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Today’s Dell-Ubuntu announcement has garnered some attention. It’s great news that Dell has decided to join other OEMs in delivering Linux desktops. Demand for Linux clients is increasing across the board and we’re glad to see this further evidence of the inexorable expansion of open source to new users and new markets. The continually rising open source tide is good for society, good for customers and, yes, good for the industry.

Linux desktops are nothing new. All the major distributions - commercial (including Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and free (including Fedora) - have substantial user bases. We’ve seen major companies and governments around the world specify and adopt Linux for a variety of reasons. Some require its characteristics of Reliability, Availability, and Security (RAS). Some value its adherence to open standards, including the Open Document Format. Some are tired of paying Microsoft’s prices. Some don’t want to be locked in to one vendor.

Just as the reasons for adoption are diverse, so are the users. Home users. School children. Engineers and scientists. Insurance agents. Checkout clerks. Secret agents. You name the area, and there’s Linux and open source being used.

Two major questions will likely arise from today’s announcement:

  1. Is Red Hat serious about the client (as opposed to server) market?
  2. Why is Ubuntu involved in this announcement with Dell, and not Red Hat?

Let me tackle the first question. The answer is: yes. Red Hat has invested, and we continue to invest, in delivering great client solutions. But we won’t be all things to all people. Client markets are very diverse with a wide range of applications, users and geographies.

One focus area is changing user paradigms to make computing better and more accessible to more people - think One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). Another focus is to redefine the cost, complexity and risk of deploying, managing and supporting clients in the enterprise. And a third focus is allowing small businesses in all countries to have access to the the same benefits of information technology that larger companies have. We’ve decided to focus our client investment in a few key areas. We’ve chosen these areas because we don’t think it’s our mission to build a Windows clone. We think it’s our mission to make computing better, more accessible and more powerful. In Red Hat parlance, we want to democratize technology.

We’ll be discussing these in more detail at the Red Hat Summit next week, and in other announcements throughout the year.

The second question is: why Ubuntu and not Red Hat?

Frankly, I think this question misses a major point. There’s a big market out there for open source and with it comes a diversity of vendors. Our focus at Red Hat is encouraging the growth of free and open source software. We think it creates better software, better communities and better value. We think we do it well, for the customers we seek to serve. Energy should be directed to helping people take advantage of these benefits, but because the question is being asked, I’ll share some perspective.

From time to time we receive proposals from hardware vendors to preload software onto desktop or laptop computers. When the arrangement makes appropriate financial and strategic sense, we pursue it. When it doesn’t make sense, we don’t pursue it. Buying market share is an easy way to get headlines, but doesn’t build a sustainable business model which allows continued support or investment, remember our goal is to completely change the paradigm.

That doesn’t mean we only pursue opportunities if there’s money involved. Fedora is the most popular Linux distribution in the world - each release is installed by millions, perhaps tens of millions, of people at no charge. Additionally, Red Hat has offered its resources to design and develop the user interface for the global One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project to help create a borderless online world.

But in the case of today’s Dell-Ubuntu announcement, I am not privy to the arrangement the two companies struck. I do hope the project is successful. The real win for everyone is accelerated adoption of open source.

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