Red Hat Inc. began when a small businessman met a geek at a tech conference. Marc Ewing was the technologist busy hacking, debugging, and spinning his own distribution of Linux® on CDs from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The name Red Hat came from Ewing’s experience in his college computer lab. He would wear his grandfather’s red Cornell lacrosse cap, and people would say, “If you need help, look for the guy in the red hat.” When Ewing started distributing his own curated version of Linux, he chose Red Hat as the name.
Bob Young was a visionary small businessman running a computer supply catalog business out of his home in Connecticut. He noticed a growing interest in Linux, so he began to buy Ewing’s Red Hat Linux CDs. Young sold out of them so many times that he and Ewing joined forces, and Red Hat Software was born in 1995 with Young as CEO.
At the time, Red Hat offered a favorable alternative to Microsoft, which was in trouble with the U.S. Justice Department for monopolistic practices. Instead of protecting trade secrets and filing patents for expensive proprietary products, Red Hat offered a stable, accessible distribution of a constantly evolving, community-developed operating system called Linux.
When the Shadowman logo was created, it reflected Red Hat’s outsider, subversive, revolutionary reputation. Part superhero, part private detective, Shadowman reflected the Red Hat® origin story, especially the early market strategy of bringing open source into datacenters, sneaking past the barriers built by proprietary technology companies.
Shadowman represented Red Hat’s history of doing the right thing. Red Hat viewed itself as an upstart charging the gates of a closed, monopolistic technology industry. The company knew open collaboration was the best way to create better software faster, but it had a lot to prove.
Red Hat went public in 1999 with a record-breaking IPO. The IPO also came with an update to the Shadowman logo—the icon got “cleaned up,” and Red Hat was spelled in more professional type. Even though Red Hat had emerged as the open source leader early on, this newsworthy success validated the belief and trust in open source that Red Hat had from the beginning.
Before downloading software became possible, Red Hat® Linux was a boxed product sold beside Microsoft Windows and Lotus Notes in retail stores. While the development model was open source, the distribution system was conventional. Similar to other software companies, a new version of Red Hat Linux was released almost every six months in hopes that customers would buy the new version for new features. Red Hat made a little extra money on the side selling hats, T-shirts, and stickers.
In 2001, Red Hat declared its trust in open source once again and stopped the distribution of boxed Red Hat Linux, its flagship product and a major source of revenue. Instead, an enterprise edition was sold on a subscription basis. Matthew Szulik, then CEO and a tireless open source evangelist, believed in the open source development model and in Red Hat’s role as a catalyst for change in the technology industry. In 2006, he charted what would become Red Hat’s vision:
To be the defining technology company of the 21st century, and through our actions, strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing content and technology.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux continued to be the company's flagship product, an open source offering to the world’s most demanding datacenters. Its success led to more than a decade of steady growth and allowed Red Hat to invest and participate in other open source communities, adding more features and capabilities to the product along the way. When confronted with change, Red Hat applied open source principles; people fiercely debated, collectively adapted, and built an entirely new Red Hat. These were the defining moments.
Jim Whitehurst became President and CEO of Red Hat in December 2007. In 2009 he initiated a new collaborative mission statement that told the world not only of Red Hat’s dedication to open source but also to the open source way:
To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.
In 2012, Red Hat became the first open source technology company to surpass more than US$1 billion in revenue. Today, more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Red Hat, and Red Hat products and solutions are trusted on a global scale. Red Hat has become the logical choice for anyone working in enterprise IT who needs rapid innovation and wants to avoid the risk of doing it all themselves.
Red Hat began the Open Brand Project, an open initiative to update and simplify the corporate logo and brand system. The company had grown tremendously in 19 years, and technology had become increasingly more functional and flexible, so the Shadowman logo could not keep up with the Red Hat story. Other issues led to this discussion about the old logo. Today, the Red Hat logo is an unambiguous, bold, bright red hat that best reflects the company's reputation of inclusivity, authenticity, and helpfulness.
Red Hat continues to transform the future of open source technology by joining forces with IBM. In 2019, IBM acquired Red Hat for approximately US$34 billion, breaking the record for the largest software acquisition in history. Together, IBM and Red Hat will continue to innovate with a next-generation hybrid multicloud platform with a goal to redefine the cloud market for business. As the company looks toward the future, Red Hat is still Red Hat and continues to hold the same values and principles that guide its brand.
In early 2020, Paul Cormier was named Red Hat's new President and CEO. Cormier, who has been with the company since 2001, previously served as President of the Products and Technologies division, driving major strategy shifts and expansion of its portfolio of products and services. He continues to guide the company with the same values it has had since its inception.
In 25+ years, Red Hat has grown from a small home-based business into the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source solutions. Perception has shifted from seeing Red Hat as a disruptive rebel to a trusted adviser. The company has moved well beyond Red Hat Enterprise Linux into virtualization, middleware, application development, storage, cloud computing, and management. As always, everything continues to be made the open source way.