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The big boys are coming. Intel and Netscape are now officially investors in Red Hat Software. A year ago such a thing would have been almost unthinkable. But times have changed. We can hardly wait to see what happens next.

Meanwhile, despite the incredible volumes of press generated, the actual known facts are minimal:

  • Intel and Netscape have both made equity investments in Red Hat Software. We don't know how much has been invested, and they are not talking. One can assume that the amount of money involved is pretty small for a company like Intel, and quite large for one like Red Hat.

  • Two venture capital firms (Greylock and Benchmark Partners) are also investing money in Red Hat. Again, we do not know how much. The presence of venture capital increases the chances that the (currently tightly, privately held) company will eventually go public.

  • Intel is joining Linux International.

  • Red Hat will be setting up an "enterprise support division" to better meet the needs of large corporations. Exactly what this group will do remains unclear.

  • Linus has been saying happy things about these events.
Almost everything beyond that is speculation. If you want to see what Red Hat is saying, here is their press release.

Does this news mean that the "Wintel" alliance (between Intel and Microsoft) is over? Not yet. Intel invests in a number of companies that produce software for its processors; they have invested in BeOS as well as in Linux. Nonetheless, Intel clearly sees some future in the Linux system, and they are saying so in a very public way.

Does it mean a corporate hijacking of Linux? That is unlikely. Assume, for the moment, that Intel's intentions are malign and they are able to completely corrupt Red Hat. What then? Red Hat does not own Linux, and never will. If Red Hat turns nasty, Linux people will turn to somebody else.

But Red Hat shows no signs of turning bad. Perhaps more than any other commercial distribution, they have made a point of distributing a completely free system. They held the line to the point of not distributing KDE, even though it would have quickly given them a better desktop. Red Hat has also been serious about giving back to Linux. Much work on the kernel, GNOME, and other important systems is funded by them, and all of it is released under the GPL.

Thus we think that this investment is a good thing. It should result in:

  • More and better free software for Linux.
  • Better high-end support in the kernel: huge memory, huge files, lots of devices, etc.
  • Better acceptance of Linux in corporate environments. (That matters: many of us work in such environments, and many of the rest of you will. What system do you want to work on tomorrow?)
  • Better high-end support for those who need it.
  • Better support for new hardware, at least from Intel. This may be the path by which I2O support is added as well.
In summary, the benefits appear to be numerous, and the drawbacks few. This is a positive development for Linux.

There is one area of legitimate concern, though. Red Hat seems well on the way toward becoming the dominant Linux distribution vendor. Not only are they attracting funding in a big way; they have also managed to snarf up a number of high-profile Linux developers (Cox, Tweedie, Mena Quintero, ...). All of these can be seen as good things (i.e. it's great that Linux developers can get jobs working on Linux), but all together they raise the question of just how big and influential Red Hat should get. The diversity of distributions in the Linux world is one of its great strengths; no other operating system is available from multiple sources in this way (with the arguable exception of the BSD variants). We certainly do not need a single company in a Microsoft-like role with an overwhelmingly large market share.

The above is not to say that Red Hat should be held back (as if that were possible). Instead, here is to wishing for continued success for the other distributions out there as well.

GNOME 0.30 has been released. With this release, the GNOME desktop is reaching a usable state. Your editor spent some time playing with the new release, instead of doing real work. Interested parties may read the resulting review of GNOME 0.30 to see where things stand.

The Canadian nation-wide Linux installfest was held this last weekend; Dave Stevens wrote in to say that it was a huge success, and that folks interested in reports and pictures should go to the Installfest page.

Cygnus has released a new, open-source real-time operating system, called "eCos". Here is their press release. We have not yet had time to really look this one over, but it could prove to be a big thing. As "appliances" head more toward reality, the number of embedded systems will only increase. An open source system for embedded systems will be a great thing to have.

Remember that there are two contact addresses for LWN now. They are:

  • lwn@lwn.net for general correspondence, tips, and anything else that you would like us to see quickly.

  • editor@lwn.net for messages that you would like to see published in our "letters to the editor" section (on the back page). We are very much interested in receiving high-quality letters for publication. If you have something on your mind, send it our way!

October 1, 1998



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