Red Hat: time to come into the 21st century
It crossed my mind that Red Hat does indeed know how to put out a good Linux distribution, no matter whether it be a community effort or one for the enterprise.
By the evening, I was left wishing that they would put half as much effort as has gone into Fedora into their dealings with the media.
A few days back I was invited to join a phone-in for a "Red Hat Asia Pacific media and analyst conference call." I've been on several such calls over the years - some company officials talk for a while and then the assorted media hacks pose what questions they have.
But this call, which took place shortly after my encounter with Fedora Core 5, was different. The gent who welcomed one and all, one Colin Lee who appeared to be in Singapore - that's where Red Hat has its Asia-Pacific headquarters - ended his little speech by saying that no questions would be taken. Instead, media people listening in were asked to send in questions by email to the representatives in their respective countries. Lee was kind enough to promise to reply to the queries within a week! That's right, seven days.
These days very little happens in any connected corner of the globe without it appearing on some news website or the other within a few minutes of its occurrence. And here we had this gent telling media people from a number of Asian countries - he mentioned India, Malaysia, China, the Philippines and Australia among others - that this media call would be run in the manner that the old Soviet Union used to handle the media.
I had half a mind to get off the phone and take a nap. But then the idea for an article such as the one you are reading now began to crystallise. And so I decided to listen right till the end.
Matthew Szulik, the chief executive of Red Hat, and Charlie Peters, the chief financial officer, both based in North Carolina, spoke briefly. Neither executive appeared to have a prepared text - one can't blame them for being uninterested as it was nearly midnight in Raleigh, North Carolina, by then. They shuffled the talk back and forth and then, to my relief, finished having their say.
Then Gary Nasser, the chief of Asia Pacific operations, gave his bit of spiel. There was nothing of substance, just bizspeak with some facts and figures, which are only too well-known, being repeated. He made mention of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 as though it was a recent release; the boxed set came out in March 2007. (Red Hat even sent me one by mistake two days ago - they were supposed to send a copy of the Global Desktop and botched it up. Who would want to review software seven months after its release?)
There were plenty of subjects which could have generated some discussion - the patent case filed recently against Red Hat by a company called IP Innovations, Red Hat's concern over the recent EU settlement with Microsoft and the forthcoming Global Desktop distribution which is expected to be released in November, to name a few.
However, someone had apparently decided that this media call would be run the way they probably do things in Singapore, a country that is known for its social engineering. A couple of things really jarred.
Both Szulik and Peters made reference to a country named Korea which existed before I was born. Today there are two countries, named South Korea and North Korea - but I guess this distinction was unnecessary. There were also references to Asia as though the whole region is one amorphous mass. Of course, if anyone from this amorphous land mass were to confuse North Carolina (where Red Hat is based) with South Carolina, I'm sure that wouldn't go down very well. There would sure be some talk of ignorance.
Red Hat has a stated ambition of earning 60 per cent of its revenue from the region by the year 2009. Take it from me, a few history lessons would go a long way towards making that goal attainable.
Would Red Hat have ever tried to conduct such a "we speak, you listen" farce in the US? Or Europe? I know the answer to that - nobody would ever agree to dial in. Indeed, had I known it would be mere company propaganda, I wouldn't have dialled in either.
Ironically, Szulik referred to a desire to "bring the next generation of software developers (in the region) into the 21st century." Charity begins at home, sir. Red Hat would benefit greatly by pulling up its socks and moving into the same time phase itself. This manner of dealing with the media can only be described as archaic.
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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.