Red Hat ponders going proprietary

The company is considering closing off its flavor of Linux and selling it as a proprietary OS aimed at enterprises

Editor's note: The following story is from InfoWorld's 2009 April Fool's spoof-news feature package. It is not true. Enjoy!
In a surprise announcement, Red Hat is looking into a move away from open source and making its flavor of Linux a proprietary OS. The shift, if undertaken, would be a tricky one that would delve into thorny legal issues of ownership within the open source community.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst indicated that the proposed move is intended to bolster Red Hat's position as a leader. "We see open source getting embraced more and more by not only customers but other vendors like Microsoft, and I think this can be directly attributed to Red Hat's leadership," said Whitehurst. "Now is the time to reassert our leadership by taking the next step and making our products and community full-on commodities. Naturally, we think this will appeal directly to enterprises, which crave the stability and security of proprietary systems."

[ Open Sources blog: See what the key open source trends for 2009 will be | Yesterday, Red Hat released Fedora 11, which could give an indication as to the direction of RHEL | Another way Red Hat could go private: Get bought by Microsoft ]

Left unsaid by Whitehurst was how, exactly, he plans to pluck Red Hat's Linux from the open source community and wall it off. He said only that the company's lawyers were "investigating options" and declined to elaborate further.

The fundamental question raised by the move is who ultimately "owns" Red Hat Linux. The company apparently believes it does, but there is the question of the Gnu GPL, the license that some, but not all, of the Red Hat Linux source code falls under. The company may be considering separating the GPL and non-GPL code, keeping the non-GPL code, and replacing code still under the GPL with proprietary versions, but the process of separating the millions of lines of code could prove to be prohibitively costly.

Alternately, Red Hat might claim ownership of all the source code and try to figure out an escape from the Gnu GPL. To this end, rumors are circulating that Red Hat is trying to bring Gnu pioneer Richard Stallman onto its board of directors to help smooth over any GPL issues.

Joe Stewart, an analyst with the Stanfield & Barksdale Group, said that Red Hat's move could justify its risk. "They're really going out on a limb with this, and they could engender an awful lot of ill will in the IT community for basically turning their backs on their stated principles, but it's not as though they don't have a valid point here. Many open source companies have searched for new ways to monetize their offerings, and Red Hat has one: Use open source to create your product and cultivate a community, and then commodify the whole package," he said.

Whitehurst says he expects to have a final decision on the issue by the end of the third quarter.

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