Jim Whitehurst has been president and CEO of prominent Linux distributor Red Hat since December 2007. During that time, Red Hat has blazed a trail in becoming a profitable vendor in the open source software space, challenging Microsoft and Unix companies and adding such technologies as the JBoss application server. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill spoke with Whitehurst, asking him about the company's dealings with Microsoft, how Linux sizes up against rivals, and where Red Hat's technology is headed.
InfoWorld: Microsoft has a close business relationship with Suse Linux. That seems to be Microsoft's Linux of choice, and the company doesn't seem interested in having the same kind of partnership with Red Hat. Is that a problem for Red Hat?
Jim Whitehurst: We'd be happy to work on interoperability with Microsoft or anyone else. But it certainly has not been an impediment to our business. We've grown a lot faster and obviously have a much larger share than Suse.
InfoWorld: Have you approached Microsoft about having an arrangement similar to Suse?
Whitehurst: We have a cross-virtualization certification program with Microsoft. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is certified on Hyper-V, and Windows Server is certified on Red Hat's virtualization. We haven't overly pursued doing much more with them.
InfoWorld: Does Red Hat see a lot of Windows Server or Unix in the competitive landscape anymore?
Whitehurst: Not really. Frankly, I wish I saw Windows more in deals. I think there are architectural decisions made before either Microsoft or we are even contacted about where the Unix workloads are going to go. But what normally happens with most customers is there's a general sense that over time Unix is going to migrate generally to Linux. There's a general sense that those workloads are going to move.
InfoWorld: What's the deal with Unix?
Whitehurst: Expensive. Just bluntly, the hardware is expensive, the software is expensive, the licenses are expensive. [For a time, that price was justified by] a perception around high performance, security, or reliability. But I think over time Linux [has satisfied those needs]. Over half the world's equity trades happen on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It's secure. The NSA is a large contributor to the security in Linux. As we have checked all the boxes in terms of reliability, scalability, and performance, the value proposition of Unix has continued to drop.
InfoWorld: What about Linux on the desktop? Is that ever going to have more than a tiny market share?
Whitehurst: I don't think it will ever have a large market share. It depends on how you want to define it. The desktop is becoming less and less strategically relevant, and the only reason it's relevant at all is a whole set of legacy fat client applications. Nobody's writing a new fat client application now. Everyone is writing things to run back on a server somewhere and present it in HTML5 or with a client app on a phone or a device. The desktop is just no longer strategically relevant. The question is, "Over time, will that be Windows or Mac or Chromebook?" If it's a Chromebook, it is Linux. If it's Android, it is Linux.