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Red Hat CEO: We're at the Dawn of the Information Economy (and Linux is the Sun)

From the 'open source as a tool of industry' files:

BOSTON. There are keynotes that are little more than product pitches, then there are conference keynotes that educate and inspire. Red Hat CEO, Jim Whitehurst delivered the latter during his keynote kickoff for the Red Hat Summit here today.

Whitehurst gave the capacity crowd of 3,000 plus a history lesson in the economics of industry, going all the way back to the first industry – agriculture. He explained how the Industrial revolution changed the world and drew some very stark parallels with how the modern Information age is now unfolding.

"We've talked about being in an inforJim Whitehurst, CEO Red Hatmation age for the last 60 years but now we're finally in the information economy," Whitehurst said. "Information assets are now more relevant for the first time and competitive advantage is more driven by information than physical assets."

With the Industrial Age, it began in 1750, but Whitehurst argued that it wasn't until 1810 with the invention of the auto-lathe (a tool that made standardized nuts and bolts) that the true value of industrialization was realized. Prior to that invention, nuts and bolts were not commodities but once they became componentized, innovation led to the internal combustion engine, planes, trains and automobiles.

"60 years after the invention of the computer we are now finally getting to standardized piece parts, what i'd call cloud computing," Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst added that if nuts and bolts could have been patented and you had to buy your screwdriver form the same company you buy your screws, jet engines would not exist today. That’s where open source and standards, much like the autolathe of 1851 are critical.

"I gave a mundane view of the cloud as nuts and bolts but the other half of the story is what you can do with the nuts and the bolts," Whitehurst said. "We're now finally giving standardized parts, so people can do what they want."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.