Microsoft / Novell: Are Windows and Linux becoming buddies?

img MS Novell Yesterday the two CEOs of Microsoft and Novell in a joint press conference told the public that they have agreed on a set of broad business and technical collaborations …to build, market and support a series of new solutions to make Novell and Microsoft(R) products work better together…

The two companies also agreed to provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products. The announcement followed six months of negotiations and the agreements will be in place until at least 2012. No financial terms of the agreement have been disclosed at this time.

…Under the agreement, Novell is establishing clear leadership among Linux platform and open source software providers on interoperability for mixed-source environments. As a result, Microsoft will officially recommend SUSE Linux Enterprise for customers who want Windows and Linux solutions. Additionally, Microsoft will distribute coupons for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server maintenance and support, so that customers can benefit from the use of an interoperable version of Linux with patent coverage as well as the collaborative work between the two companies…

(Update): Microsoft sales staff will distribute 70,000 coupons offering one-year subscription for maintenance and updates to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

(this is a long article with more details after the jump)

These agreements have broad scope and mark a massive shift from previous relations between the two companies and of Microsoft’s position towards the Linux open source markets.

While the battle ground is currently being staked off against Microsoft’s office products by Google and OpenOffice solutions this focuses on Microsoft’s second cash cow – its server products. The announcement comes one week after arch-rival Oracle said it will start support to its customers who also use Red Hat’s version of Linux.

Linux lately has been gaining further ground as server operating system with more and more of Microsoft’s customers also using Linux in the server room. According to IDC within this year’s 3rd quarter new server sold for about USD1.5bn had Linux installed compared to about USD4.2bn of servers with MS Windows.

So what do these agreements actually mean:

Overall as Steve Ballmer put it in his speech …”We want those customers who are coming to Windows and Linux to chose the Novell SUSE product line, and we are going to put our marketing behind that….

If you can’t beat them – join them.

1. Virtualization and server consolidation
Both are hot topics with enterprise customers in the moment, and with its new alliance Microsoft and Novell definitely increase their visibility in these markets.

Novell / Suse have selected the open-source Xen virtualization software as it’s framework to run multiple operating systems in virtual machines on a computer. Microsoft is currently working on its own Hypervisor technology – code-named Viridian – that is planned to become available after the Longhorn Server ships – Longhorn Server is said to be only …virtualization-ready

Novell will optimized Suse Linux Enterprise Server virtualization features for Windows Server Longhorn. Microsoft at the same time will create a version of the Longhorn server that is optimized to run Suse Linux in a virtual environment. And rumors earlier this year that Vista will be able to run Linux binaries might indicate some further integration.

Red Hat that was planning / trying to charge a premium for virtualized servers might now completely bury these plans.

Virtualization Market leader VMware who has already started in summer this year to provide its entry level solution VMware Server for free, might feel even more pressure coming if Microsoft, Novell/Suse and Xen Community solutions will be further integrated and more importantly the three find better ways to manage virtual server environments.

2. Web Services and enterprise applications
…Microsoft and Novell will undertake work to make it easier for customers to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments and to make it easier for customers to federate Microsoft Active Directory(R) with Novell eDirectory…

Since a few years Microsoft has been driving integration of its own products towards web services and MS Vista’s communication are almost fully layered over web services.

Leading enterprise application vendors (and Microsoft competitors) like Oracle and SAP have adapted or rewritten their software to support Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approaches.

With Microsoft pushing hard – but so far not very successfully – to get a larger share of this market, solutions that promise better interoperability, management and security with web services are currently a definite winner particularly for large governments and enterprises clients with their heterogeneous environments.

After Red Hat bought JBoss a few months ago, Novell, to make it a bit more complicated for its competitor, while still providing support for the JBoss middleware, now does not include the JBoss software in its Suse Enterprise server distribution anymore.

3. Document formats and OpenOffice
The two companies will now work together on ways for OpenOffice and Microsoft Office system users to best share documents, and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument formats

This is seemingly what Novell and Microsoft engineers together have been working for the last year through the ECMA TC45 group by producing a complete specification that would allow for interoperability across office suites. In the letter to the open source community Novell and Microsoft are explaining further:

…Novell will develop the code necessary to bring support for Office Open XML into OpenOffice, and we will contribute that support back to the organization. We will also distribute the Office Open XML plug-in in our own edition of OpenOffice. In addition, we will participate in the Open XML Translator open source project.

