When Matthew Szulik stepped down as CEO of Red Hat in December to cope with his wife's illness, the company picked a surprising successor: Jim Whitehurst, the former chief operating officer at Delta Air Lines whose main tech cred seemed to be that he runs loads of Linux on his home PCs.
If Whitehurst is a controversial pick, that might be a good sign for Red Hat, a company that's at a key juncture. It's doing just fine as a quiet company, racking up an overwhelming majority of the businesses that pay to use the Linux server operating system. With 21% profit margins, 40% annual sales growth, and more than a half-billion dollars in the bank, it has proved that selling subscription-based support is a viable business model for open source software. Under Szulik, however, Red Hat shied away from becoming an activist leader of the open source software movement. Now Red Hat needs to prove it's more than Linux, and that means assuming a much larger role than the company--or its CEO--has ever had in the open source community.
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Jim Whitehurst, named CEO of Red Hat in late December, talked with editor at large Charles Babcock about the challenges ahead for the Linux distributor, from competing with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) to getting value out of its JBoss acquisition. Here are excerpts from that discussion: