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Editor's Note: Red Hat's Michael Tiemann rebuts C|Net article

C|Net Trolling for Page Views?

  • October 5, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

C|Net ran a provocative article yesterday that cast Red Hat's Michael Tiemann in the unflattering role of historical revisionist. According to the article by CNET reporter Stephan Shankland, Tiemann boasted to a WR Hambrecht conference on Open Source companies, "We did start the open-source revolution."

Naturally the howls went up in fairly short order.

To some in the community, the quote indicated the worst they've ever suspected of Red Hat, revealing a "Microsoftian" lapse into editing the historical record. Others of a more charitable disposition decided to wait and see what Tiemann had to say for himself.

"I was a little bit disappointed [Shankland] took that tack, because I think he was focusing on the wrong point," said Tiemann.

"Red Hat, Inc. is the company that really did start the commercial open source revolution."

Tiemann said his quote needed to be read in the context of his status as "a founder of Cygnus, which nobody disputes was the world's first open source company." Cygnus Solutions was incorporated in November 1989.

"Red Hat acquired Cygnus and incorporated the first open source commercial enterprise," said Tiemann, who took the position of CTO with Red Hat earlier this year after Red Hat's November, 1999 acquisition of Cygnus Solutions.

Once again, there are two ways to read this. Some in the community interpret Red Hat's purchase of the pioneering company as a bid for legitimacy, but there can be no denying that Cygnus (and Tiemann) have been active participants in Free Software and early leaders in the marketing-oriented Open Source movement.

Tiemann, in fact, prefers to draw a rather sharp line of demarkation between the two movements, and cites none other than GNU founder Richard Stallman to back his assertions:

"Richard Stallman would never have claimed to have anything to do with Open Source Software," said Tiemann. "He is a Free Software person. If you talk to Richard Stallman, he will tell you for hours on end about the difference between Free Software, which is about software freedom, and Open Source Software, which is a marketing thing."

So what to make of CNET's reporting and Tiemann's response?

We're inclined to lean toward the point Tiemann is trying to make, even if his comments, prior to his clarification, seem odd. His participation in Free Software predates Red Hat's existence, and his experiences and those of his company, now part of Red Hat, are certainly something the company can draw on.

We'll admit, though, that this reaction is in part flavored by a resistance to questionable reporting that seemed aimed at stirring up yet another hornet's nest at the expense of the Linux community. Sometimes, the healthy skepticism of a resolutely anti-authoritarian group can be turned into a vehicle for delivering "eyeballs," and that helps nobody but the ad-men.

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