Microsoft Likes (Novell) Linux

UPDATED: Microsoft is the mortal enemy of Linux, right? Not necessarily.

In a surprise announcement, Microsoft  CEO Steve Ballmer and Novell  CEO Ron
Hovsepian took the stage at a San Francisco hotel this afternoon to provide details on a
partnership that will forever change the Linux landscape.

Microsoft is partnering with Novell on Linux. No that’s not a typo. It’s
not a joke. It’s official.

The two key components of the agreement revolve around interoperability and
patents. The deal is not with Linux in general but specifically with
Novell’s SUSE Linux offerings. Financial terms of the deal were not

The Microsoft Novell agreements are set to be in place until at
least 2012 and do involve a flow of cash from one partner to the other on
the use of patent and for joint interoperability work. As part of the deal,
Microsoft will also be buying as many as 70,000 units of Novell’s SUSE Linux
enterprise server.

Novell and Microsoft will also create a joint research facility that focuses
on interoperability between Linux and Windows. The key elements of
interoperability covered by the agreement are virtualization, virtualization
management, and inter-office suite (Office to OpenOffice) interoperability.

The two partners will also now collaborate on sales and marketing for both
companies’ interoperable solutions.

The agreement does not mean the Microsoft will now support Linux instead of

“We’re still competitors but we’ll be friendly whenever we’re together,”
Ballmer said. “I’ll still push Windows, and Ron [Hovsepian, Novell CEO] will
still push Linux.”

Ballmer explained that he sees Novell as a proxy for dealing with the open
source community. Microsoft cannot engage the open source community directly
according to Ballmer on intellectual and patent issues.

“We don’t license our intellectual property to Linux,” Ballmer said. “That’s
not a possibility.”

Instead Novell and Microsoft have come to a patent understanding such that
Microsoft will not pursue patent claims against users of Novell’s SUSE Linux
distributions. Ballmer went so far as to endorse Novell SUSE Linux as the
version of Linux that provides business and technology piece of mind.
Microsoft has also pledged not to pursue patent claims against individual
open source developers or non-commercial efforts, as well.

Other Linux vendors, however, are another story and still have much to worry

“This patent deal does not apply to any other forms of Linux other than
Novell SUSE Linux,” Ballmer declared. “Others will still have issue.”

Both Ballmer and Novell’s Hovsepian repeatedly noted over the course of
their press conference that customers were what drove them towards making
the deal.

Ballmer noted that customer have told him that they run Linux but still want
to run Windows.

“We care enough about the issue and we want to make clear to the market that
interoperability and the IP bridge is an important thing,” Ballmer said.

Both CEOs agreed that the deal provides patent peace of mind and
technical interoperability that customers have been demanding.

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