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Red Hat's Growth Is Leaving Vapor Trails

I'd love to be Red Hat (NYSE: RHT  ) CEO Jim Whitehurst right now. The former Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL  ) chief operating officer took the wheel of the open-source software company under auspicious circumstances, and he's off to a flying start.

Earnings came in flat from the 2007 quarter at $0.10 per share. But revenue in the fourth quarter was $141.5 million, 27% above the year-ago sales, and even that strong growth is only a hint at the real wind in Red Hat's sails.

On the earnings call, management noted that quarterly order bookings exceeded $200 million for the first time. The backlog of unfilled orders stands at $125 million, and the deferred revenue balance increased by around 40% year over year to $473 million.

In other words, the top-line growth is only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the orders already placed won't touch the income statement for quite a while. But the cash is flowing, wild and free.

All of this positive mojo runs counter to the panic-tinted lenses your average economist wears these days, and it doesn't seem to matter that industry rivals like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) , and Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL  ) are doing their best to put some slack in those sails. Whitehurst gleefully noted that the JBoss middleware suite "saw a substantial spike in downloads" the day Oracle offered to buy middleware competitor BEA Systems (Nasdaq: BEAS  ) , and Chief Financial Officer Charles Peters said that 24 of the top 25 service contracts that were up for renewal during the quarter got the customer's John Hancock -- at a 20% price premium over the old deals.

For Whitehurst with his airline experience, it must feel great to run a growing business where he can "talk to customers without having them wanting to take your head off." Open-source software is shifting lanes into the mainstream, and a business model based on mostly free software with expensive support contracts doesn't sound crazy anymore. And the growth story continues, as Whitehurst said that "many large customers, in fact some entire industries" have just begun to take a serious look at Linux, JBoss, and other open-source solutions.

Nice vapes, Jim. You'll get this baby up to Mach One (or $1 billion sales, at least) in no time.

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