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Red Hat with Standard and Poor

2009-07-20

Category: General

Good news for the Open Source Software community, Red Hat, a major supplier of open source software, Linux, and related services, has just been added to the S&P500. How this will play out is still anybody's guess, but most agree that it is favorable for Linux.

For those who don't know, Linux is an operating system (OS), like Microsoft Windows™ or Max OS X™. The OS is the program that tells your computer how to run all the other programs. For complex computing systems, such as your personal computer, an OS is a necessity. Unlike Windows, Linux is free for anyone to use and is open source.

The adherents of Linux cite several benefits. Open source means you can read the source code (the program written by the programmer) and alter it as needed. Linux tends to use less memory, drive space, and processor power than Windows. It is usually very secure, though fewer bad guys try to attack it. The biggest part is that there is no monetary cost for Linux itself, though you do have to put in more effort to set it up and that can cost.

The down side to all of this is that you don't have a support desk to call when you need help. You get Linux as is. That's where Red Hat comes in. They make their money by supporting and adding to Linux.

Large corporations hire Red Hat to set up a custom installation of Linux, and get other help as needed for a price. Because Linux often requires fewer hardware resources and has no licensing fees, a support company just has to charge less than what those costs would be to use another OS. For a large enterprise, the licensing and hardware costs to use Windows can add up pretty quick.

Other companies do the same thing as Red Hat, but Red Hat is one of the biggest and most successful. That's why they are now on the S&P 500. They are a strong, legitimate business that is likely to be around for a while. This is good for the Linux community specifically and open source in general.

In my professional capacity, I've had to defend the use of Linux in Computer Science instruction. My opponents usually claimed that businesses only use Windows. This is a false claim, of course, but they usually don't know any better. For the desktop or laptop personal computer, Windows holds prevalence. It's in the infrastructure that the other operating systems show up. For example, most web servers run some form of Linux/Unix and the Apache server software.

Others supporters of Linux often face similar arguments. The fact that there is enough Linux in the world that Red Hat is a major player in business, not just computer business, anchors our arguments in blatant, hard to ignore facts. It also gives Linux a better footing in the business community because business folks are more likely to trust Standard and Poor over a bunch of khaki wearing, bearded geeks.

Before someone suggests that I am biased, I must point out that I do not have a particular side in the battle between Windows and Linux. Each OS has its strengths and weaknesses and each is suitable for different situations. For a small office, I'm likely to set up a quick Windows network because I can hook everything together and be done with it. For web server with full security, I will look to Linux. Likewise, if I have to set up donated computers for a charity with no cash, I can load Linux and have a powerful OS at no cost. For a minicomputer, I would prefer an IBM iSeries which has its own OS that isn't related to either of the other two.

The main thing to take from this is that Linux is here to stay and we need to consider it as part of our business computing strategies. The addition of Red Hat to the S&P 500 just makes it easier to have that conversation with those who have doubted before.


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