Red Hat’s mindshare, and my summer internship

[Edited to clarify who was saying what, and a postscript added to further clarify my position re: developer mindshare.]

Silicon Valley Sleuth said Thursday:

“Red Hat may not be perfect, but the vendor has by far the most developer mind share within the open source community.”

James Governor replied Friday (in his links, which he should make more linkable ;), like Stephen does):

“what might that mean? there is no single open source community.”

James is completely correct that there is no single open source community- there are server people, desktop people, solaris/bsd people, ‘commercial’ open source people, ‘enterprise’ people, community people, etc., and each of those is splintered into a thousand different projects and products.

But here is the thing- Red Hat has a huge mindshare in basically all of those areas. They may not be liked; in many spaces they are being aggressively competed against; and in some places they are losing. But however you slice it, people are definitely aware of RH in virtually every open source community. If you’re an enterprise deploying ‘enterprise’ open source, odds are very high you’re using RHEL, though OpenSolaris is charging hard. If you’re doing web hacking, odds are overwhelming you at least evaluated RHEL or Fedora as a server, even if you settled on Debian or something else. If you’re doing open source desktop deployments, the same (though replace Debian with OpenSuSE or Ubuntu). If you’re an open source community of any stripe, odds are good your software has developers and users who use Fedora. (Mozilla, for example, gains the majority of their market share from Windows, but gets a ton of patches from RH [ed.: see comments], runs on RH, and one of the Mozilla board members is a RH employee.) If you’re a BSD, you’re aware of (jealous of?) of Linux’s (and hence RH’s) market share. If you’re an open source company, you’re envious of RH’s cash flow and growth, and you’re studying (and maybe mimicking) their business model.

So there are many open source communities/spaces, and RH is being challenged aggressively in all of them. But RH is one of the few who can legitimately claim to have significant mindshare, either as a player, tools provider, or role model, in just about every one. So I think the original comment that James quoted is originally correct.

What about me?
One of those spaces I haven’t mentioned yet is the open source/corporate legal space. RH’s leadership on patents has been a model other open source companies should follow, their trademark policy is influential (even if I wish it could be done differently), and they get themselves involved in critical work like GPL v3.

Given that important role, I’m really excited to write that I’m going to work as an intern for RH’s general counsel’s office this summer. I’m sure I’ll be doing the legal equivalent of fetching coffee all summer, and at best working tangentially on the really interesting stuff I’ve mentioned above, but still- it is an interesting and influential place, and I’m excited to get three months to peek inside it, and take away lessons that I can apply wherever I work in the future.

[Tangentially, as an open source-concerned intern, I’m not just excited about how Big And Important Red Hat is, I’m also pleased that they seem to get the little details right. For example, their company code of ethics (which I signed yesterday) explicitly says that contributing to open source projects, even if it adversely impacts the company, is not a violation of the conflict of interest rules. This can’t perfectly cover the natural tendency not to bite the hand that feeds, but it is a very solid step other open source companies should emulate. There are other nice, pro-open source/pro-community things scattered throughout their non-compete, code of ethics, etc., but that was the one that really jumped out. I’m always nervous when opening up an NDA or job contract- but after reading through this one I was thoroughly pleased. Kudos to RH on getting the little details right- another reason why I’m excited to work there for the summer.]

Postscript: on developer mindshare

After I originally wrote this, James and Stephen argue that “the linux platform with the most developer mindshare, we argue, is clearly Debian.” I have to disagree. I don’t think that has been true for a long time. Debian is clearly respected, and lot of people (including me) believe that Debian’s health and strong stand on Freedom are critical to the long-term health of Free software. But Debian’s long delays between releases and terrible installer (better now, but still primitive when compared to any modern distro) have been costing it users and mindshare for nearly a full decade now. I used to be a Debian bigot- to install Debian on my first laptop, c. 1999, I was very happy to jump through 1,000 hoops. One of the first hoops was to do a full Red Hat install, because even in 1999 Red Hat’s installer was light years ahead of Debian’s, and I couldn’t convince Debian’s installer to recognize critical bits of my hardware. I haven’t given a moment’s thought to installing Debian since late 2001, when I realized I could get a journaling FS in a RH install and it was likely to be literally years before I would get that in a stable Debian release. (I’m pretty sure that the default installer for stable Debian didn’t recognize ext3/XFS until Sarge, in June 2005; coincidentally the same release that included GNOME 2.x (first released in 2002) in stable.)

