February 18, 2005 4:37 PM PST

Red Hat: Fedora will engage customers

BOSTON--Top Linux seller Red Hat acknowledged on Friday a misstep in its relations with technology enthusiasts but said the profit motive is helping it to mend its ways.

The problem came in recent years when Red Hat threw its energies into a stable product called Red Hat Enterprise Linux. RHEL let the company grow from a small market of technically savvy customers to the large market of mainstream customers.

But in the process, Red Hat left those "early adopters" behind, said Michael Tiemann, vice president of open-source affairs. That was a problem because Red Hat--a pioneer in the business of open-source software--believes customers should be directly involved in designing and creating products from the earliest stages.

The company now is trying to rectify the situation with a more aggressive Fedora project that's designed to engage again with those customers and outside developers. Part of that effort was the first-ever Fedora User and Developer Conference (FUDCon) held Friday at Boston University.

"One of the mistakes we made when we launched this Enterprise Linux product was we focused so exclusively on this enterprise market that we left this (early-adopter customer) square uncovered," Tiemann said. "It insulted some of our best supporters. But worse, we lost our opportunity to do customer-driven innovation."

Marten Mickos, chief executive of open-source-database company MySQL, said at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, also in Boston, that it can be difficult for open-source software companies to balance their commercial interests with those of their community of developers. It's best for them to indicate clearly where they're being self-interested and where they're not, he said.

"If people are unsure of your intentions, then they lose trust. You can see with Red Hat..." Mickos said. "They realized they went a little too far away and now they are back there saying that Fedora is good. There are companies that went out of business because they couldn't handle this part."

And Red Hat has ample competition. Projects such as Gentoo lure hard-core Linux programmers, while Sun Microsystems is trying to build its own community of programmers around its OpenSolaris project.

The company acknowledged that Fedora didn't live up to the expectations it set when it launched the project two years ago. But the project has shown some success in maturing technology quickly so it can be incorporated into RHEL, Tiemann said.

"Fedora creates the DNA that allows us to create a new product," Tiemann said. For example, it was the heavy Fedora feedback that let Red Hat graft the Security Enhanced Linux, or SELinux, feature onto RHEL 4 without much disruption to customers, he said.

Red Hat hopes Fedora will expand beyond Red Hat's boundaries through a component called Fedora Extras and a publicly available system for building new versions of the software. Tiemann hopes the current 1,600 or so different software packages in Fedora will grow as high as 3,000 or 4,000 this way.

Outsiders are working at getting more engaged. The Fedora version of Linux today runs on computers with x86 processors--both 32-bit models, such as Intel's Pentium, and 64-bit models, such as Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. But that base is expanding.

The upcoming Fedora Core 4 is slated to support computers with IBM's Power processors, such as Apple Computer's G5. A Silicon Graphics programmer, Prarit Bhargava, is trying to bring Fedora to computers using Intel's Itanium processors. And Red Hat programmer Tom "Spot" Callaway, working on his own time, has begun converging his Aurora project, which lets Linux run on Sun Microsystems' Sparc processors, with Fedora.

CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.

9 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Fedora is great...but i just wish Nvidia would make drivers that work!
One only needs to take a glimpse of the nvidia linux forum to see all the complaints of instability when the latest drivers are installed against our vid cards <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.nvnews.net/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?s=&#38;forumid=14" target="_newWindow">http://www.nvnews.net/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?s=&#38;forumid=14</a>

Also this problem does not affect Fedora alone...

I just hope Nvidia gets these problems sorted out.
Posted by FocusedWolf (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nvidia's making the same mistake as RH
If you were using a standard modern distribution
with a standard kernel, you would find nvidia's
drivers work perfectly. Seriously, try it --
run the latest fedora, SuSE, Mandrake, whatever
using the kernel that comes with the distro.
You will get excellent performance and zero
hassles.

Where NVidia fails is with the enthusiasts. For
example on one of my machines I'm running
2.6.11-rc3. This is not yet compatible with
nvidia and so I'm back to running nv. And this
is by no means the first time the kernel I'm
running is too new to work with nvidia. The 2.6
series, 4k stacks, SELinux, they all broke
NVidia.

