RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Imagine the chief executive officer of a growing international software company donning a choir robe and leading a song at a technology convention.

Imagine the CEO walking the stage, holding a microphone high and waving his arms as the chorus rocks behind him.

Imagine the same CEO crooning in a voice that isn’t in the same class as Paul McCartney, Tom Jones or Elvis.

Imagine Matthew Szulik, burr haircut and all, working the crowd at the first Red Hat “Summit” in New Orleans on Wednesday with these lyrics:

“I’ve been lonely, I’ve been cheated, I’ve been misunderstood.

“I’ve been washed up, I’ve been put down and I’ve been told I’m no good.

“But with you I belong, because you helped me be strong.

“There’s been a change in my life, since you came along.”

Yes, Red Hat’s chief executive officer is taking his role as evangelist for disrespected Linux to a new level. Szulik’s performance was reminiscent of Bob Young, the Hatters’ former top executive and co-founder who is quite a showman himself.

Ignored — Laughed at — Fought — Winner?

Szulik has always been known as an animated, charismatic speaker. He touts the Red Hat motto adopted from Mohandas Gandhi:

“First they ignore you.

“Then they laugh at you.

“Then they fight you.

“Then you win.”

His keynote address to open the summit was uncharacteristically short — just over 9 minutes. That was still time to get out his core message:

“We believe we are on the vanguard of a new revolution —

“We are trying to deliver on the great promise of the Internet —

“No longer should one vendor dominate (more than 90) percent of the market —

“No longer should a vendor challenge how you use information —

“No longer should patents and copyrights be held hostage –“

He also found time to mention Red Hat’s release of two new high-end server products based on technology acquired last year from Netscape (See related story: ) And he talked about how “Society cannot advance without compelling contributions from you” to the crowd of 700 people or so who paid $999 to attend the three-day event.

New Day Job?

Szulik then left the stage quickly and returned dressed in black robe to lead the gospel choir. As entertaining as it was (you need to see the video of his keynote and song to fully appreciate Szulik’s performance), not everyone was impressed.

“I admire Szulik’s nerve. But he might be a great entertainer as a keynote speaker, he shouldn’t quit his day job and start a singing career,” reads a posting on Silicon Valley Sleuth. (The post also included Szulik’s lyrics.)

Joe Barr, covering the convention for NewsForge, an online publication focused on Linux and Open Source, added: “I credit Szulik with being the first singer I’ve ever met who could make me sound good, but nonetheless he sang to the crowd about the inspiration of being free after having been “knocked down, locked up, and told he was no good.” In spite of his terrible singing, his efforts were rewarded with good-natured applause by the attendees.”

And not everyone was pleased with the idea of paying to see Red Hat’s latest products while hearing from a host of speakers about open source trends. “Whoever pays a company that much money for the privilege of learning about their products is insane. If any capitalist corporation wants access to my attention, those bastards should pay ME,” one person wrote at Silicon Sleuth. “Redhat is becoming more and more like Micro$oft every day, and none of you seem to get the picture.”

I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I will pick Szulik over most execs as keynote speakers who are more boring that SEC filings.

Anyone who has seen Szulik speak — or talked to him one-on-one — knows how passionate he is about Red Hat, Linux and Open Source’s potential. And even if he’s not a good singer, the panache he demonstrated in the Big Easy is worth watching.

I just hope Szulik will repeat the song the next time he speaks in the Triangle.

To see the video of Szulik’s choir performance, go to:

For a video (to download or to watch via streaming)of his keynote address, go to:

For Red Hat’s evolution/revolution video (for download or to watch via streaming), go to:

For the NewsForge coverage of the Summit’s first day, go to: