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Linuxy Pranks, Microsoft Duds, and Red Hat Suitors

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Apr 6, 2009 4:00 AM PT

It's not every day a journalist gets to cover history-making news, but it's truly amazing how often such opportunities seem to present themselves at the beginning of April.

Linuxy Pranks, Microsoft Duds, and Red Hat Suitors

Take last week, for example. First, we nearly fell off our chairs when we learned that IBM had purchased Linus Torvalds -- so soon after we had interviewed him, too! Alas, poor Linus -- we hardly knew ye!

We had just barely recovered our composure from that one when the news hit that TomTom had acquired Microsoft.

GNU/Microsoft?! Have mercy, gods of the news!

'Monobuntu'??! Somebody Wake Me ...

We were still applying the ice pack necessitated by *that* little tidbit when word arrived that Mark Shuttleworth had announced he's rewriting the kernel using the Mono platform.

Aaaah! That's when we threw in the towel.

It was, of course, April Fools' Day, and what could be more fun than some Linuxy inspiration? Also making news in the Linux blogs was a set of pranks one could play on OpenOffice users -- if one so desired, of course -- and a little joke from the Ubuntu developers.

Courting Red Hat?

Yes, well, anyhoo. Back to reality: It was a little difficult not to be suspicious when reading *anything* on the blogs in the past few days, but particularly -- given what we had already seen -- when the discussion was about any kind of acquisition.

So, we were wary when we read rumors that both Citigroup and Oracle were considering buying Red Hat. Sure enough, even Forbes had a report on the topic, and the discussion spilled over onto Slashdot and Digg.

"Whereas I'm not too concerned about Red Hat Linux (especially since Oracle already has a version of it they brand as their own), my *real* concern is for JBoss, one of the best app servers out there," wrote wandazulu on Slashdot.

"I am worried," added upside. "Red Hat has embarked on a patenting strategy and the company may be bought by someone with less scruples."

'Bad for Everyone'

If Red Hat were to be acquired, what would it mean for FOSS? We took to the proverbial streets and asked around.

An acquisition by either company "would be bad" for FOSS, Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider.

"I am not opposed to monetizing or investing in open source software, but to be successful, it takes a company that is committed in principle to free [and] open source software," Travers explained. "Of those two choices, I think an Oracle acquisition would be unquestionably worse for FOSS, because Oracle would end up with a fairly strong conflict of interest regarding the success of the platform, especially when combined with rival databases such as PostgreSQL. I think such a deal would be bad for everyone."

Significant Differences

If Citigroup were to purchase Red Hat, on the other hand, "that would be better for everyone than for Oracle [to] purchase them, as Citigroup would basically own them as a holdings company, and one would expect the company to largely remain intact," Travers added. "However, I would worry about the priorities of Citigroup and Red Hat being sufficiently different as to cause longer-term problems."

The IT businesses that Red Hat could complement "don't understand how to make money in this area, or they compete directly with Red Hat in some core areas," Travers noted. "The holding companies are likely to have preconceptions about how Red Hat is supposed to make money, which are likely to be counterproductive.

"Hence, I think it would be better for everyone if Red Hat were to remain independent," Travers concluded.

'They Can Remain Independent'

Similarly: "Red Hat has a good business plan and are executing well, but I expect they have earned the loyalty of their shareholders, who will resist a takeover," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider.

"There could come a time when Red Hat may feel there is a greater opportunity with a merger, but I do not see it yet," Pogson added. "The cloud invites diversity, not consolidation. As long as Red Hat is growing rapidly and fills a need, they can remain independent."

Not everyone agreed, however.

'Big Name Exposure for Linux'

"Red Hat thrives more because of its business contacts than anything else, and being bought out can only enhance that," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

Similarly: "Big name exposure for Linux could help," Slashdot blogger yagu said.

Oracle deserves only "mixed reviews on their FOSS participation and support, but I give them a decent chance to add momentum to the Linux world with the imprimatur of an established player," he told LinuxInsider. "It's a good fit, and Oracle runs on Linux."

Such a move, if it were to happen, "looks like a move away from Microsoft," added yagu. "Don't expect Microsoft to look the other way."

'Not Cool Enough to Be a Mac Person'

Speaking of Redmond, we've also been mystified by its latest round of ads, and it seems others in the blogosphere have too.

These are the ads featuring "Lauren," who declares, "I'm just not cool enough to be a Mac person" -- and then gleefully goes on to pick out a Vista PC.

"I'll give Microsoft some credit for trying, but they just can't seem to get an ad right," wrote Thomas Teisberg on the Linux Loop. "In fact, their last few ads have looked more like parodies than real ads."

Yes, kind of like April Fools' Day jokes, one might almost say!

'They Completely Blew It'

In an analysis on the Fortune blogs, more than 400 comments followed as readers debated the merits of Microsoft's latest approach. So contentious was the discussion, in fact, that Teisberg was even compelled to write a follow-up to his original post.

"Some editors must be banging their heads against their desks right now," Mack asserted. "The commercial was almost a good one, but they completely blew it and opened themselves up to ridicule with that one comment too many."

Along similar lines: "What the heck is going on in the Microsoft advertising department?" wondered yagu. "Their ads are all over the map!"

Recalling the company's Seinfeld ads not long ago, "they flit from one idea to another, none effective, or at least never given time to gain traction," yagu added.

Good Enough for Microsoft?

Microsoft's ads may be effective only in the sense that "they're there," noted yagu, but "they won't convince Mac fans to switch -- no way, not a chance. They won't convince Linux users to switch. And, they're not going to convince any large companies it's time to experiment with Vista."

At most, "they may get a few extra folks to buy a new PC who hadn't been thinking of it," he said.

"I'm surprised Microsoft doesn't bring better advertising -- they have the deep pockets to bring the best," yagu observed. "Advertising is finicky and tricky, but Microsoft's feints and sidesteps in advertising baffle. They barely get on the radar screen."

Then again, "for Microsoft, that's probably good enough," he said.

'No Ads Will Save Them Now'

"I am no expert in advertising, but M$ seems to feel it is so powerful it can throw money into an ad campaign and get results," Pogson said in an email to LinuxInsider. "The problem is that so many of its customers have a love/hate relationship that they are bound to offend a bunch no matter what they do."

For Microsoft to ridicule the business plan of Apple or any other company is "obscene," Pogson asserted. "Their plan is to enslave the world. Apple at least works hard to produce a good product and compete in the market. Apple can charge a premium price because buyers feel it is worth that premium."

There are those who feel "that other OS is worth a premium too, but many feel they are locked-in by monopoly," Pogson added. "I was one of those, and escaped when the quality of their product was at such a low point that I woke up and downloaded GNU/Linux.

"The quality of M$'s stuff has improved, but it is still a poor design and can never be as good as GNU/Linux without a major overhaul," he concluded. "M$ had the opportunity with Longhorn/Vista but failed. They deserve to lose customers, and they are. No ads will save them now."


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