Following threats of a lawsuit from Adobe, Microsoft earlier this year announced that it would remove support for saving files in PDF from Office 2007 as well as dropping its own rival format XML Paper format (XPS) from the office suite and Windows Vista. Later it became clear that both features will now be supported through plug-ins.

Further interoperability with OpenOffice, the only remaining major competitor for Microsoft’s productivity suite, might also put additional pressure on Adobe and its PDF document solution platform. It will definitely strengthen Open XML as a document exchange format standard.

4. Patent rights
…As part of this agreement, Microsoft will provide a covenant not to assert its patent rights against customers who have purchased SUSE Linux Enterprise Server or other covered products from Novell, and Novell will provide an identical covenant to customers who have a licensed version of Windows or other covered products from Microsoft…

Now here the whole thing becomes really interesting. With the never ending story of SCO vs IBM vs Novell over Linux and Unix IP rights still ongoing that puts a very interesting twist to this Microsoft-Novell partnership, depending on the outcome of the case. As a side note: It was continuously rumored that Microsoft has backed and kept SCO alive with its payments (for licenses of course).

If Novell’s claims to the UNIX SVR4 and UnixWare code-bases are upheld in court against SCO, Novell position will become unique between all other suppliers of UNIX and UNIX like enterprise solutions. The agreement between Microsoft and Novell might also open new doors for Novell to come to agreement with SCO outside the court given SCO current overall situation.

One of the questions yet to be settled is whether Novell will violate the GPL, the license of the Linux kernel and other important software, by offering patent protection that is exclusive to Novell customers. When Microsoft has done a deal with Sun Microsystems in 2004 to protect their customers from similar claims these questions were raised as well.

While Groklaw claims that Ballmer didn’t get that SUSE Linux is GPL code this might be true only to a limited extend for the Enterprise server products – even after Novell put Yast under GPL earlier this year.

5. Development environments (Mono)
The letter to the open source community states that …Under the patent agreement, customers will receive coverage for Mono, Samba, and OpenOffice as well as .NET and Windows Server…

Additionally Microsoft assures that it …will not prosecute developers and users of SLES over possible infringements of its intellectual property (IP) in SLES. A special Microsoft covenant will cover non-commercial developers and those contributing code to SLES…

Winners and looser:
The agreement substantially strengthens Novell’s position in the Linux market. It might also be decisive for the success of the Xen virtualization software over other competitors in the Linux world.

With Oracle just having announced it’s move into the Linux market a few days ago its now further raining down on Red Hat – they’re now being squeezed by Microsoft, Novell and Oracle plus the rest of the Linux distros like CentOS targeting directly their customer.

In our opinion the other big looser of the last two weeks moves of Oracle and Microsoft to closer ties with the Linux world are Unix suppliers including Sun Microsystems. Last year Sun Microsystems has already begun to make its Solaris operating system free for customers who have one-, two- and four processor servers to stop its customers migrating to other operating systems.

Mono and Linux developers should see themselves as winners of the agreement while GPL advocates will most likely not be happy as it might further weakening their case for the GPL. BSD style license supporters on the other hand should be happy as the agreement might strengthen their arguments.

Linux for commercial uses overall should be considered a winner – when Microsoft says they won’t assert their patents, it makes Linux more attractive to customers. Even if you don’t want to believe the claims have any base, companies have gone out of business before due to IP claims or have seen substantial loss of business. And in difference to SCO players like Microsoft and IBM are financially heavy weights and with their patent portfolios that can play such games for a very long time. How the alliance will affect Novell’s view of software patents has to be seen. We don’t believe that it will become a willful soldier or voice defending Microsoft’s position.

It has been reported that the new alliance also won’t affect Novell’s USD 500 million antitrust suit filed in 2004 against Microsoft.

Even with the new alliance between Microsoft and Novell, both CEOs – Steve Ballmer and Ron Hovsepian – emphasized in their speeches that the two companies will continue to fiercely compete for customers.

But as The Register points out in its article: …It would not surprise us if Microsoft is better than Novell at selling SUSE software…

Novell stocks gained almost 16% after the announcement yesterday.

More information:

  • A video of the press conference with Ballmer and Hovespian discussing their new partnership at: Silicon Valley Sleuth
  • The announcement at Novell’s website with links to the web cast, FAQ and press release.
  • A discussion on the impact for the Mono development community is at Miguel de Icaza’s web log
  • Joint letter to the Open Source Community at Novell web site

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