A few days ago, a company executive quoted someone who exclaimed that “Red Hat is the Bell Labs of the 21st century”. Does this image survive contact with the enemy, er, reality?

Now, given that most current business commentators, and most of our executives, have not actually worked at any place like Bell Labs, impressions of comparibility might be excused. After all, this place also somehow grinds inspiration from the memory of Mohandas Gandhi.

Let’s compare some facts about the organizations as they are now. According to Bell Labs history and to various public information bits about Red Hat, one can draw some rather lopsided parallels:

|aspect|Bell Labs|Red Hat| |established|1925|1994| |staff | tens of thousands | less than a thousand| |research staff | thousands | dozens [1] | |major activity | research| software packaging & support| |major contributions|“several”:http://www.bell-labs.com/history/75/changedworld.html | RPM|

But perhaps that’s not fair, after all the initial quote was talking about the future. Perhaps over the next 75 years, Red Hat will find a funding well as deep as Bell System’s telephone monopoly was. Maybe we will hire enough Ph.D.‘s or other intellgent folks to light a torch of big ambition and real accomplishment. I hope that over time that flame will also singe some of our self-promotional excesses.

1 R&D at the company, for investor relations purposes, might encompass anyone doing anything with the software. With a tip of the hat to greater specificity, the number of people actually building something new is much smaller.