Red Hat CEO On Recession, Virtualization, Ballmer

Jim Whitehurst says his firm has encountered a "perfect storm" of conditions furthering its growth in recession.
"I'm not on Steve Ballmer's Christmas card list yet," quips Whitehurst, but the two companies have found areas in which to cooperate. Both are competing with VMware, so each certifies the other's hypervisor as working with its operating system. He also says the rise of both Google and VMware has diminished Red Hat as a target in Microsoft's sights. It now has new challenges in the operating system and mobile device space without worrying about what Red Hat is up to, he noted.

When it comes to competing in the virtualization market, "our view, sad to say, is more similar to Microsoft's than Oracle's." Oracle, Sun, IBM, Virtual Iron (now part of Oracle) and others saw Xen as a joint way to compete with VMWare through an open source alternative, and most of them brought out their own version of Xen. That was a mistake, said Whitehurst. They fragmented Xen's appeal and subdivided its community.

Now the MySQL database appears about to go inside Oracle, as it awaits final approvals on its bid to acquire Sun. It's possible once it does, Michael "Monty" Widenius, one of MySQL's authors will start promoting his version, MariaDB, as the only legitimate open source MySQL. If that happens, "the code will fork, which is one of the worst things that can happen to open source code," he said.

A development project with outside reviewers, testers and contributors is stronger when the code remains intact, instead of "fracturing the community" that surrounds it, he said. If that occurs with MySQL, it would not necessarily be Oracle's exclusive fault, he added.

Whitehurst sees more and more open source firms being acquired by major companies because of the quality of the code produced in open source projects. But he thinks it is better for both the project's developers and the community if an open source company remains independent. Red Hat is such a company, he said, and issued a departing jab at Oracle. "I like the strategic clarity of being pure open source. I do worry about the mindset you have to have as part of a large company," he said.