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Red Hat: Customers are not afraid of Microsoft

Executive sees opportunities despite recent challenges to its position from Microsoft and Oracle.

Red Hat has had something of a bumpy ride in the last two months.

First, Oracle launched a competitive threat to the open-source supplier, then Microsoft inked a deal with Linux distributor Novell.

Alex Pinchev
Credit: Red Hat
Alex Pinchev

As right-hand man to Red Hat Chief Executive Matthew Szulik, Alex Pinchev has access to a lot of the strategic insights afforded to his boss, but is unencumbered by the diplomatic restraints placed on the chief executive. Pinchev, executive vice president of worldwide sales, speaks his mind.

On a recent visit to the U.K., Pinchev told ZDNet UK how Red Hat plans to respond to recent challenges to its position.

Q: It's been a tough couple of months for Red Hat. First, Oracle said it would sell support to Red Hat's Linux customers and offer its own free clone of the open-source operating system. Then Novell signed that huge deal with Microsoft. Let's start with Novell-Microsoft. What do you think of that partnership?
Pinchev: I'm very disappointed that Novell did it. They (Microsoft) went to the weaker player. We would never sell off our open-source community. You probably saw that the open-source community is really mad.

Was Red Hat approached by Microsoft for a similar deal?
Pinchev: If you listen to Steve (Ballmer), Red Hat has said many times no.

So were you approached?
Pinchev: We put a very clear message in the market that we would never do it. Microsoft has tried to kill open source for many years, but can't do it. I mean, how do you kill a community?

Novell and Microsoft have made multimillion dollar settlements over patent issues. Do you believe Linux breaks any patents?
Pinchev: No. We don't think open source violates any patents.

But you still offer financial protection for customers if they are faced with a patent claim.
Pinchev: We guarantee that if an infringement shows up, we'll replace the code. We also offer indemnification.

Has a case ever cropped up?
Pinchev: No. We don't say "open source needs patent protection." But it is here in case someone gets messy with the open-source community.

Do you feel Novell has an advantage over you now that it has signed the deal with Microsoft?
Pinchev: Customers are not afraid of Microsoft. Customers don't want to be dependent on Microsoft.

One of the key benefits Novell gets is working with Microsoft on integration. How do you respond to that?
Pinchev: We are part of the Xen project. (But) interoperability happens at the middleware level, not at the operating system level.

Talking about middleware, you acquired JBoss this year. Your chief financial officer, Charlie Peters, said last month that you were contemplating splitting the product into two versions--one unsupported, and one supported and subscription-based. Will you do that?

Pinchev: There are two things: Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. We want to have a similar model for JBoss. We want people to try the best and finest, but we also want a stable version.

How has community feedback been on your plans to split JBoss?
Pinchev: So far it's been pretty positive. People like the Fedora model.

What about the second major threat to Red Hat: Oracle's announcement?
Pinchev: They are forking their Linux operating system. Oracle open source is not a Red Hat operating system. It is an Oracle operating system based on Red Hat. We have an ecosystem around our operating system and it's a very expensive value proposition. The minute Oracle takes open source into their own environment, they are breaking their own certification. Customers want to know what happens in the future. They will have to wait for us to support it (Oracle's version). It's not an easy thing.

Oracle said it would offer support at less than half the price of Red Hat. How can you compete with that?
Pinchev: One thing , another in reality. It's half our list price without volume discounts and it's just vanilla support. With Oracle, there's one 24-7 support, the same subscription for all your environment. You are buying support you don't need. We discuss with customers different service levels for dedicated parts of their infrastructure.

The argument is ongoing about whether the Microsoft platform is more secure than Linux. Is it still a sensible debate?
Pinchev: It's not. There were 18 security breaches in 2005 to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Ninety percent were fixed within one hour. You will not see that at Microsoft.

You are planning to launch Red Hat Enterprise Linux soon. But you've delayed it, with the release moved back from this quarter into the first three months of 2007. Why is it delayed?
Pinchev: We need to make sure that it's really fully tested, and very, very stable. You don't have to pay more for it, it's not like Vista.

What's your take on Vista, which launched two weeks ago?
Pinchev: People are concerned about Vista: usability and the resources it requires. People will look at the alternatives when they have to replace hardware. That is absolutely an opportunity for us.

Richard Thurston of ZDNet UK reported from London.