Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Is the Redhat Model Replicable?

Posted on: March 14, 2007

I thought I’d venture into the crazy world of business models and opportunities today.

I’ve been setting up a new machine at work for my primary desktop, and given that it has almost no previous work files on it, I decided to experiment with a few new distros that are out there. Much has changed since I last made the decision that Gentoo was the killer in the linux arena – partly for the exposure it gives you to the underworkings of an operating system, which also implies control. What was working for Gentoo was the fact that, it was full of options and you could customize your linux box the way you would like to be – perhaps slim and faster, or bloated and mediocre. Choice was king, and so was it. But I digress.

I tried Mandriva‘s new Linux distro and it comes with every whoosh of desktop desire coated on it. SuSE was a good choice, except that for some reason one thing or the other kept breaking and there was no way for me to update some patches. I didn’t have the time nor patience to work it out – though they have taken pains to give it a uniform feel.

Let me get back to the topic.

Redhat has a market cap of about 4billion US$. They took a opensource piece of code, added their flavor,  supported t and after a lot of work and stern determination, they made it. They took the long route to it, but atleast they didn’t take the route that Novell did.

The point is simple: Can the same excercise be replicated for other software applications? The opensource world is seriously lacking for a decent word processor, a presentation creator, a quality and powerful photo editing suite – which is also usable etc etc, and the list could go on.

There does exist in some form, all of the above. To me, they are almost in the same stage linux was, before redhat stepped up, took the code into their arms and decided to make matters a bit simpler. Today the Linux Desktop seems to be almost at par with any other operating system desktops, including MacOS in terms of functionality, intuitiveness and features – and to imagine that all of this is community-driven.

Will there be a company which will pick up GIMP and turn it into an application that can be the Photoimpact for the Linux World? Can they add proper support, so that there will be a following for it? Will there be an equivalent for Keynote in the linux world?

Considering the improvements in the GUI, I am quite confident that it is quite possible. The question which remains then is quite simple. Is this opportunity being aimed at?

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16 Responses to "Is the Redhat Model Replicable?"

In 1995, when redhat entered the market to give services, there were really no competitors to it. Above that, Bob Young already had the experience to sell unix software and accessories. In 1995, people could have made a bet on any of linux, os x or windows to become successful.

Fast forward to 2007, the rules of the game has changed. The return on risk is better for software written for windows than the ones written for either OS X or linux.

Probably, it can still be done but the guy doing it will be wasting a lot of energy as it will just be a direct head on competition to something that already exists in the market which could hurt the current winner as well as the person doing it. In the end, it will just hurt the industry more.
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Another way of looking at it is, you really need to scale well to run a company on just support money. For this, 9 our of 10 times, you have to be the first to the market. You can’t compete with someone and hope to be there.

JBoss tried it but I think they were kinda early(not the first) in the market and hence were able to survive.

Srikanth,

I would agree with you. At the sametime, I don’t think I am talking about pure support business here.

The group behind firefox makes a ton of money, using the same mozilla code that took ages to mature, and was still fairly unusable. Today, browsers on opensource platforms are fairly taken for granted, but I remember the days when I used to have pretty much every browser that was available in the platform installed, simply cause each one handled something better. It was a nightmare, to say the least.

GIMP is a fantastic software. But how many people are really using it? I am sure if a group is willing to put the time, effort and dedication, they can turn GIMP quite nicely into either a Coreldraw, Photoshop, Illustrator, or anything they’d like to. GIMP is powerful, but the interface is dreary. Can someone take responsibility and package it?

It was the same case with linux, even after Redhat and Ubuntu is gaining quite a momentum. Will ubuntu get to a point where people will be ready to buy it? I would say, probably yes. It is still the package with the least amount of issues when it comes to installing new software without having to deal with dependencies.

The userbase for Windows is there, but there is also a growing base for alternates. After Vista, I believe there is a much bigger base which are ready to shift. The idea is… can you deliver them something that would knock out their excuses?

My selfish desire is simply this: If XGL, and Beryl can do such fascinating things in the desktop. How long would it take for someone to write a Keynote, sorta presentation software for Linux. I would pay to get that on my machine, and it is almost THE reason why I have windows running on my laptop – cause I need a decent presentation application.

Disclaimer : I am just thinking aloud of various dimensions that would make a product successful or unsuccessful. My arguments might not necessarily reflect my choices in real life. 🙂
—————-
firefox:
most of the money firefox makes is because of google ads/donations.. the reason why firefox is famous is not because of its feature set but because it had 2 things going for it:
1. the leader in the market, microsoft ignored the browser for a long time
2. microsoft was soft on mozilla because of the entanglement with netscape

I believe, once ie7 enters the market thru vista and some service pack of windows xp, the browser market of mozilla will start shrinking slowly i.e. if there are no other forces in favour of mozilla.

I don’t think half of firefox users would have chosen firefox if ie gave them all the things that firefox is giving.
—————-
ubuntu:
things going in favour of ubuntu:
1. there is already such a big userbase in the linux server market that there is support for a new better OS like ubuntu.
2. if ubuntu can go to the extent of giving support to all hardware and support for any linux application in whatever format it is, i.e. it should install even if the software is an rpm in a easier way, then I think it is at a level to compete with windows.
3. vista is entering the market pretty late, giving time for ubuntu to breathe.

things not in favour of ubuntu:
1. all the application development is still neglected like gimp is still not ready for the end user and for new companies to develop competing products, there is no big incentive.

