Red Hat aims for the high ground

The leading Linux company is narrowing its focus to enterprises and embedded devices. But that means leaving behind the dream of selling Linux to the average user
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Linux won't make an impact on the desktop in the near future, but it will beat Microsoft's Windows all the same in the long run, according to Red Hat chairman Bob Young.

Linux is shifting steadily from its days of hype as a cure-all for the ills of the computer industry to a more practical focus. For Red Hat, that means putting the emphasis increasingly on two key areas: shifting enterprises from Unix to Linux, and building its presence in the embedded market, Young told ZDNet UK.

Linux on the desktop would be nice, but it just isn't a priority -- and open source software doesn't need it, Red Hat believes. Much of the early hype around Linux, which is based on an open source development model that keeps any single company from controlling it, was based on the notion that the software could eventually replace Windows on PCs.

The PC industry is steadily moving away from a desktop-centric universe towards a model where the functionality comes from Internet services, Young says, and open source is necessary for the Internet to work as well as it does. "In order for all the players on (the Internet) to play fair with each other, it has to be open source technology," Young said. "The moment one company owns a protocol on the Internet, the Internet will fail. It'll be all over. The bulk of the value will disappear."

Microsoft, too, recognises that the Internet is the future of computing. But Young believes Microsoft's attempts to install its own .Net protocols as the de facto standards on which future Internet services will be based are doomed to failure. In fact, he believes the future of computing will look a lot like the "Network Computer", or NC, predicted by the likes of Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison in the 1990s.

"It's one thing to be right, but it's another thing to be right in the right decade," he quipped. "It will happen."

Red Hat doesn't necessarily see the economy improving soon, but that might not be such a bad thing when selling Linux to big corporations. "IT budgets have been slashed significantly. That doesn't mean the functionality and performance (requirements) have changed any," said James Prasad, Red Hat's European vice president and general manager. "This really comes in our favour," because Linux is perceived as offering the same quality and reliability as other operating systems, for a much lower price, Prasad said.

Red Hat is competing with Microsoft to convert Unix customers, but the two companies are in more direct conflict in the embedded market, which refers to just about every digital device that isn't a PC.

As embedded devices like microwave ovens, televisions and VCRs start to connect to the Internet, they will need an operating system that can talk to all kinds of other software, Young says. Unlike Microsoft, which is targeting the market with Windows CE .Net and Windows Embedded, Linux is capable of scaling to fit anything from a tiny portable device up to a mainframe.

"We can put a server operating system in that microwave oven for pennies," Young said.

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