Twenty years ago today, the world had their first glimpse of the operating system that would eventually evolve into Red Hat Enterprise Linux with Marc Ewing’s "Halloween" release of Red Hat Linux. In the mid-90s, Linux was not the juggernaut that it is today, instead the domain of hobbyists and hackers. Red Hat Linux "Halloween," however, forever changed the game, showing not only the growing demand for Linux but also that you could actually make money in open source.
To help celebrate this milestone, we’ve asked some key Red Hat contributors, past and present, to provide their insight as to the impact that Red Hat Linux had not only on the eventual success of Red Hat as a company, but also to the exponential growth of the open source world in general. We’ll let them speak for themselves, but suffice to say that without Halloween, Red Hat, Linux, and open source in general would look much, much different today!
Erik Troan, founder and CTO, Pendo, vice president of product engineering at Red Hat (1995 -2003)
"The Halloween release did a few things for Red Hat. First of all, it sold out pretty quickly and showed Marc (Ewing) you could find revenue in open source if you tried. It also brought Marc and Bob (Young) together, paving the way for Red Hat’s founders to get together. It also became the first core distribution for NC State's Linux work. That relationship between Red Hat and NC State grew into a source of engineering talent for Red Hat, an early test audience for Red Hat releases, and an enduring appreciation for red, white, and black!
From a general open source standpoint, Halloween was an important step toward proving that Linux could be both a commercial success and a vibrant open source project. While Halloween did not see a huge amount of adoption (Approximately 500 copies were made) it showed that Red Hat didn't need to "take over" Linux in any way to build a product.
Finally, I still see elements of ‘Halloween’ in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, even to this day. The distribution had strong package management (through "rpp" as rpm wasn't written yet!), a relatively friendly installer, and tools designed to allow Linux adoption by individuals without a strong Unix background. Those same traits continue to inform Linux development at Red Hat today. Red Hat Enterprise Linux has succeeded because it continues to bring the power of Linux to audiences who don't want to learn the minutia of system administration. Marc's initial vision for a Linux distribution was to build a system which was ready to run out of the box, and Red Hat Enterprise absolutely follows in that path."
Denise Dumas, vice president, software engineering, Red Hat
"I think in any young company's existence, it's critical to get a viable product out the door as quickly as possible, emphasizing the 'viable' part. Getting a release out to prove success in the wild was an early demonstration of a Red Hat core strength: The ability to create a commercial product out of upstream open source material. Of course, today our release criteria have become far more stringent and truly enterprise-class, but we still know how to ship product.
The Halloween release was popular partly because it made Linux easier to configure. We still believe that ease of use and manageability are hugely important to our customers, across all of the Red Hat product line."
Michael Tiemann, vice president, open source affairs, Red Hat
"Two key aspects of Halloween coincided with emerging market conditions to fundamentally reposition Linux (and Red Hat). Previous Linux distributions tested users' patience and skills as they followed complicated ‘HOWTO guides’ to configure even basic things like networking. Such was the ‘cost’ of free software. The graphical configuration tools and other user-friendly features of the Halloween release converted the early adopters from apologists to evangelists almost overnight. At the same time, the World Wide Web was exploding into the mainstream. Microsoft was not focused on the Internet, and the Unix vendors were all worried about building bigger and more expensive hardware as they competed for the high-end of the enterprise. Linux, not UNIX or Windows, offered the most stable, inexpensive and ready-out-of-the-box solution for adding web servers to the net. And with its ease-of-use and rapidly growing user base, Red Hat Linux became the standard OS for the Web. This trend setting has in no doubt contributed to the overall Linux underpinnings of the Internet today – and we can all look back at Halloween as a most unassuming starting point."