BOSTON - Red Hat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Matthew Szulik had the air of a motivational speaker Monday evening, citing his company's improving finances and growing user base as evidence of a sea change in the IT industry and promising more Red Hat jobs for beleaguered Massachusetts workers.
Tall and clean-cut, Szulik exhorted a mixed audience of IT industry veterans and fresh-faced college students to commit themselves to a coming struggle between proprietary and non-proprietary operating systems that will "change the world". But he also quietly conceded that Red Hat faces tough competition in the open source market from Novell Inc. and is years away from displacing Microsoft Corp.'s Windows on the desktop.
Szulik was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the tail end of a three-week "World Tour" to promote the company's products, services and plans for the future. The tour was cosponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. and included stops in Tokyo, Brisbane, Australia, Sydney, Munich and London.
Speaking just blocks from the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Szulik said that open source companies such as Red Hat had to recruit the "best minds" to supplant an economic model based on proprietary software with one based on an open source development.
"Our challenge is not to build the infrastructure, but to find the talent to change the world and compete against the best in the world," he said.
Red Hat plans to focus its investment in parts of the country, such as Massachusetts and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, where high tech companies have easy access to talent from local universities and can partner with higher education and state government, Szulik said.
Noting Red Hat's healthy corporate balance sheet and Massachusetts' enthusiasm about using open source software in state government, Szulik said Red Hat is hiring and plans to increase the number of employees at its local engineering and research and development center in Westford.
While optimistic about the future of open source software, Red Hat's CEO also acknowledged that the company will face stiff competition from competitors, including Novell, which purchased rival SuSE Linux AG in November, 2003.
"They're a new competitor, absolutely," Szulik said about the combined companies, adding that competition was good for the Linux community and for customers. However, Szulik cast doubt on Novell's ability to make the open source model profitable in the long term.
"The issue is one of different economic models. ... With Red Hat you have a company that has been working in the open source world for 11 years and providing service to our customers. Compare that to a company that has been selling proprietary software for 20 years, but is now calling itself an open source company. The question is, 'Can they transfer to that model?'," he said.
Red Hat's CEO put a similarly sunny face on lawsuit brought by The SCO Group Inc., saying that it benefitted Linux customers, who now enjoy legal indemnity for use of Linux from Red Hat, Novell and others that wasn't available before the suit.