Open software is not free: Red Hat

Software vendors dispels the myth that open source software has no costs involved

Open source is a development model and not a support one that does bug fixing, according to Red Hat global CEO and president, Jim Whitehurst.

“On a conceptional level, open source is a development model to come up with great software,” he said.

One of the problems Whitehurst highlights with open source software is that the things that make it an attractive development model, such as breaking problems down into small pieces and rapid fixing, also make it challenging.

“It’s very modular, and the saying in the open source community is that we don’t do bug fixes, we fix it in the next release, but you release early release often,” he said.

While Whitehurst admits that the approach is “great for adding functionality,” he said it leads to problems for someone trying to run a business.

“If you put a $100 million dollar billing system on Linux, two to five years from now you want it to work,” he said.

Every time there is a bug that gets fixed, Whitehurst said it only gets fixed upstream in Linux, or there is a patch.

However, if a business is running a three year old version of Linux, the upstream people are typically not maintaining it.

“Instead, they are fixing the brand new release, which if you try to run your billing system on, may break it,” Whitehurst said.

Bug fixing

What Red Hat does to overcome this is “freeze the spec” every few years, and then commit to supporting that software for ten years.

“Two years from now, when a bug gets fixed upstream, we have a set of engineers that literally track every package, every version of Linux that we ship,” Whitehurst said.

If there is a bug or security flaw in an old version that needs to be fixed, Whitehurst said Red Hat will do it without breaking binary compatibility.

“We have almost 800 people who do nothing but track those kernels and make those changes without breaking binary compatibility,” he said.

A service such as that does not come free, and Whitehurst points out that it is not something the upstream community does.

However, Whitehurst said it is something that needs to be done for “a product that is used for productivity.”

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.

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