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Analysis

Microsoft and Novell: Bambi Meets Godzilla?
Joyce Becknell By: Joyce Becknell, Research Director, EMEA, Sageza Group, Inc. (Moved)
Published: 29th November 2006
Copyright Sageza Group, Inc. © 2006

Microsoft and Novell have recently announced a set of agreements to build, market, and support a series of new solutions to make their products work better together. Microsoft will now recommend SUSE Linux Enterprise for customers who want Windows and Linux together. The two companies are going to create a joint research facility at which Microsoft and Novell technical experts will architect and test new solutions with customers and the open source community, including virtualization solutions, Web services and service-oriented architectures (SOA), and interoperability between office productivity applications. They have also promised to provide each other's customers with patent coverage for their respective products. Microsoft and Novell will each provide covenants that promise not to assert their respective patent rights against customers who have purchased or licensed products from the other. Microsoft has also made some agreements with Novell regarding the open source community. Finally, the two companies will pursue a variety of joint marketing activities to promote the adoption of technologies on which they've collaborated. Novell has posted a FAQ on its web page for the open source community explaining details of the agreement as it relates to the community.

The implications of what Microsoft and Novell are up to should keep pundits busy for awhile. Certainly a flotilla of lawyers are earning their holiday bonuses this year. But we're more interested in the why of it all, and more importantly, why now? Novell has been losing ground to Red Hat and others despite the fact that many believe SUSE to be the superior distribution from a technical viewpoint and despite the fact that companies like IBM have made significant financial contributions to make sure Novell could do the right things with SUSE. At the same time, Microsoft is turning up the heat as Vista hit RTM (release to manufacturing) this week, surrounded by discussions of changes to the wording of its upgrade policy, concerns over what features are available on which versions of Vista, and what exactly the WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) will be like under Vista and how likely this is to turn customers off Microsoft and cause them to seek alternatives. Certainly both companies are vulnerable. Novell has had many recent changes in executives and strategy and has yet to find a compelling message for its mix of open source SUSE and traditional Novell products. Microsoft's announcements, changes, and re-announcements around Vista have led to the development of a web community akin to that which follows the television series Lost, as the curious try to figure out exactly what is really going on and what it all actually means.

On another front, patents come up frequently in these agreements. Said agreements are not irrevocable, and they are finite, but they certainly indicate an intent and a direction from the two companies. It is a sad statement on the state of the industry that more and more companies are making money from patents and intellectual property not by making products with them but by threatening other vendors who may be infringing those patents. SCO has certainly become the poster child for how not to do this, but respectable Linux supporters like HP came out early indemnifying its customers who used Linux in case the threat might be credible. As far as we know, no Linux customers have been sued for using a distribution, but vendor versus vendor could be the subject of the next Celebrity Deathmatch series on MTV. In this particular instance, although Microsoft and Novell have promised to play nice, many disgruntled folks in the open source community aren't sure if what Novell has done is actually in violation of the GPL or whether they're just selling out. This announcement has given the press a bit of excitement while they wait for the Zune and Vista launches. But in terms of real impact on users? Well, we're not holding our breath.

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