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Red Hat finds itself in crosshairs again

Red Hat seems to be under fire again, this time for Microsoft

There’s a rough law amongst tech journalists: whoever is the first to claim that another’s company’s action is good news is the one that may well be worried about it. So cue knowing looks from more than one sector when Linux distro Red Hat said this month that it saw Microsoft and Novell’s decision to work more closely together as evidence that “Linux has won”.

What Microsoft and Novell have agreed more specifically to do is to announce a series of agreements to make Novell’s Linux flavour, SuSe Linux, work more closely with the Windows operating systems. While on the face of it, the recognition of the importance of Linux by its previously most-outspoken critic would tend to support Red Hat’s claims, even if Linux is a winner, it doesn’t follow that Red Hat itself is.

In fact, Red Hat executives could be forgiven for feeling a little under fire right now, with this partnership following hot on the heels of Oracle’s decision to start selling support for Red Hat Linux itself (see IT Weekly 4 - 10 November 2006). That move was widely seen as an attempt by Oracle to clip Red Hat’s wings a little; Microsoft now appears to be doing something similar.

If that is the case, then perhaps Red Hat should take the move as something of a compliment: if Microsoft is willing to work with a firm which it has such a long history of enmity with, it says a lot about how seriously it views the competition that Red Hat does provide. For Novell as well, this deal seems to say more about how it has struggled to compete with Red Hat than about what benefits it will gain from working with Microsoft. Red Hat is the dominant player right now in the Linux market space; if Microsoft really wanted Linux to win, it would have made more sense to work with Red Hat than Novell.

Of course, that is assuming that Red Hat wants to work with Microsoft; in its response statement it suggested exactly the opposite, arguing that openly defined standards create interoperability that everyone can implement. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also suggested that Red Hat had not been responsive to any such deal.

But even so, it is very hard to see that one as a “win-win” for Red Hat and Linux. Microsoft is now actively working to market and promote the uptake of Novell’s SuSe Linux. Given the marketing clout that Microsoft has, that is bound to sway a few customers at least. For Novell, struggling to build a compelling message for SuSe adoption, the partnership will clearly bring benefits; as it will for Novell customers that want to work with a mixture of open source and proprietary software. But it is questionable whether any move that threatens the biggest supplier of Linux is a victory for the OS.

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