Down tomorrow's highway with Red Hat's Bob Young

Find out what Bob Young, founder of Red Hat, has to say about the future of open-source codes.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
You can't honestly call someone a visionary very often. Bob Young, chairman and founder of Red Hat, is one of the few you can.

Sm@rt Partner recently had a chance to catch up with Young at LinuxWorld and discuss the future of the industry. Here are his thoughts on tomorrow.

As important as Linux and open source have become, Young doesn't jump to any conclusions. He is the first to say that to predict anything about the future, you have to look at the whole picture. About Linux itself, he says, "You have to look at the broader trends in society, and you have to look at how your project will fit into the times. Any project's success is 50 percent of the work you put into it and 50 percent how well its fits into the times."

In general, Young is an optimist. While others look at the future and predict doom and gloom with the rise of universal networking, he feels that, "Because of the perfect alliance of open source and the Internet, all of us have a bright future." He continues, "[That's] because they increase power to the individual. Certainly, there will be trends the other way, but together, more power will go to the individual." In short, Young sees a future of empowered individuals instead of a computer-monitored state.

In the next three years, Young believes that the advancement of open source will educate the whole computer market to read the fine print of proprietary licenses. As he puts it, "if they really read them, they'd realize that you can't make any changes to programs" without facing the threat of "being thrown in jail." Combine that with well-known proprietary license flaws--which put no obligation on the software vendor to even guarantee that there's a workable program on the disk--and he believes that even ordinary computer savvy people will realize the benefits of the Gnu General Public License (GPL) and other open-source licenses.

Young is sure that in five years open source will be "across the board." In fact, he states, just as Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile (GOSIP) became a mandated government standard in the '80s for all federal computer purchases, by 2005 open source will become a federal requirement. Sound far-fetched? Young points out that such a move is already happening in France.

Ten years down the road, Young not only thinks open source will be everywhere, but he also thinks that application development finally will catch up with hardware development. That will mean that programs and hardware will emerge faster and better than ever. "We'll all be wearing Dick Tracy watches with real-time, wireless streaming video."

Will they be running Linux? He hopes so, but he is confident that they'll be open source. As for Red Hat specifically, "Red Hat Linux has created more users than all the other distributions combined, and today my job is to increase the size of the Linux user pond."

Could it still go wrong for Linux and open source? Yes, for as he says, "Good management with crappy products will beat crappy management with good products every time." But, he adds with a smile, "Red Hat and companies in the Gnome movement like Sun and HP, have good management and good products." As for today's foremost operating system? The "Microsoft operating systems, as they are now, may not be anywhere 10 years from now."

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