An Open Letter From Bob Young

Posted by Hemos

October 12, 2000

Bob Young, Chairman of the Board for Red Hat has written an open letter to the Community, in response to some of the recent criticism of Red Hat 7. If you've been following these stories at all, or the Linux scene, this is worth checking out.

Subject: Freedom & personal responsibility good, serfdom & tyrannical control bad.


Dear Slashdotter,

The wild and heated debate about Red Hat 7 in recent days has been interesting to follow. It demonstrates the strength of the open source model. By comparison (I'm not sure if anyone noticed this) Computerworld had a front page [,1199,NAV47_STO49485,00.html ] story a couple of weeks ago about how there were problems with Solaris on Sun's Enterprise systems, but that these bugs were not well known because Sun was making their customers sign NDA's (non-disclosure agreements) before helping them fix the problem.

Consider the contrast between a proprietary vendor's unwillingness to debate the merits of their technology with the open debate that Red Hat Linux enjoys.

This discussion is of such value to the users of Red Hat products that we feel little need to even attempt to comment. Informed readers can read all sides of the debate, download our products, test them, and decide for themselves whether our critics or supporters are correct. Of course the readers who post things like "well I haven't tried RH7 but I've heard..." aren't very helpful, but I trust most Slashdot readers to see through that kind of stuff.

There is one recurring comment that I could not resist addressing. Namely the regular habit of our critics of comparing Red Hat to Microsoft. I just don't get it.

There are many things for which we should be justifiably criticised (I have no idea what these might be, but I'm certain they exist ;-) but trying to act like Microsoft is not one of them. Red Hat's business is built on solving the problem thatMicrosoft's business model has imposed on the software user since Bill Gates disagreed with the members of the Homebrew computing club back in 1980.

The software industry that Microsoft has been the role model for is built on the premise that customers are not to be trusted with the technology that they are building their organizations on. The legacy software industry is built on the proprietary binary-only model where not only does the user not get the source code he needs to make changes, but worse he receives the product under a license that essentially says that if you make any improvements to the technology you are using, if you solve a bug that is causing your systems to crash, or add a feature that your users or customers desperately need the vendor can have you thrown in jail. (If you don't believe me, just read any shrinkwrapped software license). This kind of business model, where the customer is completely beholden to his supplier exists in no other industry in any free market that I know of. It harks back to the old feudal systems of 12th century Europe.

Red Hat's business success is owed to one simple benefit our products and services offer that our larger binary-only OS competitors do not. Namely that our commitment to publish the code that we write and distribute under open source licenses enable us to give our customers control over the technology they are using to build their systems. We cannot promise to deliver perfection. All we can promise is to acknowledge the problems immediately and work with you to fix them publicly and in real time. With control over their systems our users can simply build more stable and reliable systems than the binary-only model allows.

This is why the fear that Red Hat is somehow going to wake up one morning and abandon our commitment to open source is so mis-placed. Open source provides us with -the- competitive advantage that enables us to compete effectively against much larger competitors. To abandon open source is simply not in our customers interest and hence not in Red Hat's financial interest.

So if you want to criticise us for shipping gcc 2.96, you have every right to do so - you'd be wrong, but it is at least a legitimate debate and I'd respect your opinion. But to compare Red Hat to Microsoft indicates an ignorance of what is driving our success.

Remember that this debate was begun by someone going to Red Hat's public site and trying to add up all the registered bugs in Red Hat 7. When was the last time Microsoft (or any other legacy software vendor for that matter) gave you access to their complete bug registration system? Which software model do you really want to see succeed? One where you have to trust your vendor (who can and frequently restrict access to information you does need) or one where you are in control of the technology you are using?

We may be making mistakes - that up to you to decide. Some of them may be important to you and while I have no doubt you will point them out to us, you have control over the technology you are using. We work hard to build products that please most of our users most of the time. But if you don't like something about Red Hat Linux you don't have to use that feature or function. We simply are not pursing a business model that bears any resemblance to Microsoft's, so just quit it.

The next slashdotter who compares anything Red Hat does to Microsoft will be punished. The punishment will be to find the nearest blackboard and write "freedom & personal responsibility good, serfdom & tyrannical control bad" seven hundred times.

Cheers, Bob.


Copyright 2000