With the acquisition of the Netscape server software products from AOL Time Warner for $20.5 million, Red Hat gains directory and certificate servers, which the company said it will bring to the open-source community, most likely under the General Public License (GPL).
Why did Red Hat spend the money to get some also-ran software and some programmers? Big ambitions. Red Hat wants to offer a more complete, open-sourced software stack that can compete with stacks--which include both proprietary and open-source components--from companies like Novell, Sun and others. Novell, for example, has its SUSE Linux distribution, Ximian Desktop and also related services, such as identity management, that are proprietary.
Red Hat is on the right track, but has to lobby two constituencies. First, it's questionable whether the open-source community will lend its time and effort to improve the Netscape server software under Red Hat's stewardship. Secondly, Red Hat has to overcome the reputation it is gaining (driven in part by competitor Sun) as the "proprietary" open-source distributor, knitting together open-source components in a way that makes switching costs high. It brings up the question of how open is an open-source stack in a world in which vendors and their investors dream--secretly or overtly, lightly or strongly --of locking-in customers with their "solutions." Start-up SourceLabs is promising not to lock-in customers, by focusing on support rather packaging open-source components as Red Hat does. No matter whether you buy from Red Hat or an outfit like