Red Hat UK MD: Recession Will “Legitimise” Open Source

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The recession has been good for open source vendors but not so good that Red Hat ‘s UK boss wants to see it go on any longer than necessary

Red Hat UK’s managing director has admitted that the recession has been useful when it comes to acting as a “disruptor” to established ways of thinking amongst IT professionals but steered clear of saying he hoped it would continue.

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In an interview with eWeek Europe UK this week, the Linux specialist’s newly appointed UK managing director Phil Andrews said that his company has benefited from the downturn to some degree and expects to see its business grow by around 25 percent this year.

“For the UK we are looking at a mid-twenties kind of growth and that is quite high in this environment,” said Andrews. “When an environment is healthy people do what they have always done. When an environment is in a position where you can’t do everything you want to do – or you have to do something different – that is creating an opportunity for people to consider open source. It’s a disrupting influence.”

In the US, Red Hat recently announced an 18 percent increase in revenues for the most recent quarter, prompting its shares to rise 17 percent in one day’s trading.

As well as having a “disrupting” effect on companies that may not previously considered open source, the recession could also help to finally undo perceptions that community developed software is somehow second-class, Andrews added: “If this transition is disruptive enough, what could happen in the next year and a half is that open source is legitimised as the professional’s choice as equally as the professional’s choice is licensed-based software.”

But although the downturn appears to be driving more interest in open source software as many companies struggle with flat IT budgets, Andrews said that overall the recession was still having a negative impact on Red Hat’s business. “We would expect to grow a little bit more in healthy times,” he said.

And when pushed on whether overall Red Hat would actually like to see recession continue and even deepen, Andrews said that although there were some benefits, overall he was looking forward to a return to healthier times. “We think it will force some disruption and some re-thinking that will aid us in the short term but no I don’t want the recession to go on any longer than it does because it’s not healthy for the country or the economy.”

A sign that the global downturn is helping to drive more interest in open source was given by the recent announcement by the UK government to “level the playing field” for open source use in the public sector.

In a separate move, the Hungarian government also announced this week that it plans to allow open source vendors to be included in the tendering process for public sector projects for the first time.

“The Hungarian Senior State Secretariat for Informatics – E-Government & ICT – on behalf o f the Hungarian government – announced on 2 April 2009 that for the first time it will be including the possibility for public sector organisations, primary, secondary and higher education institutions to be able to acquire open source solutions from the annual centralised tenders,” according to a government statement released this week.

Proprietary vendors – particularly Microsoft – have traditionally dominated public sector software projects in Hungary. However prompted by the declining state of the Hungarian economy – the country recently applied for an International Monetary Fund loan and saw its prime minister resign – and the general maturation of open source, the country appears to be taking community developed software more seriously.