This doesn’t even consider Debian’s constant internal bickering, which I’m willing to ignore when choosing an OS, but which generally has made their developer community the laughingstock of other large free software projects. Debian’s developer community is the retarded boogeyman the rest of us want to avoid being (and I say that as a GNOME developer, where talk first/develop later has become a scary norm. GNOME still isn’t that bad.) I think that has cost them a lot of mindshare, at least among knowledgeable/’old hand’ free software developers.

So… I love Debian, and think it is critical to the long-term health of the Free Software ecosystem. I hope it always has users, developers, and mindshare. But I haven’t considered installing it in ages, and I think I’m in a large majority there. If even a complete Free Software bigot like myself won’t install it, I can’t believe that it has dominant developer mindshare. I’m pretty sure that position still falls to Red Hat, by virtue of their broad user base, broad commercial uptake, and freedom, ease of use and up-to-dateness for non-commercial (read: community) users.

(Worth noting, by the way, that Ian seems to agree that RH is #1 in mindshare.)

45 thoughts on “Red Hat’s mindshare, and my summer internship”

  1. Congrats Luis! I’m sure that you’ll have a great time @ RedHat this summer.

  2. Congratulations on the internship, just started working with Red Hat myself this month. While not always respected, I’m proud to be a part of it, everything I’ve seen thus far indicates that they are a company that genuinely strives to do the right thing. That’s a lot more than can be said of most tech companies of their caliber.

  3. […] Glad to have you aboard. Actually I would have been happy if you had ended up at the fsf or any FOSS company doing legal work. I know I have talked to you and you have said you are not a technical person but as far as importance to GNOME and Free Software I place you as one of the most influential people I personally know. GNOME loses a small piece of itself the less you are able to be involved but I can say meeting you at the New York GNOME Summit and watching you debate with Richard Stallmen made me realize how diverse and wonderful the community really is. Again, glad to have you aboard. […]

  4. Nice! I joined Red Hat a couple of months ago and it is a great place. From what I have seen (both as upstream developer on various projects and recently as RH engineer) RH-devs blend in with the community. Which might make them less visible, but also more trusted (they are individuals in a project, playing by the community rules, not just corporate code pushers). They have blanket assignments in place with lots of projects. And everything they do is as much as possible pushed upstream before they ship it. One of the reasons I wanted to work for RH was precisely because as a developer I could trust RH that I would be able to do my job together with the community as peers to deliver the best possible product for our users. This might make your internship a little boring because RH does let the community decide about licensing :)

  5. Hey, Mark, Devan- thanks for welcoming me into the fold.

    This might make your internship a little boring because RH does let the community decide about licensing :)

    Heh. Like I said, I don’t expect it to be that interesting ;) And I don’t think picking from among existing licenses is all that exciting anyway, even if I did get to do it- I’d mostly just say ‘GPL, GPL, oh, you’re a library, LGPL.’ My theoretical/constructive interests are in creating new licenses for things like trademarks and patents- things where there aren’t really good existing free software licenses to choose from. Since writing those is a high-investment process (as GPLv3 is demonstrating) I do expect that long-term lots of that sort of innovation will come from RH or other companies, and not the respective communities themselves. The trick is making sure that the licenses serve larger interests and not just the corporate ones.

  6. […] Luis Villa’s Blog » Red Hat’s mindshare, and my summer internship “So I think the original comment that James quoted is originally correct.” – must respectfully disagree with Luis here; i think the quote would be correct if it was intended in a commercial context – if not, i think Debian+ has *far* more mindshare (tags: Debian RedHat Linux Villa) […]

  7. hey nice to hear about your internship luis. very cool. can you do me a favour though and perhaps make it a bit clearer the original comment, and what i responded to? the way this is laid out it isnt entirely clear who said what, and what i responded to.

    i see now you were commenting to my delicious links.

    the linux platform with the most developer mindshare, we argue, is clearly Debian.

    nice pointer on the code of ethics. i might pick up that.

  8. […] Finally, my badgering of our legal department has finally paid off in a tangible way!  I think you’ll have a great time.  Our legal department is filled with incredibly good people.  The kind of lawyers that don’t like lawyers.  Always a good sign.  I hope that it as good as I believe it can be.  And we’re always in the middle of interesting things, so you might get some exposure to some pretty neat stuff, and some amazing thinkers. […]

  9. Dude. Congratulations. RH is a great place to work, and I think you’ll have a lot of fun there. :)

  10. Luis, one correction. RH hasn’t contributed much to Mozilla for quite a while. This is no slur — caillon has a lot to do and does it very well — just pointing out that “Mozilla gets a ton of patches from RH” isn’t true. (Mozilla did get a ton of patches from Novell, while I worked there … credit where credit is due :-).)

