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Red Hat exec tussles over MSOffice for Linux

But who's this 'Lina Torbaugh' woman?

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Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann yesterday said that the availability of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer would "open the door to a new range of potential customers" for Red Hat. Which we take as meaning that, if the States' version of the Microsoft antitrust remedies were accepted, Red Hat would be one of the companies bidding for an Office licence. Tiemann had earlier said he though Red Hat would be "fairly interested" in bidding.

Tiemann of course may not entirely know what he's talking about, if the trial transcript is accurate. Asked whether Red Hat had developed Linux from scratch, he apparently answers no, " that was Lina Torbaugh." There you go - the Mortimer Mouse of Open Source, Linus' evil twin Lina. This is almost as good as the one we found years ago, where Ray White of Wyse apparently claimed: "The future is always two ennunecs." But we mustn't make fun of the hard-pressed transcribers.

More seriously, Tiemann came under heavy fire from the Microsoft camp over Red Hat's application development, or lack of it, culminating in the question: "Do you think that these examples suggest that one key to being a successful operating system platform vendor is developing applications that run on your own operating system?" He'd just been taken through a long litany of companies (Apple, Sun, IBM, about as long as it gets these days) who were OS vendors who also developed apps, and Microsoft attorney Stephanie Wheeler had taken some pains to establish a paucity of application development round at Red Hat.

Tiemann finally said that Red Hat's employees involved in porting apps to the Red Hat platform was more than ten and less than fifty, and conceded that it was "most likely" many less than 50. There was also a clear difference between what he was talking about and what the questioner wanted to talk about - the app porting capabilities are virtually entirely 'Red Hat-izing' existing open source apps, and the company neither develops applications from scratch nor ports third party proprietary applications.

In the latter case it obviously wouldn't, of course, but beneath the clear attempt by the defence to tar Red Hat as to all intents and purposes a distributor which puts minimal resource into development, there lurk a couple of serious points. For starters it is largely a distributor which puts minimal resources into development, at least by Microsoft's standards. Granted, the open source model means that development is broadly spread, so you're maybe comparing apples and pears when scrutinising Red Hat's "less than 50," but it's possibly reasonable to observe that commercial Linux distributions in general could use a tad more polish and individualisation if they're to play against Microsoft in business.

And if Red Hat did find itself in the position of licensing Office, what resources would it have to do anything about it? If Office were open sourced by the courts, then it could go into the standard development mill, but a licensee would find itself with one of those third party proprietary apps Red Hat doesn't do to deal with.

Next, the matter of R&D spend came. Red Hat, it was pointed out, spent $18.8 million on R&D in fiscal 2001, and $12.1 million in 2000. Apple spent $430 million in 2001, Sun over $2 billion, and Microsoft $4.3 billion. You can see where this is driving, can't you?

"Q. But as far as you know, Red Hat hasn't devoted any effort to try and develop from scratch an Office productivity suite to run on Red Hat Linux; correct?
A. That is correct.
Q. And Red Hat has never spent any money trying to develop its own Office productivity applications suite to run on Red Hat Linux as far as you know?
A. That is correct. The money that we spend on that task is related to ISV relationships, development tools that we provide to ISVs and other efforts we make so third parties may do that job for their benefit and ours.
Q. Red Hat has never ported any office productivity applications from one platform to the Red Hat Linux platform; correct?
A. I believe it's likely possible that some of our people have provided assistance to the Open Office project, which is an office productivity suite which can run on Red Hat Linux.
Q. Red Hat has never tried to reverse engineer Microsoft Office file formats, has it?
A. Some employees who work on things, such as ABI Word, have likely possibly looked at and attempted to reverse engineer aspects of the Microsoft Word format, for example.
Q. Likely possibly, Mr. Tiemann?
A. Uh-huh.
Q. You don't know that for a fact, do you?
A. I don't know.
Q. Red Hat includes in this box of Red Hat Linux 7.2 the StarOffice 5.2 Office Productivity Suite; correct?
A. That is correct.
Q. And StarOffice 5.2 is a Sun Microsystems' product, isn't it?
A. That is correct."

Moving swiftly on to establishing that Tiemann didn't know for sure whether Red Hat would bid for Office, or how much it would be prepared to pay, the defence had a pretty good run on this one. ®

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