Microsoft embraces open source with Novell tie-up

Vendors will work on Windows-Linux interoperability

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By  Published  November 10, 2006

MICROSOFT AND NOVELL may not seem the most likely of bedfellows, but the two firms said this month that they will be working together to make their products work better with each other.

The old enemies have buried the hatchet and announced a series of business, marketing and intellectual property (IP) agreements to promote interoperability between Windows and Novell’s SuSe Linux server and desktop platforms.

The deal reflects the growing importance of Linux open source software in the business world and is a sign that Microsoft, seen by many as the nemesis of the open source community, has realised it cannot ignore Linux anymore.

Fellow Linux distributor Red Hat heralded the partnership as a victory for open source software, despite industry speculation that it was yet another blow to the under-fire vendor. “It means Linux has won,” the company said on its web site.

Under the agreement, the two companies will set up a joint research facility where the firms will develop and test new software solutions, provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products until at least 2012, and promote each other’s products — Microsoft will distribute coupons for SuSe Linux Enterprise Server maintenance and support.

“They said it couldn’t be done,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, “This is a new model and a true evolution of our relationship.”

The partnership will focus on the three key areas of virtualisation, web services and document format compatibility. Interoperability on virtualisation raises the prospect of servers and PCs being able to run both Windows and Linux operating systems at the same time.

“As a result of this collaboration, customers will now be able to run virtualised Linux on Windows or virtualised Windows on Linux,” explained Jeff Jaffe, executive vice president and CTO at Novell.

The two firms will also work to make translators available to improve interoperability between Novell’s OpenOffice OpenDocument format and Microsoft Office’s Open XML.

Under the patent agreement, the pair will make upfront payments in exchange for a release from any potential liability for use of each other’s patented IP.

They have pledged to give customers assurance of protection against patent infringement claims and each will provide a covenant not to assert patent rights against the other’s customers in relation to products covered under the scope of the deal.

“Both companies had to think creatively about how to create an intellectual property bridge between the two worlds of open source and proprietary software,” commented Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel.

The deal is not expected to affect the current US antitrust lawsuit Novell has pending against Microsoft, which alleges the software giant withheld technical information about Windows that Novell needed for its WordPerfect and Quattro Pro business application programs — both of which Novell has now sold. In 2004 the pair reached a US$536million settlement over similar antitrust complaints in Europe.

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