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Xandros Takes Microsoft's Linux Patent Protection

UPDATED: Novell was the first Linux vendor to get Microsoft's intellectual property assurance pledge. But it might not be the last.

Xandros and Microsoft today announced they have entered into an agreement that, on the surface, is remarkably similar to the one forged between Microsoft and Novell last year.

As part of the deal, Xandros and Microsoft will collaborate on interoperability related to office applications, server interoperability, systems management, sales and marketing support and, of course, intellectual property assurance.

"When we saw Microsoft's openness towards working with open source vendors through the November deal with Novell, we called Microsoft and said we've got some good products and we're focused on interoperability and we should talk," Andreas Typaldos, the CEO of Xandros, told internetnews.com. "We initiated the call and Microsoft responded."

Xandros is a Debian-based Linux distribution that has focused on Windows interoperability as one of its core features. Xandros typically includes the CodeWeaver's CrossOver Office application that enables Linux users to run Microsoft Office on Linux.

Xandros' CrossOver Office users have historically had to go out and legally obtain their own copies of Microsoft Office in order to run it on Linux. It's a situation that won't be changing yet. Xandros will not be acquiring the right to resell Microsoft Office licenses as part of the deal with Microsoft, though that may be part of a future evolution of the partnership.

A key open source application that enables CrossOver Office to work is the WINE application that is a decade old attempt to have Windows applications run on Unix/Linux operating systems. (WINE is not a Windows emulator.)

WINE is not specifically identified in the Novell Microsoft deal as being covered by interoperability or patent protection, and at this point it is not clear whether the Xandros deal adds specific IP protections for WINE use.

According to the publicly disclosed statements from Xandros and Microsoft, the IP protection for Xandros, "Will provide customers with confidence that the Xandros technologies they use and deploy in their environments are compliant with Microsoft's intellectual property."

"There are very broad similarities in terms of how we provide patent covenants to Xandros as we do to Novell customers," David Kaefer, Microsoft's General Manager for IP and Licensing, told internetnews.com.

"The primary difference for Xandros is that by taking certain protocol licenses, there are some different technical specifications, source code and specific patent rights around protocols that Xandros will be receiving in a slightly different manner."

As with the Novell-Microsoft deal, sales and marketing is a key component. With Xandros, however, Microsoft is apparently not buying Xandros subscription certificates to resell, as is the case in the Novell deal.

Though Xandros is buying into Microsoft's patent protection covenant for Linux, it doesn't imply Typaldos believes that Linux infringes on Microsoft's IP.

"People buy insurance every day; they don't think their house is going to burn down, but it's a good thing to have insurance so they can go to sleep at night," Typaldos said.

Microsoft has alleged that Linux and open source applications infringe on its intellectual property, violating as many as 235 Microsoft patents. In addition to Novell and now Xandros, Microsoft has also successfully sold its IP protection covenant to Samsung Electronicsand Xerox.

The Free Software Foundation, which is currently in the process of revising the GPL open source license, has taken a stance against third-party patent protections for GPL-licensed code.

In its last call draft of the GPL version 3, the FSF said it would grant Novell's patent deal with Microsoft a pass, though any deals made after March 28 could result in the FSF blocking vendors that make patent deals from using GPL version 3-licensed code.

It is not yet known whether the FSF will be attempting to block Xandros at some point from distributing GPL version 3 licensed code when available.

Whatever the case, neither Xandros nor Microsoft is too worried.

"We believe there is a common future for Windows and for Linux, whether it's for the datacenter or in people's homes," Microsoft's Kaefer said. "We're confident that we can move forward and do great things together. We'll just have to wait and see what ultimately happens with the final draft of GPL v3."