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Red Hat: Microsoft still 'aggressive as hell'

CEO Matthew Szulik talks about staying relevant in a world where the operating system isn't the talking point it once was.

Three or four years ago, open-source providers enjoyed plenty of attention. Just ask Novell, which more or less reinvented itself thanks to the open-source fairy dust provided by its acquistion of the Suse Linux distribution.

But now some of the disruptive energy seems to have dropped away, as attention turns increasingly to the collaborative potential of the Web. Google and the buzzword du jour, Web 2.0, are capturing the attention once enjoyed by the struggle between Linux, Windows and Unix. As the operating system layer becomes commoditized, focus appears to be shifting to the Web as the real disruptive platform.

Against this backdrop, some of the darlings of the open-source community may struggle to stay relevant and hang onto the kudos they once enjoyed. Red Hat is the leading provider of enterprise-ready Linux, and continues to enjoy financial success as a result, but how does the company evolve and stay relevant in a world where the operating system is not the talking point it once was?

ZDNet UK sat down with Red Hat chief executive Matthew Szulik at the company's user summit in Nashville for a brief discussion on how he intends to keep his company on the cutting edge and battle the biggest threats to its future success.

Some of the momentum around Linux seems to be petering out; how do you maintain interest in your company, and what else do open source and Linux have to offer?
I think that it takes a strong sense of identity to know that what you are and what you do is vital. We are an infrastructure supplier that creates a high-level operating system. We have some incredibly bright, highly informed people who love technology. To make any kind of shift of direction based on the latest trend would be a mistake--the market would spit me out.

But isn't the entertainment technology project you announced today--Mugshot--based around the kind of online collaboration technology at the heart of Web 2.0? That wasn't in our minds when we created the project 18 months ago. Mugshot is an attempt to bridge a gap and attract more mainstream interest in open source.

Some commentators have claimed that Microsoft is beginning to soften its stance on open source and Linux, and is becoming less confrontational--is that something you have witnessed?
They continue to be as aggressive as hell, as far as I am concerned. They have still got an awful lot of firepower.

If your acquisition of application server company JBoss had been completed in time for this summit, would you have more to talk about beyond the operating system layer?
The acquisition has not been delayed--I think that we set expectations for it to complete in the early part of June. Until then I can't really say very much beyond broad generalizations of how it will affect our business.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Red Hat at the moment?
Well, integrating JBoss into our business is a pretty important one. But continuing development around Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and pushing ahead with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (due by the end of this year) are also challenges.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from Nashville, Tenn.