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For 2008 media will create Red Hat-Ubuntu war

In 2008 the media will gin up a "war" between Red Hat and Ubuntu for "control" of Linux.

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO as of January 1 2008
Here's an easy prediction to make. In 2008 the media will gin up a "war" between Red Hat and Ubuntu for "control" of Linux.

It's already started. The latest distribution of Red Hat Fedora, Fedora 8, is called "an assault" on Ubuntu at MadPenguin.

If by assault you mean potentially better, worthy of comparison and interesting, then please sir may I have another assault?

The new Fedora 8 has improved support for notebooks, for gamers, and for programs like PulseAudio. These are good things, and it will be interesting to see how Ubuntu raises the bar in 2008.

But we are still talking about open source code here. Open source improvements are not proprietary, they benefit everyone. That's the idea.

Another way in which the media will crank up the Red Hat-Ubuntu "war" theme involves the hiring of Jim Whitehurst as CEO, replacing Matthew Szulik. Whitehurst comes to Red Hat from Delta Airlines, and some see something wrong with that.

Here's a clue for y'all. Running a business is not a religious exercise. Whitehurst is an experienced business executive, and that's what Red Hat has decided it needs right now. Whitehurst's job is to make the trains run on time.

Whitehurst is not going to be providing vision. That's the job of folks like vice president for open source affairs Michael Tiemann, who also heads the OSI and seems quite happy with the appointment.

Yet I guarantee you're going to see a host of articles over the next two weeks contrasting Mark Shuttleworth's entrepreneurial flair with Whitehurst's button-down mind.

The press needs to be reminded of some basic points here:

  • Open source development is complementary.
  • Management of a company is not the same as management of a project.
  • Politics and business are different subjects.

On my way back to Atlanta yesterday our plane's entertainment system failed. I watched Red Hat Enterprise Linux fail to load several times on my seat back. Yes, it was a Delta jet.

Does this mean Whitehurst will cause Red Hat to crash and burn? Of course not. There was probably a hardware fault, and the jet arrived home on-time. But I guarantee someone is going to read it as an omen.

What matters is whether Delta, and Red Hat's other customers, remain satisfied with the support Red Hat delivers them, against how much support money Ubuntu can gather. That's the business metric on which Whitehurst will be measured.

But the competition is a good thing. It means new features, new options, and new possibilities for all Linux users in 2008. The more successful businesses we have based on Linux, and the more money they make, the better for everyone.

Just don't expect it to be covered that way.