Microsoft, Novell link up for surprise partnership

Today Microsoft and Novell joined forces to build an interoperability bridge between Linux and Windows and make a stronger virtualization play.

The theme was interoperability today as Microsoft and Novell Inc. forged a surprising partnership that would link up the Windows and SUSE Enterprise Linux operating systems.

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Under the agreement, Microsoft would offer sales support for Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during a press conference held in San Francisco. The two companies also have plans to simplify running the Windows operating system and SUSE Linux in mixed operating system environments. Initiatives include co-development of virtualization products and document sharing between office suites Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.

The move marked a retreat from previous business practices at Microsoft, which, until today had attempted to quash Linux and other open source software using the argument that migrating from Windows to Linux was far too costly or risky to be effective. In the past, Ballmer likened Linux to a disease, saying: "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."

Despite Microsoft's opposition, commercial Linux vendors like Red Hat Inc. and Novell have successfully won tens of thousands of corporate converts. More often than not, these customers today opt to run mixed server environments with Windows and Linux inside.

In a press conference Thursday, Ballmer said Microsoft and Novell would work to "bridge the divide" between open- and closed-source software and to enhance interoperability between the two operating systems.

"Linux plays an important role in the IT infrastructure of many of our customers and will continue to play a role," Ballmer said. These customers with heterogeneous IT environments demand strong interoperability among all systems, he added.

Toward a workaround-free mind-set

Microsoft and Novell will collaborate on virtualization products that promote the interoperability and compatibility of Windows and Linux in virtualization environments. Today, virtual machines allow IT managers to run multiple applications and OSes on a single server. Working together, Novell and Microsoft can offer virtualization offerings without operating system limitations or the need for elaborate workarounds, said Jeff Jaffe, Novell executive vice president and CTO.

In an additional part of the agreement, the two companies plan to provide patent and sales coverage for each other's customers and products, executives for both companies said today. This is a decidedly different approach from a decade ago, when both companies were locked in bitter patent lawsuits.

The partnership with Novell is the first instance where Microsoft has partnered directly with a commercial Linux distribution vendor, but Redmond has been making friends with commercial open source software firms and the open source community. Just this week, Microsoft aligned with Zend Technologies Ltd., creator of the open source PHP scripting programming language. During this year, Microsoft has formed alliances with open source firms SugarCRM Inc., a customer relationship management vendor, and XenSource Inc., a virtualization platform supplier.

Microsoft aimed previous open source partnerships only at the overall community, like the Port 25 web site maintained by Bill Hilf, general manager of Microsoft platform strategy. The goal of that Web site has been to accumulate feedback from the open source community, but almost immediately it was met with criticism from users of open source who were dubious of Microsoft's efforts, and access to the comments section was shut down.

Though Linux and open source software advocates may rage against these newly formed alliances with Microsoft, Jaffe considers it a victory for the open source community. Just the fact that Microsoft has decided to build a bridge of interoperability between Linux and Windows is a "huge endorsement" of Linux, he said. The end of Microsoft's patent wars against Linux is another boon. Overall, Jaffe said, this new development will strengthen the open source community.

What is your reaction to this partnership announcement? Will this help or hurt Linux? Send us an email and tell us your thoughts!

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