Microsoft, Novell Make Nice Over Linux

    November 3, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

A history of network competition and some contentious patent issues between the two companies have been overcome with the announcement that Microsoft and Novell will collaborate on making Vista and SuSE Linux more interoperable and manageable.

The broad scope of the agreement between Microsoft and Novell really masks the enmity the two companies have had over the years. They used to get along about as well as Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix did at the end of Gladiator.

That has changed in a way that should make anyone who has lived through Microsoft’s dethroning of Novell’s Netware from the dominant spot in the world of networking do an amusing spit-take at their workstations. The two companies will work on virtualization, web services, and document format compatibility with Vista and SuSE Linux, at a research center they will create jointly.

Companies will be able to run Windows on Linux, or Linux on Windows. The people at CodeWeavers who sell Crossover software that allows Windows applications to run on Linux systems can’t be real thrilled with the announcement.

Those who think the deal comes in response to Oracle entering the Linux market with its Unbreakable Linux distribution and support services that undercut Red Hat’s prices would be mistaken. Microsoft said negotiations with Novell have progressed for several months, well in advance of the Oracle disclosure.

One-time Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble commented on the deal, citing the potential havoc Novell could wreak on Microsoft due to some patents Novell owns. This could have been a behind-the-scenes factor leading to the deal. Scoble said one person, presumably at Microsoft, told him it “feels like hell is freezing over.”

This partnership looked inevitable. A patent agreement proved central to the deal, even if Microsoft has phrased it as extending its patent protection to customers who use open source software. Novell and Microsoft agreed not to assert patents against each other’s customers, and that has to be the most important part of the announcement.

Competing with Microsoft after it tucked TCP networking into Windows NT has not worked for Novell. Former Novell CEO Eric Schmidt gave it a try for several years without success. Had it not been for Sergey Brin and Larry Page giving Schmidt the equivalent of a few dozen winning Powerball tickets in inviting him to Google, Schmidt could have been a footnote to this story.

Instead, Novell put itself into position to hammer out this arrangement. The variety of operating system and word processing patents they hold could have made Microsoft very uncomfortable.

It’s easy to see how the deal helps out Microsoft. For Novell, the short-term gains of the arrangement don’t look like cornerstones of long-term success. Virtualization, web services, and document format compatibility sound really good. Putting a price tag on them could be a real challenge.

The assumption being made by Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian suggested that the proposed interoperability works for firms when it “makes sense in their enterprise infrastructure.” How much of that demand materializes will determine the success of the deal between Microsoft and Novell. Especially Novell’s future.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.