Red Hat CEO says Linux could become U.S. standard

Red Hat Chairman, CEO and President Matthew Szulik told attendees at the C3 Expo in New York that open-source software is already highly successful.

Szulik was the opening keynote speaker at the C3 conference the week of June 26. He said the best-known open-source product, Linux, already runs on 13 platforms ranging from laptop computers to mainframes, and that it would soon be running on handheld devices and smart phones.

Szulik also said "content democratisation" was critical to innovation because it would lead to access to information worldwide.

Szulik and Red Hat, along with MIT, are part of a team that is trying to create a $100 laptop computer for use in the third world. Szulik said there is already strong interest in such a product in Eastern Europe, Africa, China and India. He also said this type of product was entirely within reach.

"All you need is a platform, Linux, a browser, a power supply and access to the Internet," Szulik said. He noted that one reason today's laptops are so expensive is because they cost so much to sell, mostly because a large percentage of their cost comes from advertising and marketing expenses.

Szulik argued that a major reason why the existence of low-cost computers would spread innovation is that they would encourage the growth of computer skills. Of all the challenges he has as CEO, "Finding qualified people is the hardest," he said, adding that the situation in the United States is getting worse every year. "Federal funding for R&D has declined," he said, "and state funding has been declining overall."

Szulik said open-source software is already more popular outside the United States, and that this is where he's finding the talent he needs to continue innovating. Describing what he called an epidemic in the decline of technically trained people in the United States, he said students in grades K through 12 aren't being taught technical skills and aren't being encouraged to take up careers in computer science and engineering.

"The need speaks for itself. There isn't a technical CEO that I've met that hasn't spoken publicly about the need to reform and improve the quality of technical education at the earliest levels. It goes beyond just hardware and software. It's [about] curriculum and a move from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning," he said.

Szulik said the current problems with technical education need to be solved at the highest levels, starting with the President. He suggested that today's educational crisis could benefit from something like the spur President John F. Kennedy gave to science and engineering for space research in the early '60s.

In his wide-ranging talk, Szulik also said programs such as Firefox are helping to spread interest in open-source software, and he said efforts such as the one by the NSA to create a trusted version of Linux could make open source a standard in the United States—as, he said, it is already becoming the standard in other countries.

Szulik said he couldn't speak specifically about Red Hat because the company has its earnings call later this week.

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