Open source vendors can't be run like their closed source counterparts. The programming talent, and the people behind that talent, aren't like other managers.
I thought of this when looking at a stray comment Marc Fleury of RedHat's JBOSS unit gave another publisher recently. They ran with it like sports reporters ran with Michael Vick giving fans the finger.
Marc is not a traditional manager. He's an entrepreneur, a programmer. He's more like the people you'd find in the music or movie industry than the software industry, only with less guile. He's a lot more like Vick than like Falcons coach Jim Mora.
Marc spoke out of turn, saying he wasn't happy with the R&D investment he was getting from home office. In a traditional company, a division manager who speaks out of turn like this gets tossed out on their ear. His successor learns to keep his head down and his mouth shut.
But to do that here would be a huge mistake. It would cause enormous turmoil among employees and customers. Fleury could be out building a new company the next day, perhaps in a competitive niche.
The only thing protecting RedHat from direct competition would be contract language. Fleury's knowledge of the codebase could be re-used as soon as the contract's non-compete clause ran out. And all the talent he brought with him could leave as well.
This is also a tough moment for RedHat. The threats of Oracle, Novell and Microsoft are real, massive. Fleury also has a good point. JBOSS faces new threats from IBM and the best way for RedHat to secure its future is to invest "up the stack" in middleware and enterprise applications.
This has to be handled gently. RedHat shouldn't ask what Microsoft or IBM or Oracle would do. It needs to find an open source way.
I will be very interested to know what that way is.