warsaw. The postcard
depicted a Grocery store from the 80s in Warsaw. The store had a very
fancy glass counter, on top of it stood one bottle of vodka, and behind
it you could purchase one kind of sausage, one kind of bread and
complementary one kind of jam and one kind of cheese. Of course, for
that great variety you needed to pay to much.
Luckily, the Linux ecosystem, in which Debian is just another option,
promises that you can buy many sorts of "bread" and "Vodka". If you
want, and can, you can pay \$1,299 RH per year for server support, or a
bit less ( to be exact \$1200 per server) to Cannonical. But I am also
sure you can find people who will give you excellent support for less,
using either Debian, Gentoo or even Archlinux or what ever you desire.
Don't believe me? Try for example in the Debian
consultants page or this page in
the UK that enable you to look forLinux
experts in many
distributions or take a look at the FreeBSD commercial vendors
I really hate reading articles like "We have to many Linux distros" or
people whining about "how fragmented Linux desktop is", and I don't like
the Red Hat bubble, although I enjoy working on Red Hat systems.
My point is that choice is good. Choice shows we a healthy economy, and
a thriving ecosystem. Don't believe me? If you happen to live a place
where people have bank accounts and a sour plus in them, go an visit the
supermarket. Then count how many types of jam, wine and bread you can
find. If you find more than 5 of each you know you are in a rich place.
If you dive, like Linus Torvalds
or you know people that do scuba diving ask yourself or them how do you
tell a healthy coral reef than a sick one?
If you answered "variety of fish species" you get my point. Variety
ensures we have a healthy system. A healthy coral reef has big sharks
like Red Hat, and little fish and many types of crabs and corals and
octopus species and so on. In healthy open source system we have all
these thriving together.
Now, I promised I will explain that term, Old Economy. When taking a
look on healthy economies, industrial or not, there is one thing to be
seen. Medium and Small businesses are the large driving force of the
market. But somehow, journalists and media people really like praising
the big companies who in most cases are actually bad for competition and
a healthy economy.
Old Style companies, even in the technology sector, are built like
classic industrial companies where a small group owns the means of
productions, and all the rest are just belonging to the proletarian
class, people who work 8 hours a day for the company, but don't get to
always influence on what the company does or have equal share in the
Ultimately, open source goes against this convention, because it make
"Ownership" kind of a void term. May that is why Open Source supporters
were named communists by some people. But that shows that people are
just confused. Because ultimately, open source creates competition and
many small players, which is actually promoting a "perfect market" like
Adam Smith described in his break thorough work "Wealth of
And not only that, the Open Source software revolution has also gave
birth to Open Hardware specifications, and today everyone can buy a
small 3D printer and create their own stuff in real, instead of making
large buys in China or some place. This really, changes how are economy
works for good. It puts the power back in the hands of many, instead in
the hand of a few Capitalists (in the original meaning of the word, e.g.
Property Owners). I really expect that 3D printing and hard projects
likeVivaldi tablet or
Raspberrypi will initiate a 2nd
Industrial revolution and change our hardware market. \
And this is exactly why I don't think the First \$Billion Open Source
company matters. Just like any German town has more than one bakery, and
every good supermarket has more than one sort of wine, I really prefer
seeing the yellow pages explode with thousands of names of different
Linux Consultants, offering different software and hardware solutions to
different problems, in fair prices for everyone. Then you will know,
GNU\Linux is grown to be an important thing more than it is already.