Reviewed: Under the Radar

"Under the Radar" purports to tell the story of Red Hat Software's rise from Open Source obscurity to IPO wonder company, but the book falls flat with few revealing moments and poor writing. Like Wendy Goldman Rohm's earlier title (the awful "Microsoft Files"), this lightweight throwaway is destined for the dustbins of computing history, as it sheds no new light on its subject, despite being co-authored by Red Hat CEO Robert Young. It is easily one of the worst books of its kind, and I've read just about every "history of computing" book there is.

Laugh along with Young as he explains how his tiny company bent mighty corporations such as IBM, Compaq, and Dell to his will. The companies, which became investors in Red Hat, will likely be thrilled to read how stupid Young thinks they are; I know I found the ridicule amusing. And despite the fact that Young was present at virtually every event described in the book, we're left wondering what really happened because no details about how he won over investors are ever given. I guess we're to assume that it's obvious why anyone would want to invest in Red Hat.

Also disconcerting is that almost half of this tiny book deals with Netscape, not Red Hat. Despite the fact that there are a half dozen decent books out there about Netscape's short history (any one of which stands head and shoulders above this rush to market title), we're hammered with page after page of Jim Barksdale colloquialisms. Yeah, we love the guy. No, he has nothing to do with Red Hat or how that company "changed the software business--and took Microsoft by surprise" (as the book's subtitle screams). At a paltry 170 pages, this title couldn't possibly live up to its hefty $27.50 cover price, but poor writing and a total lack of insight provide the final nails in the coffin. I find it telling that even the authors provide caution in the foreword: "This is not a history book... We have made no effort to be comprehensive." That's for sure. Avoid this title at all costs as there is literally nothing here for anyone that wants a balanced, well-researched look at one of Open Source's true success stories.


Under the Radar
by Robert Young and Wendy Goldman Rohm
Coriolis, 1999
ISBN: 1-57610-506-

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