Red Hat going places with Linux

Without very specific directions, you'd probably drive right past the one-story building housing Red Hat Inc.'s Durham, N.C., headquarters.

Unlike Silicon Valley companies, which shout the presence of even their tiniest satellite offices with monstrous, brightly hued billboards -- Red Hat's squat headquarters doesn't even sport a sign. The company, which has grown so fast in the past four years that it's just moved into its fourth location, is still waiting for approval from the city, county and business park before it hoists its trademark shadow man and the words "Red Hat" over the front door. But inside workers are generating the biggest buzz this size of the iMac. And the red hats are everywhere.

The company has ridden the Linux wave to fame in the past six months, landing investments from everyone who's anyone in the computer industry -- except, of course, Microsoft Corp. Red Hat, which packages and distributes the alternative operating system Linux, has commanded cash from heavyweights such as Intel Corp., Netscape Communications Corp., and Oracle Corp. Not bad for a company that sells free software and looks like it's run by a bunch of twentysomethings. Which it is.

The Red Hat dress code is sneakers, shorts and goatees.

Pony-tailed developers tinker with Linux code in cubicles decorated with penguins (the Linux symbol), piles of cola cans, and hats of all kinds -- fedoras, baseball caps and beanies -- all red, naturally. They stash roller blades under their desks, then skate the carpeted hallways to blow off steam, weaving around rows of cubicles. Or they take to the game room -- which is surprisingly old school for a cutting-edge company. Ms. Pacman, Gauntlet, and a traditional pinball machine -- games first popular when many of Red Hat's employees were still in grade school.

These days, the company is celebrating the release of the latest version of its operating system -- and grappling with growing pains.

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