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Red Hat's state of the union

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat's CEO, calls for greater enterprise contributions to open source, which may well prove to be Red Hat's biggest competitive differentiator.

As much as I may say the open-source and proprietary software worlds are converging, in terms of business models, Red Hat continues to resist and to stand largely alone in its resolution to deliver value unmitigated by proprietary licensing.

In a state-of-the-union address on Monday, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst calls out the Red Hat difference and points to one key area in which the consuming open-source community can become a contributing open-source community:

I've met with customers and partners all over the world during the past 13 months and have heard great stories about companies who are not only consumers of Red Hat and open source, but who have also contributed back.

While this is great news, I'd like to develop even deeper relationships with our customers and work together more closely to develop solutions that serve real needs and solve real problems. This continues to be a top priority as we move into 2009 as truly collaborative partnerships are instrumental to delivering value to Red Hat customers.

I've called this untapped market for enterprise contributions to open source the big issue in enterprise computing. To the extent that Red Hat can serve as a nexus for the John Deeres and Citigroups of the world to contribute code back to open-source projects like Linux, MySQL, and more, it will establish itself as the preeminent vendor of the 21st century.

For now, however, Red Hat needs to figure out how to unlock corporate contributions to corporate communities. It turns out that individuals find it much easier to contribute than collections of individuals (companies), but if Red Hat can crack this code, it will have a real strategic weapon against Microsoft.

A group of open-source CEOs on Tuesday sent an open letter to President Barack Obama, lauding him for his transparency and suggesting he take a closer look at how open source can benefit the nation's IT needs.

This is useful, but I think Red Hat's leadership on enterprise contributions to open source is even better. Red Hat isn't relying on others to create open-source success. It is making its own success.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.