Interview: Matthew Szulik, CEO, Red Hat
Matthew J. Szulik, chairman, CEO, and president, Red Hat Inc., has been leading small start-ups in emerging technologies, such as Interleaf, MapInfo, and Red Hat, into global, publicly traded firms for more than 20 years. In 1998, Szulik and Red Hat founder Bob Young shared a vision that the collaborative approach of open source, along with a great brand, could redistribute the economics of the technology industry from the vendor to the customer.
During Matt Szulik’s visit to New Delhi’s LinuxAsia 2005 in early February, technologist Alolita Sharma caught up with him and he agreed to an e-mail interview, which was published by Alolita in the March 2005 issue of Linux For You magazine. Matt covered a range of issues, emphasizing Red Hat’s unwavering commitment to support the open source community.
Q: Getting clients to adopt Linux on their servers is easier than convincing them to switch on the desktop. What is Red Hat’s strategy for getting organizations to switch? Will the same strategy work in India as in Indianapolis?
MS: Red Hat’s desktop strategy centres around solving customer problems experienced in the areas of manageability and security. Enterprise customers are increasingly showing interest in deploying a corporate desktop that is affordable and solves these issues. We have seen that the issues of systems manageability, security and cost are global issues.
Q: Some see SCO as the undying, if unwitting, friend of the open source community because it has forced OSS to organize and become more professional in facing its challenges. What is Red Hat’s view?
“The passion shown for open source and innovation in India is especially heartening for me to see”
MS: Red Hat works with the community every day to improve the collaborative process that will continue to outpace proprietary companies in the area of innovation. We have proved that Linux is a professionally delivered, highly reliable platform. As Linux adoption continues to broaden, we expect the competition and attention to increase.
Q: You are well regarded across the world for successfully mixing “social responsibility” with “shareholder responsibility”. What advice do you have for others who wish to create successful businesses out of OSS?
MS: Stay true to your beliefs. I was asked years ago, “When are you going to give up this open source gimmick?” Red Hat has not wavered in its commitment to open source.
Q: Education is one of your personal and company’s priorities. How can OSS boost education and deliver the benefits of knowledge in developing economies, especially in the non-English speaking world?
MS: Open source is accessible. It is truly a platform conceived and built on the Internet. Open source promotes the sharing of ideas and the idea of coming together to improve technology. Versions of Red Hat are now available in 15 languages.
Q: Many school systems in India and around the world actively exclude OSS from their curricula because they believe students must be prepared for jobs in an economy dominated by Microsoft — even if the Microsoft product space in developing economies is dominated by piracy. How can all of us help in promoting open source for our children?
MS: I believe people should learn the value of choice, and how choice can put power in the hands of the consumer for better technology and better service.
Q: Red Hat Network is your company’s value proposition to help large and small enterprises cost-effectively manage their computing resources. How can services such as Red Hat Network evolve to meet the needs of different customers in different countries, across different languages, economies, and cultures?
MS: Red Hat Network is globally an effective tool for managing systems, regardless of whether you have 10 or 10,000. Consistently managing systems is the key for best security practices and, ultimately, cost savings.
Q: Red Hat has said it is building a patent portfolio as a defense fund for OSS. Can Red Hat take a stronger stand? For example, IBM has committed 500 of its software patents for free use by the OSS community and at the same time threatened to withdraw permission for use from anyone litigating against the OSS community. Why are software patents such a menace? How can the problems of Intellectual Property best be addressed?
MS: All of the software packages available in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) are freely available to the community. We commend IBM for making this large contribution as well. Software patents symbolize the owning of innovation to some companies. Red Hat is developing a software patent portfolio for the reverse reason — to foster and encourage collaborative work.
Q: What are the grand challenges for Linux and OSS in the next five years?
MS: Linux will continue to face fierce competition as market penetration deepens over the next five years.
Q: As Linux becomes adapted to more environments, from embedded systems to mainframes, and is localized for Asia and other global regions, how can Linux avoid complexity and bloat or, even worse, fragmentation?
MS: Linux has been chosen as a standard platform from device to data center by many enterprise customers because of its common code base. A common code base unifies the systems in an infrastructure and creates great integration and compatibility.
Q: To keep the OSS software ecosystem in manageable harmony, what are the different roles of the different players with different agendas? For example, how do foundations and consortia such as FSF, Mozilla or OSDL, vendors such as Red Hat and Novell, and community luminaries such as Linus Torvalds or Matthew Szulik complement or compete with each other?
MS: The individuals and groups must be segmented according to their commitment to open source and open standards versus mixed or proprietary models. The open source community, comprised of many organizations and individuals, has thrived from working together.
Q: Do you have a message for India on open source?
MS: I am always inspired when I visit India and speak to university students, developers and professionals who have a real love for technology. The passion shown for open source and innovation in India is especially heartening for me to see. This is what moves technology.