Red Hat offers open-source option on Microsoft settlement |  Operating Systems

Red Hat Inc. jumped into the Microsoft Corp. class-action suits settlement fray Tuesday, offering to provide open-source software to every school district in the United States free of charge. Red Hat encouraged Microsoft to redirect the money it plans to spend on its own software -- estimated at more than US$500 million -- into purchasing additional hardware.

Microsoft said earlier Tuesday that it had agreed to settle the 100-plus class action suits accusing it of using its desktop operating system software monopoly to charge users inflated prices. Under terms of the deal, Microsoft would supply computers and its own software to thousands of the U.S.'s poorest schools.

Red Hat's alternative proposal, outlined in a press release that betrayed not a hint of sarcasm, is to provide its own operating system software, along with applications and online support, to any interested schools. It urged Microsoft to use the money it would have spent on its own software to instead increase the number of computers it will provide to struggling school districts -- with those computers running free, open-source software instead of Windows and other Microsoft products.

Redirecting Microsoft's money from its own software to third-party hardware would increase the number of computers Microsoft can afford to purchase from 200,000 to more than 1 million, according to Red Hat.

Microsoft representatives didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

Does the offer of free software for interested schools still stand if Microsoft rejects the alternative settlement suggestion? "Absolutely," said Red Hat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Matthew Szulik, who noted that Red Hat hadn't discussed its offer with Microsoft.

Microsoft's proposed solution furthers its monopolistic grip on the software market and therefore isn't an effective remedy, Szulik said. And although familiarity with Windows and other Microsoft products is virtually a prerequisite for many jobs these days, schools shouldn't be forced to train their students to use Microsoft software, he argued.

"Would you want your son or daughter to come up learning a set of skills, or learning a specific vendor's product?" he asked. "From my experience as a CEO, I'm much more in favor of people with analytical skills."

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