As I read somewhere online, the biggest threat to vista is not ubuntu but windows xp because xp it just works..
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now, coming to gimp,
1. I dont think it will get a break like what firefox or ubuntu got from Microsoft. The reason being, Adobe is one of the most skeptical companies I have seen and I am pretty sure that they will always be 2 steps ahead of their closest competitor.
2. for someone to take complete onwership of gimp, remember, the person has to compete with adobe.. he is not exactly creating a new market but having a head on fight with adobe..
—————-
the reasons why you pay for a product is completely different from the reasons why a generic person would pay 🙂 so, I wouldn’t agree that people would like to pay the same amount of money they would pay keynote just to get bragging rights of being opensource. At the eod, software is just a tool for something bigger for >98% of the people.

P.S : The edit box is too small for such a big response :), please forgive any grammatical/verbal mistakes. 🙂

Vijay,

Good to see your blog back.

Is the redhat model replicable ? Absolutely.
From JBoss to Mysql to Snort to Wireshark, everyone is doing it it seems. Another great example is Asterisk. Digium is offering a whole range of express installation and support services.

I am not sure apps like Gimp can extend themselves to this model though.

So, are you running Gentoo now ?

Srikanth,

I am not sure I agree with your points on Firefox. Firefox became a popular browser, and then figured out a really smart way of monetization. And also, I am not sure IE would have ever fixed their bugs. And given how there are more sites these days that are compliant with Firefox, than on IE7, I don’t think the trend is revocable.

Well, GIMP was an example. It might not be the perfect example in this scenario, but I do see that what worked for Ubuntu and Firefox can be replicated, and even scaled upto the level of Redhat. Let’s see 🙂

It’s good to see you here Vivek.

That’s a array of very good services that were successful Vivek. Is Srikanth reading that? 🙂

Well, it might be that GIMP has been around for too long and probably the user and developer community around it has stiffled. I havent seen a new release in GIMP in quite sometime, whereas KDE and Gnome are bustling with new initiatives and projects all the time – let alone the linux distro communities.

For now, I decided to settle with Ubuntu. I did install gentoo though, but there is way too much fights going on in their camp. After the founder left the group, came back and was “chased away”, I am not sure where that is heading… time to switch, when there are better options 🙂

Vijay,

yeah, the list is more impressive now. I was playing devils advocate to convince/get convinced of your blog post 🙂

There are a lot of factors for the success of a product and every case is unique to itself. We can keep debating on this topic for a long time. 🙂

I have started to believe more in the people behind the product than on the product. i.e. Even if my arguments held true w.r.t to firefox, the leader of mozilla corp would have found a different way to make money on firefox.. 🙂

“There are a lot of factors for the success of a product and every case is unique to itself.” – Agreed.

But sometimes, if you can isolate the factors, you just might be able to re-create that very same situation.

And I am absolutely with you. It’s always more of the people, than anything they build. That’s very much the reason why VCs invest in teams, rather than in ideas and products – most often than not, the teams just about never build what they had originally proposed, and those who do… rarely seem to succeed.

How about making a Web based SaaS model out of GIMP/ Blender. Both are brilliant softwares.

Again , it needs a patient team of opensource developers under a company setup i guess.

Anush

Anush,

SaaS certainly seems to be the ‘keyword’ for the season, atleast it used to be sometime back. Things just didn’t work out as envisioned, for quite a lot of reasons.

I would agree with you that it needs a patient team of developers under a corporate banner – sorta like what Ubuntu is doing. Maybe I should write shuttleworth an email 🙂

Do you still think there is still a lot of space for Desktop Applications with tools/plugins available to import it online with some basic features ?

Today we have Text editiors online and they have been succesful in creating a huge impact.


Anush

Anush,

Specialized desktop applications will always have their value. The problem, as I see, with making GIMP or Blender, is that they are both graphic/CPU intensive applications. I doubt they can be made online.

That said, I do know that adobe is working on an online version of Photoshop, so who knows.

The biggest problem with SaaS is that, inorder to support such intensive applications, both bandwidth and CPU become huge requirements, which usually is ideally suited for premium applications.

Yeah , i completely agree with you. A very thought provoking post 🙂

Actually I am very tempted to try it out .. create a neat UI for GIMP 😉

Hello Vijay,

Great to see your blog up again!!!!

Vijay, I personally feel Open Source products are now getting into a commerical shape as well.

Its one of the core model, to have “Open source product” and a commerical offering with services and support.

This has been proved by so many products including MySQL, Moodle, Apache, Zend, Drupal, Plone , etc the list goes on.

Talking in context of Indian contribution, not many companies have adapted this model.

Our effort on this path is OpenIndx.

Cheerz
Shri

Shri,

Good luck in your attempt. I’d personally be quite interested to see companies pick up open source products and build on top of it, especially teams here in India… we’ll see.

Vijay

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