  11. congrats Luis.
    I agree with you that RH has a cool bunch of employed open source/free software dev guys.

    nevertheless i won’t swallow your Debian comment :-P.
    Debian is often used in telco, big provider lvl – places where you won’t expect it. They appreciate the stability, the long release cycles and the costumability. Both grow together.

  12. > But I haven’t considered installing it in ages, and I think I’m in a large majority there.

    Um…c’mon. This isn’t exactly fair, is it? You admit you don’t know ANYTHING about any recent Debian install (which one would have to include Ubuntu in, and it’s a pretty dang nice installer), yet you dismiss it completely. Not very nice. I haven’t installed RH in ages (4? Maybe 5?), but I don’t make comments about it. I’ve seen the installer, and it seems pretty nice. Just not my cup of tea. (FWIW, the newer Debian installers aren’t pretty, but they’re solid. Ubuntu is pretty and solid.)

    WRT developer mindshare…most “hard core” open source developers I know either run RH/Fedora, Gentoo, or Debian/Ubuntu. Not in that (or any particular) order.

  13. Not very nice.
    Mindshare isn’t very nice, though; it isn’t about merits, it is about zeitgiest and conventional wisdom, and so whether it is deserved or not, Debian suffers from how primitive/unusable it was for several years.

    Re: Debian and Ubuntu- Ubuntu’s main impact on Debian’s mindshare, IMHO, is as a reminder that ‘base’ Debian is (1) a great foundation and (2) a terrible actual experience. That gap may be less than it was, but Ubuntu’s ongoing success suggests a widespread perception that the gap is still there.

  14. Have to agree with Ken here.

    > and so whether it is deserved or not, Debian suffers from how primitive/unusable it was for several years.

    By the same token, you’d agree with people choosing KDE (or whatever) because Gnome 1.x was a terrible experience. You haven’t tried Debian since 2001. Gnome 2.0 was released in 2002. See where I’m going with this?

    I agree that Debian’s bickering is often painful to watch – they live up to their poster (at

    Nevertheless, I don’t think you’re giving Debian enough credit. Most devs I encountered were on Debian, because it was just more convenient to develop on when all the build deps are just an apt-get away. As for the installer, ever since sarge it’s been a lot easier and more versatile then most installers I’ve seen. Maybe not as pretty though.

    Maybe Ubuntu is where all the fun is these days, but I tend to see Ubuntu/Debian as one, because Debian needs some kick up its collective pants, and Ubuntu sure as hell wouldn’t be able to survive without Debian.

  15. you’d agree with people choosing KDE (or whatever) because Gnome 1.x was a terrible experience.

    I’m not talking about ‘agree with’. I’m talking about mindshare. What I think (or better yet, what I should think) and what the general mindshare/conventional wisdom/zeitgeist is probably have very, very little to do with each other. Example: saying ‘George Bush got 51% of the votes in the last election’ doesn’t say anything about whether or not I agree with George Bush. Conversely, saying ‘I like GNOME’ says nothing about whether or not more people use/like GNOME or KDE.

    I think you’re confused by where I say ‘Debian is bad for X and Y and Z.’ It doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong about those things. So what if I’m wrong? I’ve been properly chastened; maybe I’ll look at it after my spring exams. That doesn’t fix Debian’s larger problem- which is that in the early ’00s it lost mindshare, and no matter how much better the installer is, or how much more sane the release cycle is, the mindshare is gone and it is damn hard to get it back without not just catching up but leapfrogging ahead.

    [And again, when talking about mindshare, Debian != Ubuntu. The two platforms aren’t binary compatible; most users don’t know one is based on the other; and as far as this outsider can tell, the core developers of each platform seem to be getting worse at talking to each other, not better. So… at some level, of course one could not exist without the other, but that is something experts know. Most people don’t.]

  16. Allright, I see. I think I did misunderstand what you were getting at.

    So, yes – when you’re talking about general mind share: Red Hat is everywhere. Commercial development mind share: same thing. etc.

    My confusion probably came from the fact that you were talking about “developer” mindshare: I took that as “devs’ systems of choice”, and now I think you mean “target audience”, “installed base” or even “market share” (and all of these combined, most likely).

    I’d probably still disagree about the reasons you mention why Debian doesn’t have the mindshare Red Hat has, but that’s probably not very important (unless you’re Debian and you’re trying to fix the situation 8-) ).

  17. Yeah, all combined, though I think even for ‘pure’ developers Debian has slipped behind Fedora. That is obviously a statement of art/divining rather than

    I’d probably still disagree about the reasons you mention why Debian doesn’t have the mindshare Red Hat has, but that’s probably not very important (unless you’re Debian and you’re trying to fix the situation 8-) ).

