When Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst spoke at LinuxCon last week, he hardly mentioned RHEL or the company's stack. Instead, he focused almost entirely on Linux in general and the open source development model in particular. This wasn't a surprise, as there probably isn't an organization on the planet with a deeper understanding of open source methodology and its potential. It's how it built free software into a $2 billion business.
Most people familiar with Red Hat know the company's broader vision for open source -- sometimes referred to as "the open source way" -- goes beyond software, so it also wasn't much of a surprise when Whitehurst's talk strayed from data centers and workstations and into areas not normally associated with IT at all.
He started in familiar territory, however, and talked software.
"Red Hat spent from its early days until recently fighting a battle to say open source is a viable alternative to traditional software stacks," he said. "I think we've done that and I think we've demonstrated that -- over a long period of time. Our next aspiration, as to open source, is to not be a viable alternative, but to be the default choice for next generation software stacks."
The way he sees it, open source developers aren't going to have to wait long for that to happen. "I would argue we are there," he said. "If you look at net new workloads, whether those are things that are being built on the cloud, whether those are big data, analytics, machine learning -- the default choice for those net new workloads is running on Linux. It's not a viable alternative, it is the default choice."
He pointed out that most of the innovations being developed in the last few years are primarily developed for Linux deployment. "Big data -- Hadoop, Spark -- all the things happening there, happening on Linux. SDN, all the innovation that's happening there, happening on Linux. Containers, happening on Linux. It has become the platform on which the whole next generation of technology is developed, so it really is the platform for innovation."
Further proof of this acceptance of Linux and open source as the new default can be found in the way traditional proprietary vendors have jumped on the open source bandwagon. This isn't completely a new phenomenon. Sun Microsystems had already open sourced many of its products, including its flagship Solaris operating system, before being acquired by Oracle -- which has been offering it's own Linux distribution, Oracle Linux, since 2006. Most notable has been the more recent embrace of open source by Microsoft, which now partners with many Linux and open source organizations, including the Linux Foundation, Canonical and Red Hat.
Going forward, Whitehurst said he sees open source methods being used by companies in ways that have very little to do with data technology. We live in an era when corporations are finding it necessary to cross corporate boundaries to develop their products, he said, and pointed to major corporations that are already beginning to see the open source model as a solution.
"Nike has specifically said 'we want to leverage the principles of open source and sharing to help us deal with industry transitions.' IKEA talks about open source mindsets in how it runs. Toyota just open sourced all of its hydrogen patents. It's becoming much more involved in thinking about how to drive innovation broadly." There are others, he said, including Ford and General Motors.
"The term 'open source' and thinking about working across corporate boundaries is becoming the norm for leading edge companies, and I would argue it's going to become more and more the norm broadly if companies want to survive."
The notion that open source ideas can be applied to areas outside software development also isn't new. The Creative Commons licenses used by writers, photographers and publishers as a way of sharing content are patterned after open source licenses and in recent years there has been growing interest in "open source hardware," which includes the popular Arduino single board computer.
Another Red Hatter, Jason Hibbets, has even taken open source ideology out of the world of business and into the realm of government with his book "The Foundation for an Open Source City" and in talks at open source conferences. Whitehurst seems to share that vision and carries it a step further by suggesting that the open source model can be expanded to address "mega world problems" that include world hunger, finding a cure for cancer and global warming.
"These are massive daunting problems," he said. "There is no institution, there is no country, there are certainly no individuals that are going to solve this. This actually requires a different way of people thinking and working together. I do think that Linux as a technology, but more broadly as a social DNA about how people can work together, has the potential to dramatically impact human outcomes and get some of the most daunting challenges solved."
If so, it's a good bet that Red Hat plans to be there helping develop some of the necessary technology.