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An Indecent Proposal: Microsoft and Red Hat?

An Indecent Proposal: Microsoft and Red Hat?

Bloggers have been chewing on a suggestion that Microsoft buy Red Hat. The problem is that "Microsoft tends to do best when people have no choice, and consequently has gotten used to treating customers badly," Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out. "Now people avoid them unless they are absolutely necessary, so the day Microsoft buys Red Hat is the day many people switch distros."

By Katherine Noyes
03/24/14 1:56 PM PT

Good ideas can arise in virtually countless ways, but sometimes all it takes is someone to ask the simple question, "What if?"

That, in fact, is just what happened in an article at GigaOM recently, though it wasn't until several weeks later that the idea proposed began to pick up steam.

What was said idea, you might ask? The article's title sums it up nicely: "Why Microsoft should just pack it in and buy Red Hat."

Now all that remains is for the blogosphere to decide on a verdict: Is the notion crazy, compelling -- or both?

Bad for Everyone

Linux Girl

"About 12 years ago, I suggested that this might be a good idea," began Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone.

"Microsoft should buy an established version of Linux and build their own custom window manager on top of it," Stone recalled thinking at the time.

"I thought a similar approach to what Apple did with OSX and the BSDs would be great for Microsoft and Linux," he explained.

"Unfortunately, today I think that Microsoft buying Red Hat would just amount to Microsoft shutting down most of the valuable portions of the company and botching up the OS for the current users," Stone added. "I don't think that Microsoft can get out of their 'Windows everywhere' mentality, despite their new CEO."

In short, "buying Red Hat would be bad for Red Hat, bad for its users, and I think ultimately bad for Microsoft," he concluded.

'Hell Would Freeze Over'

"Oh, the horror!" blogger Robert Pogson exclaimed.

"M$ certainly could afford to buy the shares of RHT and force a change of management, but the folks at RHT are FLOSSies," Pogson said. "They would all quit and start a 'fork' of Red Hat's business. That would be the end of M$'s move to dominate the world of servers."

It's theoretically possible that Microsoft could "adopt FLOSS and do things right, but Hell would freeze over before they will do that," he opined. "M$, in all my years, has never done what an ordinary business does: compete on price/performance. They've made a few moves lately, but they are almost always to pay people to use their software -- not a sound business plan."

'They Have SUSE'

What Microsoft should do is "adopt a distro like Debian GNU/Linux and add the tools they think their customers want and turn loose the salesmen," Pogson suggested. "They could even afford to produce their own distro, but they can't just link in all kinds of non-Free software to GPLed stuff and make it work. That's not legal."

Of course, Microsoft "already owns a large part -- if not all -- of SUSE Linux," Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol pointed out. "So, if it's a distro MS wants, they have SUSE."

Either way, "in the end, M$ can't just start using GNU/Linux after spending hundreds of $millions telling the world how inferior/expensive/patent-encumbered GNU/Linux is," Pogson concluded. "M$ has painted itself into its own corner, and not until the house burns down around them can they get out. Same with their loyal customers."

'Many Users Distrust Microsoft'

It wouldn't make much sense for Microsoft to buy Red Hat, Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told Linux Girl.

"What you have to understand is that growth is very difficult at Microsoft's scale, and they can only do this by buying midsized businesses in new markets," Travers explained.

"In some ways that might seem to support purchasing Red Hat, but there are several reasons why I don't think that would be good," he added. "First, many Linux users distrust Microsoft, so it isn't clear whether one would see the customer base shrink as a result of the acquisition, and that also impacts Microsoft's ability to grow in the market. Instead Microsoft's efforts fall, quite rationally, in the area of offering virtualized Linux instances running on Azure."

The problem is that "Microsoft tends to do best when people have no choice, and consequently has gotten used to treating customers badly," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out. "Now people avoid them unless they are absolutely necessary, so the day Microsoft buys Red Hat is the day many people switch distros."

'What Would They Be Buying?'

More than a few Linux bloggers dismissed the article as so much linkbait.

"I think this is a case of it would be good for Microsoft to buy Red Hat, but I doubt anyone is seriously thinking of doing this," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien suggested. "I think someone at GigaOm needed to gin up some page views to meet the quota and picked this out of the random topic generator."

Not only that, but "if you think about it, what would they be buying?" O'Brien added. "The code? That is already open, and they cannot under the license make it proprietary. And if they used it in any of their products, they would have to open those up."

If, alternatively, "they did it to buy the people, who really thinks the folks who work at Red Hat would stay on in a hell hole like Microsoft?" he asked. "Nope, it doesn't make any sense, and no one should pay attention."

'RH Is Not for Sale'

It all amounts to FUD, opined Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C.

"Both companies are billionaires, and although Micro$oft is coming down like a zeppelin, I think RH is not for sale," he explained.

Of course, "we never know if micro$oft is going to sell a GNU/Linux version more aggressively -- say, Windows 10, built upon SUSE Enterprise Linux. ;-)" Gonzalo Velasco C. pointed out.

Finally, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took an even stronger view.

'No Way in Hell'

"The entire article is just dumb pie-in-the-sky fantasy," hairyfeet began.

"RHEL does two things VERY well: HPCs and Webservers," hairyfeet explained. "But WinServers do both HPC and WebServer. Value? NONE."

Moreover, "after Oracle got OO.o forked away from them and MySQL forked away from them, you REALLY think a big corp is gonna buy a FOSS company that isn't already a FOSS company?" he added. "And MSFT knows how much the FOSSie faction hates them -- all they would 'gain' by buying RHEL is the death of Red Hat, because the die-hard GNUHeads would burn their hard drives before they EVAR used anything that was 'tainted by M$.'"

Bottom line? "The entire article is frankly clickbait," hairyfeet concluded. "No way in hell will it ever happen -- it would be a bigger waste of money than when Ballmer bought Skype."


Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


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