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Red Hat to buy Cygnus?

Acquisition makes plenty of sense

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Linux distributor Red Hat appears to be gearing up to buy development tools specialist Cygnus. The move follows on the heels of attempts to buy service and support specialist Linuxcare and fellow open source OS distributor TurboLinux. The curious thing is that the sources (cited originally by Slashdot) also suggest that the deal with Cygnus may involve the departure of "some people at Red Hat... from their senior management (founding) positions". The reason? The deal's "corporate implications". These, at least, are clear. Now Red Hat has IPO'd, it has plenty of paper money with which to entice the owners of other Linux companies. If Red Hat is to grow and prosper as a business -- and that has to be its goal, otherwise why bother with an IPO? -- it needs to expand in improve its ability to generate first revenue and then profit. Of course, such blatant commercialism is contrary to the spirit (but not the law) of the open source movement, and it's not hard to imagine more dogmatic Red Hatters becoming a little concerned by the acquisition -- especially in the context of other (admittedly unsuccessful) deals. Still, even if Red Hat had managed to swallow Linuxcare, TurboLinux and Cygnus, it's still a long from becoming what open sourcers most fear: another Microsoft. It's arguably time some members of the open source community accepted that open source and commerce are not mutually exclusive, and the pursuit of profit doesn't necessarily mean a rejection of open source principles. And deals like these do make sense. Linuxcare's strategy runs parallel Red Hat's own -- if you can't make money from selling packaged Linux, you make it selling support and service contracts. Linuxcare recent signed a deal with IBM to provide the latter's service organisation with help with some of its trickier cases. Red Hat such an arrangement itself, so what better than to bring the two Linux organisations under one roof? A TurboLinux acquisition is less synergistic, and could be seen with a degree of cynicism: Red Hat gets rid of a competitor by buying it out. Not true to the open source philosophy, admittedly, but neither is it an unreasonable business practice, and it would give Red Hat access to TurboLinux's Far East market and its expertise in developing localised version of Linux for said. As for Cygnus, the match is less clear. Given Linux already ships with open source development tools, you might think buying a tools developer none too smart a deal. That said, if Linux is to attract wider software developer support, it's going to need high quality professional-oriented IDEs of the kind Cygnus and Metrowerks (Metrowerks would be an ideal buy, but since Motorola got there first, Cygnus is all that's left) already offer. And since professional developers will generally pay good money for this stuff, the financial implications for Red Hat here are clear. But what about the claim that some of Red Hat's founding fathers bailing out? The truth here may lie in Bob Young and Marc Ewing's foundation of the Red Hat Center for Open Source (RHCOS), a research organisation looking at how the open source philosophy can be applied to other markets than the software business. Ewing, for one, will be devoting a lot of time to RHCOS, so it's entirely plausible that a decision by Young and Ewing will be spending more time there could be mistaken for a plan to quit Red Hat. ®

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