Eventually those features became mainstream and
about that time nvidia modified their drivers to
work with them.

Another problems I have with nvidia is on a
different computer. For various reasons, mostly
relating to power consumption and noise, I have
a G4 based server rather than an x86 based one.
That machine cannot run the nvidia drivers at
all because they're binary only and so I have to
go with ATI.

For ordinary users this is not a problem, but
for enthusiasts it means use nvidia = have
problems. RedHat has had exactly the same thing
with fedora (and it sounds like they've _just_
realised it). They saw that the real dollars
were away from the enthusiast market and
embraced the dollars. Fair enough, but if you
alienate the enthusiasts then support for your
product support will be fickle.

Will nvidia learn the same lesson? Who knows.
Maybe the 2.8 process will get enough enthusists
sick of them that nvidia notices the problem, or
maybe not...
They're helped considerably by a lack of
compertition -- ATI's binary drivers are worse,
and ATI's open source drivers are behind nvidia
at this point. Also, ATI concentrates on
directX while nvidia concentrates on opengl and
all linux apps (including linux emu. of windows
games) use opengl. So even if the ATI drivers
improve, they'll be hard pressed to beat nvidia.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
problems with fedora leave serious concerns about red hat
To be honest, my experience with fedora core linux is that it doesn't work; there are more features than competing distributions, but most of those features don't work. I use Debian, and gentoo, I've dablled with suse and mandrake, and others. I'd say that by not allowing free distribution of their enterprise product, red-hat has hurt it's source: linux. linux should always be linux, red-hat is differenctiating itself from linux, and I think that's bot a bad business move for them, and a good reason I won't deploy RHEL on any network I administer. I'd rather carefully build a stock debian, slackware, or gentoo image that install something that's not really true open source, since I can't really try before I buy. I have to buy to try.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
RHEL not good value
We bought RHEL for our site and it costs a fortune. From shell, type chfn and hit enter. Segmentation Violation. What exactly are we paying for?
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
RHEL is not for you.
RHEL is for users who have heard that throwing
'linux' at their computing problem will make it
reliable. They are the PHBs of your nightmares.

Now, fair enough, those people weren't being
targetted by any other distros despite being the
players with the serious cash. The fact that a
binary-identical version exists for thousands
less does not interest these people. RH has gone
after them with what most people consider to be
a fairly good product.

For people who understand that RH just brands
linux, there are plenty of distributions to
choose from. Debian, SuSE, Mandrake, Gentoo
even, Ubuntu, etc. Find what suits you and go
nuts.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Solaris??
I would be stunned if solaris makes a measurable
dent in RedHat's community. I expect most of
the disinfranchised RH users have swapped to
SuSE, Mandrake, Debian, Ubuntu or Gentoo rather
than solaris.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Talk about a head-faked PR move
I was one of those many programmers/testers who felt rather let down by their decision to drop RHL for their Enterprise Business Model (the money maker). It was disappointing and dismaying, leaving you displeased with their executive decision makers. Now, to read this head-fake towards contrition... let's say I'm perfectly content with my my new programming OS [suse].
Posted by echodots (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fool me once...
Shame on you. Fool me twice; Shame on me.

I was a loyal Redhat customer. I subscribed to their excellent customer support service and used it on several desktop and server computers. Then, one day, Redhat said that they didn't want me for a customer and that they would keep the money I had paid (the remainder of my one year subscriptions) and I was just out of luck. They ripped me off and said that if I wanted to be their customer I had to start paying a huge fee.

Do you think any of their old customers is ever going to trust them again?

I was forced to leave my comfortable Redhat nest and look for another distribution. And what did I find? I found that Debian/Testing has better support, for free, than I Redhat gave me for cold hard cash. It is easier to install. Easier to manage software upgrades. And, more reliable.

BTW: for those complaining about the nVidia drivers. The bad ones didn't make it into Debian/Testing, I have had zero problems with nVidia drivers since moving to Debian/Testing.

Bob Pendleton
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So what.....
I have moved on to Debian and Suse.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.