Bob Young: Red Hat's chairman is confident about facing off against the Microsoft juggernaut
With the formal launch of Windows 2000 last week by the industry's most powerful force, Microsoft, it is conceivable to think that leading members of the Linux OS community might be at least a little edgy. Not Bob Young. As chairman of Red Hat, the leading distributor of Linux, Young remains steadfast in his belief that the momentum his open-source operating system has established will continue unabated despite the media storm that Windows 2000 figures to create. Young sat down with InfoWorld Editor at Large Ed Scannell to discuss the impact Windows 2000 might have, or lack, among users and developers.
InfoWorld: Given its improved enterprise-level features and the marketing muscle expected to back it, does Windows 2000's arrival change the nature of your competitive game with Microsoft?
Young: No, not even a little bit. [Red Hat has] always been up against much better funded competitors in the open-source space all along with Caldera being the best example. We have the market share we do because we have focused on delivering a single unique benefit that the proprietary operating systems vendors aren't prepared to deliver. That benefit is giving users control over the technology we are asking them to invest in through open-source technology.
InfoWorld: But Windows 2000 is reportedly more reliable and more scalable than its predecessors. Doesn't this apply any more pressure to the Linux community?
Young: [Windows 2000] has one major problem that normally [Microsoft] could use as a huge advantage over us, but this time they can't; that's the lack of backward compatibility. If you read Microsoft's own marketing materials, they are very precise about not making assurances that your old Windows applications will run on Windows 2000. Microsoft, to their credit, is trying to move the technology forward by moving off the old DOS architecture, which is a non-sustainable architecture going forward. But the fact that they are doing that means that a lot of applications that were engineered around DOS are going to have problems running on Windows 2000. Anyway, it gives us a wonderful opportunity.
InfoWorld: Are you optimistic that Microsoft will make some of Windows 2000's code open-source?
Young: I suspect they will do some tactical open-source thing. But their real problem in the operating system space is that their whole company is built around this proprietary model. They have a heroin addiction to selling more and more royalties to their operating systems. Guys like [Microsoft President and CEO] Steve Ballmer say the company is going to become more of an Internet services company and you go, 'Yeah sure, he will have to re-engineer the whole company.'
InfoWorld: What are [Microsoft's] chances that they can become a serious competitor to Linux as a Internet services company, given their business model going forward?
Young: They probably can make it an important part of their business in the not too distant future, but can they really give up this heroin-like addiction to their product sales? Looking at their balance sheet today, it would be a miracle if they could give away their OS and still hope to meet their investor's expectations any time soon.
InfoWorld: Compare the kernel technologies in Windows 2000 with what you will have this year in Versions 2.4 and 3.0 of the Linux kernel for things like scalability, multitasking support, and support of pervasive devices.
Young: Keep in mind that the Linux kernel is evolving forward faster than it ever has before. The number of very high-quality engineering teams now contributing to it from Oracle, SAP, and Transmeta is really quite high. Microsoft has its work cut out for it because the only people allowed to contribute to the Microsoft project are Microsoft engineers. I don't care how big Microsoft is; they don't have the engineering talent that the whole Internet represents.
InfoWorld: Are you taking any heart in the report that there could be some 60,000 imperfections in the shipping version of Windows 2000?
Young: To be fair, if there are 60,000 bugs in Windows, then there has to be arguably 30,000 bugs in Linux. The reason most are there is largely because most [users] never run into most of those bugs. The catch is when you do run into a bug, it could be a material one for your particular application. Under the proprietary model, all those bugs that don't impact your system are of no interest to you. But if you can't do anything about them, they could impact your system in material ways.