Red Hat Chief Extols Open-Source Opportunity, Warns Of Leadership Issues

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The dot-com bust notwithstanding, now is as good a time as any to start a tech business, according to Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik.

"Is entrepreneurism dead? I can't think of a better time to start a company," Szulick told several hundred attendees of Cyberposium 2002 at the Harvard Business School here Saturday morning.

Access to information, intellectual capacities and the experiences of potential CEOs today are "unprecedented," he said.

And, despite the sluggish stock market and the dip of venture capital spending from its all-time high in early 2000, there is abundant money to invest, he said. Lycos founder "Bob Davis sold his company for $6.5 billion. so there's a lot of money out there," he noted.

But the technology sector is undergoing a bone-crunching conversion as open-source companies like Red Hat take on established vendors who staked their claim on closed systems, and highly priced software, he noted.

"We're trying to replace thirty to fourty years of proprietary technology," he noted.

While never mentioning the name, Szulick took several shots at operating system rival and market leader Microsoft. "We can iterate a new release of our operating system every 90 days, we could do it once a week if ISVs and hardware vendors could keep up.....Some of our competitors take two, three, four, five years to release a new operating system."

Not enough emphasis is being placed in the sector on technical integrity, he insisted. "Software vendors are not being held accountable to the same standards as [companies other industries.....Look at the Blue Screen Of Death...That company has more money than god would be wiling to put something like that out is unbelievable." he noted. The blue screen is the familiar scene for Microsoft Windows users whose systems crash.

Asked what he thought of Sun Microsystems--which had been ambivalent about Linux support--move last week to offer its own Linux distribution, Szulick was philosophical.

"I think we've seen the tipping point...[Sun Chairman Scott McNealy standing up in a penguin suit? Last year he said he couldn't imagine a company committing its operating system to a bunch of renegades. He said he'd never entrust mission-critical applications [to Linux. Let me quote Gandhi: 'First they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.'" Szulick said to applause and laughter.

Sun last week said it would ship its own Linux version and offer Linux on some 386 machines. Before that, the company was seen as balancing the need to embrace open-source alternatives while protecting its own Solaris operating system.

Szulick also told attendees, many of whom are top business school students from around the country, that personal integrity is also in short supply at many companies. "Didn't Enron have a value statement, an ethics statement? That's just the tip of hte iceberg. More companies should worry about how you treat your most precious asset whish is your customers, not cash."

"Just imagine what happens if investors in this country lose confidence in accounting. If you think raising money is hard now....think if liquidity stops," he warned.

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