Red Hat: We will be here in one year, Novell will not

Red Hat general counsel Mark Webbink goes to the mat for his company regarding the Microsoft-Novell partnership, in this SearchOpenSource.com Q&A. In one year, Red Hat will be all that remains of commercial Linux, he said.

In the past two weeks, Oracle and Microsoft have fired salvos across -- and some would say into -- Red Hat's bow.

More on the Novell/Microsoft partnership:
Microsoft, Novell link up for surprise partnership

Opinion: Microsoft, Sun, Oracle can't sidestep Linux, OSS...

The Novell/Microsoft partnership had the desired short-term effect both companies were looking for: Red Hat stock went down, said Red Hat general counsel Mark Webbink in today's interview with SearchOpenSource.com. On the other hand, Webbink said, the hype surrounding the announcements from Oracle, Microsoft and Novell will be short- lived. In the end, Red Hat's high customer satisfaction ratings will allow his company to ride the tide. In one year's time, Webbink said, Red Hat will be the only Linux commercial vendor left standing, Microsoft support or not.

SearchOpenSource.com: Has Linux won?

Mark Webbink: Between last week and this one, it is clear that the two largest software vendors in the world perceive Linux to be at least on the same plane as they are. [Microsoft and Novell] have got to respect what we have done.

Having said that, does Red Hat think either of them has taken the right approach, now that Microsoft and Novell have made 'Microvell'? They've gone off the road a bit, we think, but we are feeling good about the attention that has been brought to Linux.

Microsoft has spent a large part of the past few years pressuring open source companies and their customers with threats of legal action for patent infringement. Now what's going to happen?

Webbink: The people at Microsoft legal are smart, and one of things they know, since they have taken note of the SCO example, is that to sue your own customers for IP infringement is not a good long-term business strategy. I don't think Linux customers have anything to worry about there.

To address this issue, we have continued to improve the protections we think are the most valuable to our customers. Four years ago, we said we would share all of our patents with the open source community. We extended open source assurances three years ago by saying if somebody raises a claim, we will make sure a customer will continue to be able to use the software. One year ago, we provided a counterweight to people with patent portfolios that may threaten open source software by building a contravening portfolio of software patents.

Based on all that, today we have made open source assurances and have said, 'Okay, fine; if you really need indemnification, you've got it, and if makes you feel better, so be it.'

It has been a one-two punch from Microsoft and Oracle this week and last. How is Red Hat dealing with this increased competition?

Webbink: Last time I looked, we were still in the ring, and we are still standing. The big mistakes companies and employees make is to be focused on stock price in the short-term. These guys made noise. Larry Ellison had the effect he wanted to have, and our stock price went down. But let's see where we all are a year from now. We will still be standing. We still believe that we will be the dominant player in the Linux market because, by that time, there won't be any other Linux players. We will have succeeded once again.

Collaboration was a key theme at the Microsoft/Novell press conference. How does your version of collaboration differ from what transpired there?

Webbink: There is a very strong contrast. They both enter into a deal that involves basically licensing patents back and forth. They hand money back and forth at high levels and then, sprinkled on top of that, some technical collaboration with virtualization. Think back to the Microsoft/Sun announcement from a couple years ago; today, you haven't seen any of the promised technical collaboration from that partnership whatsoever.

Are there any new questions regarding patents that IT managers should be aware of now?

Webbink: Eben Moglen, (Free Software Foundation general counsel) this week, raised questions about whether or not this partnership was in violation of the GNU [General] Public License. Novell has fallen into the trap of allowing Microsoft to do exactly what it wants to do, which is to trumpet IP (intellectual property) solutions and promises.

This is not about IP. This is about the freedom to meet customer needs and to create competition. That problem is, you can be either for freedom and collaboration, or you can take a different approach. These companies are trying to do both. I can at least respect Microsoft, because they don't pretend to be an open source company.

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