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Linspire, Microsoft in Linux-related deal


Linspire Inc. on June 13 announced an agreement to license voice-enabled instant messaging, Windows Media 10 CODECs, and TrueType font technologies from Microsoft for its Linux distribution. Additionally, Microsoft will offer protection to Linspire customers against possible violations of Microsoft patents by Linux, Linspire said.

In his June 14 weekly Linspire Letter, Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony stated, “This agreement will offer several advantages to Linspire Linux users not found anywhere else, such as Windows Media 10 support, genuine Microsoft TrueType fonts, Microsoft patent coverage, improved interoperability with Microsoft Windows computers, and so on.”

Linspire has long made an effort to bundle proprietary CODECs, drivers, and software with its Linspire and Freespire Linux distributions, as a way to offer users a Linux OS that works with a wide range of popular multimedia formats and browser plug-ins, and can play DVDs out of the box.

Another area of cooperation will be on technology for interoperability between documents stored in OpenXML and the Open Document Format, as in the Xandros/Microsoft agreement announced on June 5.

Additionally, in a blow to search engine leader Google, Linspire will make Microsoft’s search engine the default Linspire 5.0 web search engine, “allowing Microsoft to bring Live Search to a broader set of users and providing leading search capabilities to Linspire customers,” a Linspire news release said.

In a news release, Linspire detailed the three key technologies it will be licensing from Microsoft, for use as add-ons to its Linspire Linux distribution, as:

* Instant messaging — Linspire will license Microsoft’s RT Audio Codec to promote voice-enabled interoperability between Linspire’s Pidgin (formerly GAIM) instant messaging client and Microsoft’s instant messaging clients for business, Microsoft Office Communicator, and, for consumers, Windows Live Messenger.

* Digital media — Future releases of Linspire will now support the latest Windows Media 10 audio and video codecs, allowing Linspire and Microsoft Windows users to better share digital media files.

* TrueType fonts — Linspire will license popular Microsoft TrueType fonts, including Arial, Georgia, Times New Roman, and Verdana, so Linspire users have improved experiences creating, editing, and viewing files and documents.

Additionally, as with both the Xandros/Microsoft and earlier Novell/Microsoft agreements, this new Linspire/Microsoft agreement reportedly will offer protection to Linspire Linux users against possible infringement of Microsoft patents by Linux. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed on May 14 that “Linux violates over 228 patents,” but to date Microsoft has not detailed any alleged infringements.

In addition to the Novell/Microsoft and Xandros/Microsoft deals, Microsoft on June 7 announced an agreement with LG Electronics said to enable LG to use Microsoft patented technology in its product lines, including in its Linux-based embedded devices.

Meanwhile, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has been busy preparing a final draft of the GNU General Public License Version 3 (GPLv3) that contains language aimed at making these kinds of patent pacts a violation of the license. As of this writing, however, the top Linux kernel developers appear unwilling to migrate the Linux kernel to GPLv3 from GPL2, or to utilize a combination of both GPL licenses.

This deal between Linspire and Microsoft is particularly interesting in light of the earlier bad blood between the two companies. Linspire was founded in 2001 by Michael Robertson under the name, “Lindows.” In July of 2004, after several years of threats and saber rattling by Microsoft, which claimed that “Lindows” violated its “Windows” trademark, the two companies reached a settlement, whereby Microsoft was rumored to have paid Lindows $20 million to change its name to Linspire, transfer its Lindows-related domain names to Microsoft, and otherwise abandon its use of the term, “Lindows.”

In the June 14 weekly “Linspire Letter,” Carmony said, “Today, Linspire announced our latest partnership, one with Microsoft, to bring even more choices to desktop Linux users, and together, offer a ‘better’ Linux experience. Just as Steve Jobs announced in 1997 that ‘the era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over,’ I too believe it’s time for Linux to do the same. Rather than isolating Linux, I believe we need to understand, as Apple did in 1997, that Linux exists in an ecosystem and must work with and interoperate within that ecosystem. As unpopular as it may appear to some, Linspire is willing to take a lead in this effort. Some people booed Steve Jobs back in 1997, but if you trace the history of his announcement, I think it was an incredibly smart move for both Microsoft and Apple, issuing in a new era for both.”

Regarding the genesis of this deal, Carmony explained, “Linspire has always believed in working with partners to integrate Linux into the desktop computing ecosystem. It became obvious to me that we were missing a partnership with one of the most important participants in that ecosystem, Microsoft. So, about a year and a half ago, I contacted Microsoft and asked for a meeting to discuss how we could work together to make a ‘better’ Linux. I was confident Microsoft would welcome my invitation, because I knew there could be an economic incentive for them to do so. As I had expected, they welcomed my call, and I immediately flew to Redmond for the first of many meetings over the following months, taking place in both Redmond and San Diego, culminating in this week’s announced partnership.”

In its news release announcing the Microsoft deal, Linspire noted that in order to receive the three newly licensed technologies — instant messaging, digital media, and TrueType fonts — Linspire Linux customers will need to “purchase” a “patent SKU.” That is, the technologies are “not shipped with all Linspire 5.0 distributions.” However, in his June 14 Linspire Letter, Carmony stated that there would be no increase in the retail price of Linspire to accommodate the costs of these technologies, “which will remain at $59.95.”

Presumably, the touted protection against possible infringement of Microsoft patents by Linux will also result from “purchasing” the “patent SKU.”

Freespire, the free version of Linspire Linux, will remain free, Carmony added, but “for the most part” will not include these technologies, nor the patent infringement protection offered by Microsoft. “If Freespire users want these new features (TrueType Fonts, Windows Media 10, etc.), they always have the option of moving to Linspire.” However, better interoperability between OpenOffice and Microsoft Office will be available to Freespire users, he said.

Financial terms and other details of this deal have not been revealed.

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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