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Microsoft and Linspire agreement no big deal for Linux

Jack Loftus, News Writer

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In November, Novell made headlines when it partnered up with Microsoft in the name of Linux-Windows interoperability. Then Xandros – a Linux desktop distributor – followed suit, and so too did LG Electronics. Today another Linux desktop player, Linspire Inc., joined the Microsoft fold.

Sounds like momentum is swinging in Microsoft's favor, right? Not really, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc.

Aside from the Novell announcement, which Haff said deservedly garnered its fair share of headlines; the subsequent patent and interoperability partnerships touted by Microsoft over the past six months are "small potatoes."

With Thursday's announcement, Linspire agreed to license voice-enabled instant messaging, Windows Media 10 CODECs and TrueType font technologies from Microsoft for its Linux distribution. In return, Microsoft will offer protection to Linspire customers against possible violations of Microsoft patents by Linux, said Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony in a company newsletter. It's a deal that mimics some of the bullet points of the Novell deal -- but not the impact, Haff said.

"The Novell deal was news because Novell is clearly the number two Linux distribution," Haff said. "While Xandros and Linspire have their niches, I don't see a big impact on the Linux community. I don't see Red Hat suddenly changing its view of the world because Linspire and Xandros have embraced Microsoft."

Indeed, at the Red Hat Summit held in San Diego last month, Red Hat vice president of enterprise applications Tim Yeaton said his company was sticking to its RHEL 5 roadmap, because it was still drawing in new customers and retaining the old ones even in the face of Novell's partnership and pressure from Oracle Linux.

With these deals, Microsoft may be interested in creating the appearance of momentum, Haff said, especially as the Free Software Foundation puts the final touches on the GPLv3. "The GPLv3 would presumably prohibit these types of [patent] deals in the future. Even [former FSF general counsel Eben] Moglen has indicated that he does not see it as applying retroactively to deals already in place," Haff said.

For Haff, the fact remains that the current wave of patent agreements between Microsoft and smaller Linux vendors will remain inconsequential to the Linux community as a whole and, more specifically, industry leader Red Hat.

"Even if Microsoft found another three or four smaller regional distributions like Mandriva, etc., to sign up for this, I wouldn't see much incremental impact," Haff said.


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