Why does the Billlion Dollar OpenSource Company does not matter or should not matter

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 3, 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 page. 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 dives 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 profits. 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 Nations". 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.
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This entry was tagged: opinion, foss

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