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Distribution: Debian, Red Hat, Slackware, Fedora, Ubuntu
Red Hat CEO: Go Ahead, Copy Our Software
While most companies fight copycats, Red Hat embraces its top clone, CentOS. Here's how that helps it fight real enemies like VMware.
Imagine your company spent more than $100 million developing a product. Now imagine that a competitor came along and cloned your product and distributed a near-perfect replica of it. Not good, right? If you're Apple, you spend years and tens of millions of dollars fighting it, determined to be the one and only source of your product.
If you're Red Hat, however, you embrace it—as Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst told ReadWrite in an interview.
While some like Microsoft have threatened Red Hat with the specter of even greater competition from CentOS, Whitehurst argues that CentOS "plays a very valuable role in our ecosystem." How? By ensuring that Red Hat remains the Linux default:
CentOS is one of the reasons that the RHEL ecosystem is the default. It helps to give us an ubiquity that RHEL might otherwise not have if we forced everyone to pay to use Linux. So, in a micro sense we lose some revenue, but in a broader sense, CentOS plays a very valuable role in helping to make Red Hat the de facto Linux.
But couldn't another Linux vendor like SuSE or Canonical, the primary backer of Ubuntu, undercut Red Hat with an equally free OS? If $0 is the magic price point, other Linux vendors can easily match that, right?
Whitehurst responds: "SuSE often comes in at a lower price point than RHEL, but most people would prefer to have a common code base like RHEL plus CentOS than a cheaper but always fee-based enterprise SuSE."
In other words, only Red Hat can offer the industry's leading Linux server OS and also offer—albeit indirectly—that same product for free.
Microsoft has tacitly acknowledged a similar phenomenon: While the company spends heavily to fight piracy, founder Bill Gates noted in 1998 that illegal copies of its Windows operating system in China helped seed demand for the paid version.