Last week Red Hat announced what seems to be a significant effort to bring open source thinking into non-technical areas of life and society. This was very interesting to me, as it is a topic I have also put much thought to in my book. While the welcome announcement is dated last week, it seems the sight has been pre-seeded with posts from different Red Hat employees so that it already looks like an active community site.
One post I stumbled upon is written by Red Hat's Pam Chestek, titled Letting Go:
When I came to Red Hat, I had to make about a 180-degree shift in my approach to my work. My practice is in trademarks, copyrights and patents, fields that are traditionally all about excluding others. Counseling clients was about how to keep anyone else from using what was yours.
At Red Hat I had to readjust my thinking. I had to eliminate my knee jerk reaction and canned responses and rethink how the world should look when you are trying to encourage availability rather than deny it.
Pam's account, and this whole initiative by Red Hat itself, again reminds us of how lucky we are to have Red Hat as a strong leader in the open source community. Of the major businesses contributing to open source, Red Hat has always shown the strongest and most consistent commitment to our ideals. Sure, you might say launching opensource.com is a smart brand management move by the company, but that is not what it is about. It is really Red Hat taking a stance to change the world for something better. Outside their own core business. Of course, such deeds will reflect well upon your brand for sure, quite deserved.
I now have personal experience in working for a few strong open source companies, and this has helped me see how not all companies are like Red Hat. For instance I was surprised to find out that MySQL AB was not committed to open source at all, the business model was increasingly dependent on selling proprietary software. Of course MySQL did a lot of good for open source, and was a strong opponent of software patents for instance. But it seems MySQL AB never explicitly committed to anything one way or the other, so once you hired managers less experienced with open source, the company became less open source as a result. Unlike Pam joining Red Hat, there was never a guarantee that you had to change your thinking any particular way. Sun again was almost the opposite of MySQL, it was much thanks to their commitment to open source that MySQL had to put on hold some of their closed source plans - on the other hand Sun of course was a big fan of software patents.
Red Hat is almost alone in having managed to keep a consistent commitment as an organization, outlasting several CEO's. The good news is that this has also proven to be healthy for their business as the leading Linux company and leading open source company. My firm belief is that it is precisely this commitment to the open source ideology and fostering of a company culture that is the secret sauce in that success, helping them to beat historical competitors Caldera, Turbo Linux, SUSE... which all tried to add proprietary bits at some point. The newcomer Canonical seems to have succeeded with much the same recipe.
So here's to wishing Red Hat several more successful years, and for hoping that others will be able to learn from them.