    I’d like for Debian to fix the situation; I’d be happy to talk to any Debian developers who want to chat about improving Debian’s mindshare. I think the best thing that could happen for Freeness is for Debian to replace gnewsense or gnubuntu or whatever the Free Ubuntu fork of the week is- take Freeness, run with it, and make it usable and powerful. Heh- maybe that could be a new motto for Debian desktop hackers, given where Ubuntu is trending on Freedom- ‘we are the Free Ubuntu’ :) (Seriously, that would be a bad motto, but it might not be a bad goal- to take back as much of Ubuntu’s desktop work as possible, to the point where no one is ever tempted to do a Free Ubuntu fork. The current situation, where Ubuntu is based on the utterly, pristinely free Debian, and yet people fork Ubuntu to make it free, is ridiculous.)

  18. […] When I posted about my summer internship, I forgot to call out the one person most responsible for it happening- Chris Blizzard. Chris started talking RH up at GUADEC, saying ‘I have no idea if we have internships for lawyers, but if we do, you should come work for us.’ And he kept pushing it, and I kept listening, and he kept poking around inside RH. Many moons and some emails later, it turned out that RH did have legal internships, and voila- now I’ve got one. (In case you can’t tell, I’m still totally psyched. :) So thanks to everyone who congratulated me, but particularly thanks to Chris for really being the catalyst that made this happen. You rock, dude, even if you are Typhoid Mary. Relatedly, Sun’s General Counsel has had a very interesting blog for several months, and he wrote yesterday about their legal internship program. He’s got brief but interesting things to say about how what he sees happening in the legal job market, in terms of experience, skills, etc. Worth the minute or two of your time if you’re interested in the career side of law. Matt Asay also wrote a good post recently, focusing on how terrible the law firm experience is. Everyone should read this- learn something about whether ‘thank you’ or $160K/year is more important, even for the stereotypical soulless lawyer :) […]

  19. Roc: I would refute your claim that Red Hat does not contribute much to Mozilla these days. Just because I personally have not done as much as I used to in Gecko does not mean that we have stopped contributing. Our contributions are still numerous, though you may not have noticed as you are focused on Gecko 2/Firefox 3 work, whereas our work is in different areas.

    Some examples:

    Behdad contributed a great deal recently for example on the 1.5 branch to get Pango working with MathML, printing using the pango renderer, as well as several other important bugs in Mozilla’s pango text rendering which also has fixes contributed from several members of our i18n team in APAC. Thanks go to Caius, Lawrence, Jens, and Akira (and apologies if I’m missing someone) who have helped with several bugs on that front. It is still my intention to get our updated pango work into the official 1.5 and 2.0 branches at some point even though it got denied initially as “not branch material”. I realize that this code is obsoleted by work already completed for Firefox 3/Gecko 2, however, we need to make it work NOW for our customers. Other distros such as Novell have been taking Red Hat’s patches and importing them into their own 1.5 and 2.0 builds (which I don’t mind, but it probably went unnoticed by most people), which is why I really want these patches on the branches — everyone should be able to get the same pango rendering for these branches.

    Red Hat will also help maintain the Firefox 1.5 branch after has cast it aside in the next few months, as I’ve stated on a recent blog post.

    Red Hat also contributes a great deal to the browser’s crypto/security story. We employ nearly half of the NSS core team and have been pushing hard on the smartcard stuff lately. This is technically not developed on the Mozilla trunk. The NSS team pushes releases first and then it gets imported into the browser tree (as does every library that the browser uses). But their work is vital to the browser as without it, there’s no https support, etc.

    Additionally, we employ Dave Lawrence who is a contributor to Bugzilla, which might not be the bread and butter of, but is still a very noteworthy product that sponsors.

    Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  20. As a former RH intern and current RH employee, I wanted to say welcome aboard! I hope you enjoy your summer here. :)

  21. […] One of the things that makes me think I did the right thing going to law school is that every so often incredible jobs in very cool law offices open up. I’ve snagged an internship in one of those places, of course, but there are others. The latest such dream opening is at Creative Commons, where their general counsel, Mia Garlick, is apparently moving on to greener fields. (No idea what those are or could be… :) From the one conversation we’ve had (right before this picture was taken) and some lurking of mine on the cc-license mailing list, Mia seems like a very sharp cookie- I wish her luck wherever she goes next. I hear that there were over 100 applications for EFF’s last legal opening, and I’m sure this one will be similarly contested. Good luck to whoever gets it next… […]

  22. […] greatness, both concluding that Red Hat is a greater force; One was from Debian founder and another from a Red Hat employee. Some journalist from Datamation however felt otherwise. View Comments Posted on Wednesday, […]

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