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Red Hat Cautiously Optimistic About UnitedLinux

Red Hat, Inc. is taking a wait and see attitude on the subject of newly announced UnitedLinux.

This was the basic line that came from an interview with Red Hat's VP of Marketing Mark de Visser this afternoon. Even in his official prepared statement, de Visser projected a sense of cautious optimism about today's announcement:

"Too many distributions hamper the migration of applications to Linux, so if this effort by Caldera and others consolidates distributions it is a good development. But in Linux, application support is everything. Red Hat Linux Advanced Server has it today. Time will tell if the Caldera group's distribution will achieve the same level of support."

Delving into the background of that statement a bit more, de Visser emphasized the notion of application support, which is what he thinks will make or break UnitedLinux in the long run. Application support is something that Red Hat has no problems accomplishing, and he wondered if UnitedLinux would be able to meet this challange.

"By the time they release their distribution," he said, "they will have to prove they can handle application support."

Red Hat seems to not be terribly concerned that this new distro is going to make a big change for their business. According to de Visser, many of the players within UnitedLinux have not shown up in Red Hat's accounts before, and he does not see this changing in the near future.

"The market dynamic has not changed much," he said, "There were four distribution companies before and there will be four distribution companies after."

As for the open invitation for Red Hat to join UnitedLinux, they are again taking a wait and see approach. Clearly, de Visser explained, the circumstances would have to be advantageous for Red Hat to join UnitedLinux. If, he raised as a hypothetical, Red Hat would be required to lose its development staff in favor of UnitedLinux, then obviously Red Hat would not be interested. In reality, negotiations on the role of Red Hat in the newly formed group would have to be worked out.

Red Hat was not surprised by the creation of UnitedLinux, but they were concerned about the spirit of the move until just yesterday. "Until they called us yesterday, the whole thing smelled of competition," de Visser said, adding that Red Hat felt better about it when they were notified before the formal announcement and asked to work with the new distribution group after all.

de Visser strongly downplayed the notion of a competition between Red Hat and UnitedLinux, citing Microsoft and Sun as the real challengers to Linux.

He also made a point to highlight Red Hat's own Alliance Program, which, like UnitedLinux, seeks to bring in independent software vendors' products into the Linux arena. One upcoming example of that will be Oracle's announcement next week about its new Unbreakable Linux, where Oracle products running on Red Hat Advanced Server and Dell server hardware will be combined to form a very solid product line. If these are the kinds of things UnitedLinux hopes to achieve, de Visser said, then Red Hat is already ahead in terms of bringing certified, ported software to Linux.

When asked about the perception that Linux companies are leaving the desktop users behind with this sudden fixation on the enterprise, de Visser was very quick to counter this idea as a complete misperception.

"Some of the most exciting development in Linux today is taking place on the desktop," he said, citing recent advances in Evolution, StarOffice, and Mozilla. "I think that, very soon, we will be offering a good desktop for users."

Red Hat, he stessed, has not abandoned the desktop at all.

As for UnitedLinux, de Visser and the rest of Red Hat want to see the product produced by the fledgling distro. That will be the real proof in the pudding.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of LinuxToday.