Red Hat CEO: ‘All Things Open’ Isn’t Just About Technology

Red Hat CEOJim Whitehurst, CEO of Raleigh-based open-source technology firm Red Hat(NYSE: RHT), says the world – not just technology companies – are shifting toward “open.”

About 25 years ago, open-source operating platform Linux was born, Whitehurst tells the crowd at the All Things Open Conference early Wednesday. It was just a “bunch of geeks” getting together figuring it all out on an 8286 chip, he says.

But it continued to grow.

“It went from being kind of a hacker movement to truly what I’ll say a viable alternative to traditional software,” Whitehurst says, adding that Red Hat was a part at of that push. Over the years, it came out from under the radar, being what Whitehurst calls “the default choice for a next-generation of infrastructure,” particularly when it comes to cloud architectures. “Companies are competing around communities.”

He points to Google, Microsoft and Facebook, all having open sourced their machine learning systems.

“They recognize the company that builds the community around that piece of technology, that technology is going to win,” Whitehurst says. “I think it shows that there’s a growing recognition that the best way to innovate in these very fundamental areas is to do it in the open.”

Whitehurst says “open” isn’t just about software.

“We know that bureaucracies, hierarchies, are really good at driving efficiency,” he says. “They’re not good at innovating.”

Whitehurst says all industries – not just software – are shifting toward the latter. He uses cars as an example.

“What is more valuable? Taking a car that, in the United States, is used 90 minutes a day and figuring out how to use it three to four hours a day,” he posits, pointing to shared ride services and autonomous vehicle technology. “Or building the car five percent more cheaply?”

While the industry is still focused on efficiency, that outlook is becoming irrelevant, he says, pointing to work being done in self-driving cars.

And innovation requires “open” collaboration, he says.

Whitehurst, who has written a book on the open-source concept, says broad communities will be required to solve social problems such as global warming and curing cancer, and that no one company or institution will be able to find the answers alone.

“A lot of people when they think of open-source think about crowd-sourcing, how do you get great ideas out of a crowd,” he says. “Open-source is not crowd-sourcing … it’s about how do you get better ideas by getting people to work together than the sum of ideas people can come up with when they’re working apart.”

The All Things Open conference lasts all day Wednesday and Thursday at the Raleigh Convention Center.

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