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Microsoft and Red Hat continue partnership dance


Intellectual property may be off the table, for now, but it sure seems like Red Hat and Microsoft are still dancing around coming to some kind of partnership relationship.

In a recent eWEEK news story by Peter Galli, Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said, “Red Hat and Microsoft have previously had conversations about interoperability, but none of our recent conversations have included discussions about intellectual property cooperation.”

Ah! Notice the start of the last phrase, “none of our recent conversations.” So, they are still talking.

In reply, Paul Cormier, Red Hat’s executive vice president of engineering, told eWEEK that the company is still willing to work with the Redmond software maker on the interoperability front, but that it wants to limit those talks to pure interoperability between Windows and Red Hat Linux.

If you look at it one way, the gap between the leading Linux company and Microsoft is as wide as ever. Microsoft insists that any deal with a Linux distributor has to address its IP (intellectual property) concerns. Cormier’s position continues to be: “I want to talk to the folks at Microsoft about our two operating systems and how we can work together to solve real customer problems without attaching any unrelated strings, such as intellectual property.

Let me translate that for you. Red Hat is saying that no way in hell will we make a deal involving any kind of acknowledgment that your IP, expressly your patents, have anything to do with Linux.

So why are they still talking?

Well, for one thing, Microsoft has been making deals with at least one Linux company, Turbolinux, that doesn’t seem to involve any kind of patent agreement. In its most recent partnership, Turbolinux has joined in the Open XML/ODF translator project with Microsoft. Years before that, Turbolinux became the first Linux company to let its desktop users play WMF (Windows Media Format) with Microsoft’s own proprietary WMF codices.

In the older deal, Turbolinux recognized Microsoft’s rights to its audio and video codices, but then there’s never been any question that Microsoft owns those lock, stock and barrel. In this month’s partnership deal, there is no mention of an IP deal.

It sure looks to me like Microsoft is ready to make at least limited deals at times with Linux without attaching its patent FUD to the deal. Besides, what does Microsoft really gain from these clauses? No one who has signed one–Novell, Linspire and Xandros–agrees with Microsoft that they somehow confirm that Linux violates Microsoft’s patents.

Heck, for that matter, the Novell deal has blown up in Microsoft’s face. The SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center) claims that Microsoft’s deal has made it potentially subject to the GPLv3.

Microsoft’s reaction to this proclamation is something like a major health care provider being told that filmmaker Michael Moore will now be on its board of directors: “No! No! No!” Too bad Microsoft. It looks to me like you’re still stuck with it.

It seems to me that since Microsoft’s IP stance has only gotten the company into more trouble, It’s worthless anyway and, lest we forget, Microsoft won’t show a shred of evidence that its patent claims amount to anything. It’s time for Microsoft to drop it.

Oh, Microsoft can still let Ballmer be Ballmer and let him rave and rant every now and again. But, away from the spotlight, maybe it’s time for Microsoft to make pure technology partnerships. Red Hat wants it; other Linux companies want it; and Microsoft’s own customers want it, as Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s senior vice president for server and tools, admits.

Stop being a wallflower Microsoft, and come on out and join the interoperability dance. You can always try to steal away the customers later. We know you will. But, for a while anyway, both Windows and Linux users will benefit.

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

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