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Red Hat to collide with Microsoft

Red Hat and Microsoft both have big ambitions. The problem? They're roughly the same ambition.

For years, Red Hat has happily sold Linux to Unix shops anxious to save money at equivalent or better performance. During this time, the company largely avoided Microsoft, which has tended to compete much higher up the stack. No longer. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer argues that one of Microsoft's biggest opportunities lies in enterprise infrastructure and associated application development.

Red Hat, meet Redmond.

Red Hat wants to own the infrastructure market. The company is nearing its initial $1 billion goal, but has a far more audacious ambition: own half the associated middleware market.

This is a direct challenge to Microsoft, especially the manner in which Red Hat aims to go about it. As Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst noted in the company's earnings call earlier this year, Red Hat is "laser-like focused on that mission of commoditizing these key (infrastructure) layers" through open source.

It's not a strategy that will endear the open-source agitator to Microsoft.

After all, Microsoft is also focused on these opportunities, as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told TechCrunch:

Biggest opportunity that we never talked about is enterprise infrastructure. Most of that goes to the database and mainframe vendors today who are in the business. We've got four billion in revenue and yet we're a small market share player.

Servers, there are going to be more new applications written in the next five years than any five-year period of time.

The two companies can't help but run into each other. Will they also be able to collaborate? They must. No customer is going to exclusively run either Microsoft or Red Hat technologies. The two have showed an ability to get along, if only a little bit. Can the two come together even as they seek to beat each other to bloody pulps?

Time will tell. But the market is about to get very interesting again. To achieve its goals, Red Hat must increase its investment in JBoss to make it an even better application platform that can effectively compete with Microsoft and its comprehensive infrastructure/middleware/tools suite.

As it does so, it's going to bump into Microsoft SharePoint, which is increasingly used as a platform for building applications, much like Red Hat's JBoss application server. SharePoint has come under threat from Google recently, but this is a battle Red Hat will have to fight, too.

As for Microsoft, I can't see how it can hope to compete with Red Hat's open-source strategy without including a healthy dose of open source, itself. Figuring out how to maintain its profit margins and sales potential, while simultaneously encouraging the growth of its developer ecosystem, is going to be difficult without open source.

It's a battle for the heart and soul of the enterprise, and it's going to get a little messy. It's about time.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.