Red Hat IPO

t byfield tbyfield at
Fri Aug 13 07:25:37 PDT 1999

>Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 18:54:05 -0400
>From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at>
>Subject: Red Hat IPO
>So what do you Linux fans out there make of Red Hat going public? How
>can you make money distributing free, open source software? Is it one
>of the final acts of the mania that anyone would buy the


compared to some other dotcom offerings, certainly not--RH has, as martin schiller says, a number of products and a user base; it also has commitments from major hard- and software vendors on which it depends to distribute and support it; and both RH and these vensors have much to gain from allying themselves against MS. and last but not least, its basic proposition--to minimally, organize, collate, refine, and resell the fruits of workers who are in large part ide- ologically motivated to make the fruits of their labors available for free to all comers--could potentially be very sound. there def- initely is something to the claim that the OS/FS movement(s) is/are substantially different from plain-vanilla intellectual property mongering. it's not quite so ideal as OS/FS ideologues like to make out, but there's something there. the fact that a fair number of programmers who RH invited in as 'friends and family' for IPO pur- poses got locked out because they didn't meet the 'investor qualifi- cations,' i think that's a sign that that difference is real. not in some deep ontological sense; rather, in the sense that the structures of 'qualification' that financeers use as a barrier to entry are be- ginning to confront phenomena they can't really grok. there's no reason that the RH IPO couldn't be reproduced by some, maybe many, other companies that'll be a bit wiser; and if some of them find ways to circumvent these limitations so as to enrich their contributors across the board, then that could be the seeds of a serious change-- a de facto acknowledgment that publicly licensed contributions can serve as the effective equivalent of capital. don't get me wrong, i'm not making this out to be the End of Capital or somesuch other hogwash, far from it.

jamie <...>, formerly the head of the mozilla effort at netscape, has said something to the effect that 'linux is only free if your time is worth nothing'--in other words, learning how to use it takes so damn long (true) that you might as well pony up for a commercial OS instead. but most people's time *is* worth nothing, so there's a secret or un- intended truth to his maxim.

some niggling points on others' comments:

martin said that if RH can make the install as easy as mac or windows, they've 'got the market.' yes and no; installing is to use what a wed- ding is to marriage, and a nice wedding don't mean a marriage is going to last. linux is plagued by inconsistent user interface issues which need to be fixed--dumb stuff like whether you single- or double click on this or that, but not to be ignored. and all these 'configurators' are nic, but you just try using linux without ever editing an .rc file with a unix text editor or manually sifting through a unixish file structure--good luck to to you.

martin also pointed out that it runs nicely on machines that would other- wise be discarded. true; danny o'brien of NTKnow noted that with a certain kernel revision some months back, linux, by becoming quantifiably faster, actually *discouraged* newer, faster mahinery. nice point; we shall see.

and martin (a) asked if RH isn't the only company packaging distributions [no, not by a long shot], and (b) and said it isn't fre because you have to buy an RH CD [no, you can download it--presumably at cost, of course, but software CDs bear that ambiguity, whether they're commodities in their own right or merely a substrate/vehicle for another commodity].

but a question for doug: how do you see 'profit maximization' playing out in the case of OS/FS?

cheers, t

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