Earnings season is just about over, with almost all companies already having reported their quarterly results. But there are still a few companies left to report, and Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) is one of them. The key to making smart investment decisions with stocks releasing their quarter reports is to anticipate how they'll do before they announce results, leaving you fully prepared to respond quickly to whatever inevitable surprises arise.

Red Hat has bucked the trend of proprietary software for years, offering open-source software products based on the Linux operating system and focusing on enterprise customers. Open-source may not sound like a profitable foundation on which to do business, but with numerous applications in the travel, financial, health care, and retail industries, Red Hat has found plenty of ways to make money. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Red Hat over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report on Wednesday.

Stats on Red Hat

Analyst EPS Estimate

$0.30

Change From Year-Ago EPS

3.4%

Revenue Estimate

$349.6 million

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

18%

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

2

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Will Red Hat be open with investors this quarter?
Analysts haven't changed their views on Red Hat very much in recent months, keeping their call for the just-ended quarter unchanged and cutting their full-year fiscal 2014 estimates by just $0.01 per share. The stock, however, hasn't been nearly as strong, falling almost 8% since mid-December.

Red Hat aims to be the low-cost answer to the conundrum facing many companies: how to obtain the enterprise software they need without paying up for name-brand packages from the largest tech companies in the industry. IBM (NYSE:IBM), Microsoft, and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) all have much higher profit margins than Red Hat due to the premiums they command for their products, but as more customers realize that Red Hat's offerings aren't lacking in quality, its revenue has increased dramatically even as sales at the three larger companies have largely stagnated.

Moreover, Red Hat has identified the huge opportunity it wants to focus on: big data. Given that the software-storage market is even larger than the operating-system market, CEO Jim Whitehurst believes that the company can broaden its business base and go after storage companies in pursuit of cloud-based growth. Yet IBM and Oracle in particular are fighting hard to get their share of big data business, and Red Hat will have to demonstrate to customers the special benefits they can get from the company's unique business strategy.

Earlier this month, a negative analyst report argued that Red Hat's growth rate was starting to fall. With many potential customers reluctant to adopt Linux as a standard, Red Hat still faces an uphill battle in convincing buyers that moving away from proprietary operating systems is a positive rather than simply a hassle.

In its quarterly report, watch for Red Hat to discuss not only its future business strategy but also its plans for its Red Hat Summit conference in June. With the entire point of open-source technology being for professionals to gather and share ideas, Red Hat stands to benefit the most from the input it gets from its users.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.