Red Hat Focuses on Domesticated Open Source

16 May 2022
Justin Warren

Red Hat’s announcements at this year’s Red Hat Summit were largely claiming that whatever customers wanted to do now, Red Hat had already been doing it for years. This was a weird thing to claim while simultaneously saying the word ‘innovation’ as often as humanly possible.

Red Hat announced a new version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, RHEL 9, which mostly rolls up a bunch of features that have been available elsewhere for a while. There are some neat things in here, like the Integrity Measurement Architecture that helps detect rogue modifications to RHEL. There are also things like disabling login as root by default that I’m surprised wasn’t already a thing.

There was lots of talk about edge computing, which Red Hat would have you believe is just another kind of cloud. This is because Red Hat wants to be a common environment to develop and operate on, no matter where you are. OpenShift Everywhere could have been the slogan for the show.

Red Hat also wants us to think of Hybrid Open Cloud, which is Red Hat’s attempt to relabel what Red Hat already does so that it seems fresh and relevant to what customers want. This is pretty common for technology companies to attempt, but it’s low-information waffle for the most part.

Hybrid just means “not everything will go into AWS”. This has been obvious for years, despite the best efforts of the censors in AWS PR. Open means “whatever we do” because when was the last time you saw something advertised as ‘closed’? Cloud now means “has a computer in it” because what even are words? Likes are now florps and the timeline goes sideways.

The Reality of Red Hat

The most interesting thing was said during Q&A with Matt Hicks, Executive Vice President of Products and Technologies. He said that there is a big difference between a project and a product, and he’s right. Open source has lots of projects, but enterprises want to buy products.

This sums up what Red Hat truly is: a mechanism for turning open source projects into products that enterprises want to buy.

Red Hat is in the business of domesticating open source projects, and it should spend a lot more of its energy talking about this. This is genuinely the thing that Red Hat is great at, and most of its competitors are not. I wish Red Hat would talk more about why this is a good thing, and what benefits it provides in comparison to the other options that customers have.

Red Hat is trying to paint itself as being for everyone, everywhere; a kind of everyman’s technology company. But this bumps up against the specific choices Red Hat has actually made in specific verticals, such as its partnership with GM and work on the Red Hat In-Vehicle Operating System.

This message isn’t especially compelling when we have lots of choices for what we can use. Automotive Linux exists, and we know it does. Red Hat’s own messaging says that customers will choose more than one option! Pretending there aren’t alternatives does Red Hat no favours, nor does empty bleating about being ‘the best’—whatever that means—when you’re a large company like Red Hat selling to a large and diverse market. When and why should we choose a Red Hat option, and when should we not? These are the kinds of important, strategic questions CIOs need to answer, and I saw very little from Red Hat that would help them to find these kinds of answers.

Disappointing Level of Innovation

Saying the word ‘innovation’ isn’t the same as actually being innovative.

Nor is doing the same tedious keynote format of tired clichés and forced banter that was already boring before the pandemic. Two years of suffering through horrendous webinars has reduced my tolerance for this stuff, I suppose. I require a clearer connection between the claims being made and the lived experience of the real world outside.

The picture of the new normal painted by Red Hat looks a hell of a lot like the old normal. Red Hat’s claims were mostly trying to position itself as having already done what customers want. Now maybe that’s true, but there was a kind of glib triumphalism masquerading as positivity that I found off-putting. The past two years sucked.

Red Hat has some good products, and a lot of good people, but the overall tone of the show was off. It was too glib, too smug, and too divorced from the reality of the world outside the conference venue. I was left wondering why I was spending my time listening to the usual hyper-positive techno-futurism when I could have been doing something that actually made the world a better place.

After more than two years of a global pandemic that killed millions of people, and continues to kill people, my priorities, and those of many people like me, have come into sharper relief.

The mediocre is the enemy of the actually good, and I’m not willing to settle.

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