For each new voice that emerges, another disappears. Leading projects keep being bought out by proprietary firms. Zimbra's Scott Dietzen disappears into Yahoo. Sleepycat's Mike Olson disappears into Oracle. Xen's Simon Crosby hasn't been silenced, exactly, but his fortunes now rest with Citrix, and by extension, partner Microsoft. MySQL's Marten Mickos is being taken in by Sun, a company that has brought numerous software leaders inside its fold, where they are seldom heard from again.
In the midst of all this migration, there's been one consistent presence and that's Red Hat. It has successfully partnered with some of the most proprietary companies in the world, including IBM and Oracle. It understands how the widespread open source "movement," if there is such a thing, is essential to these companies' interests. And it is almost the only entity that can set the core leadership example and maintain the open source principles that younger companies will need to emulate, if they are to mature.
But from its earliest days, Red Hat has been subjected to open source advocate's criticism. It's not employed enough Linux developers; its Linux developers haven't been allowed to work on the right projects; it wasn't giving enough back to the community; it wasn't investing enough in a user version of Linux; it was only interested in making a profit.
Well, Red Hat was interested in making a profit, and thank heavens for that. But along the way, it swallowed an anti-leadership vaccine that stifled the impulse to put critics in their place or take forward thinking stands. Or claim leadership of a wider community.
Jim Whitehurst appears to understand all of this. He trots out his Slackware use as bona fides, even as he clearly realizes the decisions he makes at the office over the next few months will be more significant than what distro he's running at home.
Marc Fleury, someone who's always resisted the anti-leadership kool aid, believes Whitehurst is the right man for the job. "He intuitively understands he has to take a stand," says Fleury. Amidst the outright competition with Microsoft and the evolving "co-opetition" with Oracle, IBM and Sun, Whitehurst will have to stake out and defend an advanced position for Red Hat. His success in doing so will have much to do with the future success and longevity of Linux and open source code itself.