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Hell freezes over: Microsoft, Novell partner on Linux

Microsoft and Novell have announced a set of broad business, legal, and technical collaboration agreements to build, market, and support a series of new solutions that will make Novell’s Linux and Microsoft’s Windows products work better together.

First, the two long-warring companies will create a joint research facility at which Microsoft and Novell technical experts will architect and test new software solutions and work with customers and the community to build and support these technologies. At this center, developers will focus on three major technical areas.

The first of these is virtualization. The companies will jointly develop a compelling virtualization offering for Linux and Windows. During the press conference in San Francisco announcing this deal, Jeff Jaffe, Novell CTO said that the end result will be to enable Windows to run on top of Linux, and Linux to run on top of Windows.

Since Novell has long worked hard on bringing Xen virtualization to SUSE Linux and Microsoft recently announced that it would use Xen for its own server virtualization, it seems almost certain that the companies are planning to come up with a Xen-based virtualization solution.

The companies will also work on managing web-services on both physical and virtual servers. However, while the press conference centered on web services, it’s clear that the two are also working on making it easy to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments. In particular, the unlikely bedfellows will work on ways to confederate Microsoft Active Directory with Novell eDirectory, and vice-versa.

The two are also working together to bridge the gap between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org’s document formats. While Sun Microsystems Inc. is usually the first company associated with OpenOffice, Novell has also been a major contributor to its code. Specifically, Novell and Microsoft will work on ways to translate and improve interoperability between Microsoft’s Open XML and OpenOffice’s ODF (OpenDocument formats).

As significant as those developments are, perhaps the biggest news is that Novell and Microsoft announced an agreement to provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products. These agreements will be in place until at least 2012.

The patent cooperation agreement enables Microsoft and Novell to give customers assurance of protection against patent infringement claims. It gives customers confidence that the technologies they use and deploy in their environments are compliant with the two companies’ patents.

As part of this agreement, Microsoft will provide a covenant not to assert its patent rights against customers who have purchased SLES (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.

“Both companies had to think creatively about how to create an intellectual property bridge between the two worlds of open source and proprietary software,” said Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel of Microsoft. “This bridge is built on respect for the innovations of each company and the open source community, and a passion for what we can deliver for our customers together.”

It should be noted that while the potential for open-source patent lawsuits has long been recognized, none of any significance has ever been filed.

As part of the agreement, Novell will pay a running royalty to Microsoft for use of its patents in SUSE Linux. Both companies, as Smith mentioned, have large patent portfolios. No mention, however, was made of Microsoft paying a royalty to Novell for the use of its patents.
Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer said that, in effect, “Novell will act as a proxy for its customers, but only for Novell’s customers. This leaves the impression that Microsoft might consider legal action against other Linux companies, such as Red Hat Inc., with which it doesn’t have such an agreement.

Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer (left) said that, in effect, “Novell will act as a proxy for its customers, but only for Novell’s customers. This leaves the impression that Microsoft might consider legal action against other Linux companies, such as Red Hat Inc., with which it doesn’t have such an agreement.

In addition, Ballmer said that Microsoft would not use its patent portfolio against any individual, non-profit open-source software developer or against any openSUSE programmer whose code ended up in SUSE Linux.

Under the agreement, Microsoft will also officially recommend SUSE Linux Enterprise for customers who want mixed, Windows and Linux solutions. As Ballmer said, however, if someone asks him what operating system he should get, he’s going to say, “Windows! Windows! Windows!” But, if they say “no, we must have Linux,” then Novell’s SUSE Linux is what they’ll recommend.

As part of this deal, Microsoft will distribute 75,000 coupons for SLES maintenance and support, so that customers can benefit from the use of an interoperable version of Linux with patent coverage, as well as from the collaborative work between the two companies.

“They said it couldn’t be done. This is a new model and a true evolution of our relationship that we think customers will immediately find compelling, because it delivers practical value by bringing two of their most important platform investments closer together,” Ballmer added. “We’re excited to work with Novell, whose strengths include its heritage as a mixed-source company. Resolving our patent issues enables a combined focus on virtualization and Web services management to create new opportunities for our companies and our customers.”

The two have however, not worked out all their differences. The WordPerfect lawsuit remains unresolved.
“Too often technology companies ask their customers to adapt to them. Today, we are adapting to our customers,” said Novell president and CEO Ron Hovsepian (right). Both companies said that they made these broad agreements because of the demands of enterprise customers.
First, the two long-warring companies will create a joint research facility at which Microsoft and Novell technical experts will architect and test new software solutions and work with customers and the community to build and support these technologies. At this center, developers will focus on three major technical areas.

The first of these is virtualization. The companies will jointly develop a compelling virtualization offering for Linux and Windows. During the press conference in San Francisco announcing this deal, Jeff Jaffe, Novell CTO said that the end result will be to enable Windows to run on top of Linux, and Linux to run on top of Windows.

Since Novell has long worked hard on bringing Xen virtualization to SUSE Linux and Microsoft recently announced that it would use Xen for its own server virtualization, it seems almost certain that the companies are planning to come up with a Xen-based virtualization solution.

The companies will also work on managing web-services on both physical and virtual servers. However, while the press conference centered on web services, it’s clear that the two are also working on making it easy to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments. In particular, the unlikely bedfellows will work on ways to confederate Microsoft Active Directory with Novell eDirectory, and vice-versa.

The two are also working together to bridge the gap between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org’s document formats. While Sun Microsystems Inc. is usually the first company associated with OpenOffice, Novell has also been a major contributor to its code. Specifically, Novell and Microsoft will work on ways to translate and improve interoperability between Microsoft’s Open XML and OpenOffice’s ODF (OpenDocument formats).

As significant as those developments are, perhaps the biggest news is that Novell and Microsoft announced an agreement to provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products. These agreements will be in place until at least 2012.

The patent cooperation agreement enables Microsoft and Novell to give customers assurance of protection against patent infringement claims. It gives customers confidence that the technologies they use and deploy in their environments are compliant with the two companies’ patents.

As part of this agreement, Microsoft will provide a covenant not to assert its patent rights against customers who have purchased SLES (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.

“Both companies had to think creatively about how to create an intellectual property bridge between the two worlds of open source and proprietary software,” said Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel of Microsoft. “This bridge is built on respect for the innovations of each company and the open source community, and a passion for what we can deliver for our customers together.”

It should be noted that while the potential for open-source patent lawsuits has long been recognized, none of any significance has ever been filed.

As part of the agreement, Novell will pay a running royalty to Microsoft for use of its patents in SUSE Linux. Both companies, as Smith mentioned, have large patent portfolios. No mention, however, was made of Microsoft paying a royalty to Novell for the use of its patents.

A version of this story first appeared in Desktop Linux.

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