Q&A: Matthew Szulik, Red Hat CEO

Red Hat’s mission to stay atop the increasingly competitive field of Linux distributors took it on a seven-city tour recently, with the company’s executives looking to win hearts, minds and even some market share in the open source movement.

During a recent stop on Red Hat’s seven city tour, CEO Matthew Szulik sat for an exclusive interview with internetnews.com.

Q: Are you happy with current open source licenses, in particular the GPL [General Public License]? Does it work?

You ask an interesting question because there are a lot of discussions going on right [now] about the GPL version 3. From our standpoint, we look at it from our customers’ viewpoint, I think that there are modifications that we try to deal with on a one-on-one basis. As a blanket agreement there is certainly room for improvement, specifically around the issue of patents and intellectual property. There are some smart people looking at this, the OSS license for example is getting good scrutiny.

Mark Webbink, our General Counsel, has worked with Larry Rosen, Eben Moglin
and others. The great news is, like many advances in technology, it will
way to a better idea, a more customer friendly idea, I just don’t know the
time frame.

Q: Is there any potential for Red Hat to come up with its own license much the same as the Apache Foundation (and others)?

We would rather do business in collaboration with others.

Q: Is Red Hat abandoning its channel strategy?

We’ve had a channel strategy since the company was founded. We are building one of the most complicated channel strategies in the world through Dell, HP, IBM and others with preload agreements Fujitsu and Hitachi.

Taking a blanket statement like Channel Strategy, well what the hell does ‘channel’ mean?

If the question is how do you intend to attack small and medium sized businesses, our standpoint is that HP, IBM and others have very large channel relationships that are already in place. They have tens of thousand of resellers across their networks that we’re working with every day to be able to build financially successful programs for them.

If we don’t build an attractive program to go into a 400-person account that we may never service directly, then what good is having a channel strategy?

First of all we had to build the fundamental tenant of getting application availability, building a successful enterprise Linux platform and then now building the infrastructure to make the channel program successful.

The last part of that is of course to do that means you can support your channel partners successfully. That takes time. The point that I want to make sure is clear, is that we don’t want to do that in a traditional and conventional way.

What a lot of firms will do, is they’ll sign up 20,000 resellers, market the hell out of it and only 5 or 10 percent of them are productive and then you end up having all kinds of channel conflict. We’ve worked very hard to eradicate channel conflict from our business over the last year.

We want to make sure that we do focus on the SMB (small/medium business) market.

Q:Is there a potential for a lower-end mid-market, offering (not Red Hat Enterprise Workstation, but rather something between ‘Free’ Fedora and RHEL) potential in the future?

Sure. [Szulik smiled and declined to elaborate.]

Q: You’ve said on a number of occasions that one of your principal targets is UNIX migration. Do you believe that in the medium term “UNIX” is doomed?

I certainly don’t think it’s ‘doomed.’ [I think its] share will continue to decline and will continue to be eroded by Linux. In a lot of high volume OLTP [Online Transaction Processing] environments, very sophisticated environments, they have a
legacy of [IBM’s] AIX, HP-UX or [Sun’s} SOLARIS. Telecoms are a classic example of that, where there are certain environments where those systems have been built and they’ll continue to be supported and maintained for a long period of time. The marketplace that we want to approach is a very broad and large marketplace.

So, do I expect to see UNIX over the next 10 to 15 years go from 16 to 17 percent share now to something in the single digits? Absolutely.

Q: Were there any surprises on this tour?

The biggest surprise was in Boston, seeing Richard Stallman [the founder of GNU, Free Software Foundation http://www.fsf.org, the precursor group that gave rise to GNU/Linux]. He spoke passionately about Open Source and Linux and spoke very positively about Red Hat and its role in open source. I think that was a big surprise.

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