Red Hat: Open source driven by anti-US sentiment

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst says resentment at paying billions of dollars in 'intellectual property taxes' to US companies is boosting open source.

Anti-US feelings are boosting the international market for open-source software, according to the president and chief executive of Red Hat, Jim Whitehurst. Other commentators prefer to credit national pride in non-US countries.

"I never thought I would say this but, actually, being very unpopular in the world, as frankly the United States is these days, is a huge benefit to open source," said Whitehurst at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. In particular, he said, people resent paying billions of dollars in "intellectual property taxes" to giant US companies.

"I'm reluctant to agree with that statement," said Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium, which promotes the use of open-source software in the public sector in the UK. "In my experience, open source is much more likely to be driven by a positive feeling of pride in one's own country."

Many open-source innovations, including Linux, originated within the European region, and open-source models make it easier for local software projects to emerge, Taylor said.

"The reality of the IT market for many years is that it has been dominated by handfuls of very large, very American suppliers," said Taylor. "Open source helps countries to develop local industry. Rather than being overtly anti-American, countries want to have a little say in their own future."

Open source is seen as a fundamental good outside the US, with countries like Russia and China moving to a model free from US intellectual property laws, said Whitehurst.

Whitehurst also explained Red Hat's business model and his company's big flaws, saying that payments for support allowed enterprise users to have a version of Linux which they can rely on: "You can sleep at night, knowing that it does not go down."

Speaking at Red Hat's user conference in Nashville in 2006, Eben Moglen, professor of law at Columbia Law School, said that, far from being communist or anti-business, as some proprietary companies have claimed, the politics of open source go to the roots of what made America great: the ability for individuals to capitalize on their own innovations.

"The actual politics are very American--they are not scary, but as natural as apple pie. The free-software solution is a return to the traditional result of personal ingenuity. It's freedom to invent, not reinvent--not invent over again something someone else had invented and locked up, but invent in the way that inventing was done in the great spurt of 19th-century inventiveness."