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Microsoft-Novell deal and Linux usage

Do you think the Microsoft-Novell will help to increase Linux usage because of collaboration between the open source/Linux community and Microsoft on products?

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I don't think Microsoft will be actively promoting Linux. They can tell customers who have Microsoft shops with a some Linux machines (most people, nowadays) that there is no need to go anywhere other than Microsoft for IT needs. Microsoft can supply SUSE in those cases where Linux is needed. At the same, time they can poach other Linux distros' customers: Wal-Mart is going to convert its Linux machines from Red Hat to SUSE so that Microsoft can service everything. This parallels Oracle's Linux strategy: as long as Oracle is doing the database, why not do the whole stack?

So, I don't think Microsoft is going to grow the number of Linux users, at least not in a very big way. But they are in a position to cash in when their customers gradually turn more of their machines away from Microsoft and toward Linux. And this substitution strategy is not the crux of the Microsoft strategy. At the present time, Microsoft supports Wal-Mart by selling them coupons good for help from SUSE. Microsoft got these at no dollar cost simply by agreeing not to sue Novell over undisclosed patents that Microsoft implies are infringed by Linux. This parallels the SCO strategy: pay me and I'll leave you alone.

This is the heart of the matter. Microsoft frightens Wal-Mart into becoming a SUSE user, and makes everyone nervous about using Linux, for reasons that can't be clearly expressed and assessed. Since Microsoft's patent claims against Linux are merely rumor, it can't hurt to repeat what is also merely rumor: that Microsoft is even now quietly making the rounds among large companies and collecting tribute.

And there is more excitement to come: the word "collaboration" normally makes me think of Penguins. In this case, it reminds me of Vichy -- Novell will have an exclusive arrangement with Microsoft to work out real, genuine, patent-blessed interoperability with SUSE. Will other distros have access to this code?

Certainly, more interoperatibility between Microsoft and Linux software would help Linux spread. Samba and OpenOffice have been working on this for years. It's that Microsoft's "blessing" of SUSE as the only legitimate Linux is not the way to compete in the open source marketplace. The problem is not that Microsoft wants to sell services for the Linux in its customers' IT operations, or that Oracle wants to kick Red Hat out of its customers' shops. The problem is that Microsoft is competing not on service or convenience, but by softly breathing Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt over the entire Linux landscape.

This was first published in February 2007

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