Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Red Hat: plenty of sales, but no media strategy

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A media release from Red Hat, trumpeting the take-up by Australian oil and gas company Santos of its enterprise distribution, tells us one thing about the company.

And that is that it is still green behind the ears when it comes to managing its publicity. Ham-handed is a mild way of describing it - but then this is one of the trademarks of open source companies. After 17 years in the business, Red Hat should have matured a bit on this front.

The release about Santos was put up on the Red Hat site nearly a month ago. Then, presumably, someone realised that the media should know about it. Perhaps because Santos sales last year were in the region of $2.2 billion.

The funny thing is, there are other companies - Lonely Planet and Specsavers, for example - which have done similar or bigger deals (one can only judge by the details provided) with Red Hat. Presumably again, these deals were finalised after the Santos transaction as they were detailed on Red Hat's site at a later date.

The savings which Santos is said to have achieved is $2.5 million, peanuts for an organisation of that size. More importantly, a number of legacy proprietary and mixed systems were brought onto a single system, making administration for the technical folk that much easier.

What Red Hat has achieved is less clear. Figures are not provided - open source companies are remarkably closed about such things and asking is a waste of time - and the provision of 12 IBM 3650 M3s is not exactly an earth-shaking event. Cost-wise the bare metal would be something in the region of $60,000.

(Even that statistic on the servers was not in the release - it was on the company's website. I always wonder when Red Hat will realise that being upfront about things like this will do it a world of good.)

Add another $500,000 (an over-estimate on my part) for services, installation and updates over the next three years and the contract isn't all that big for a company which is turning over close to a billion green ones every year.

The PR value is, however, immeasurable (not from outlets like this, though). It is rarely that any customer, even a big one, is willing to come out and talk about a switch to Linux, especially in Australia. Twice in the past, I've been promised stories by vendors about Linux take-up on a big scale and the deals have always fallen through because Microsoft popped up at the last minute with something that was much cheaper.

In one case, the company in question was playing fast and loose and just negotiating with the Linux supplier in order to get a better offer from Microsoft.

It would be interesting to see how the "groupie" media outlets - most websites that offer publicity to free and open source software are remarkable in how uncritical they are - make of this.



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Sam Varghese

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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.