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My Enemy, My Partner: The Microsoft-Novell Alliance

Novell buys a very large channel partner.

Microsoft will resell Novell’s SUSE Linux and develop open source solutions with the Linux vendor to make the interaction of SUSE and Windows more efficient, the companies announced at a press conference this week.

The companies will co-develop software to improve virtualization, Samba, server management, and web services in mixed-OS environments.

Additionally, Microsoft, when encountering customers that wish to deploy a Linux solution, will recommend and resell SUSE Linux. Microsoft will also purchase 70,000 support coupons for SUSE Linux until 2012.

As mentioned during last week’s Oracle Unbreakable Linux 2.0 announcement, support contracts are the bread-and-butter of Linux distributors.

Financial terms of the five-year partnership were not disclosed however both companies are paying upfront for the use of the others patents and, additionally, Novell will pay Microsoft a percentage of all revenue they derive from open source products.

I can’t wait to sift through Microsoft’s next quarterly earnings statement for “revenue from open source.”

The companies also entered into a patent-licensing agreement. Basically, this means that neither company will enforce intellectual property rights against the other’s customers. From a Joint letter to the Open Source Community:

Novell has secured an irrevocable promise from Microsoft to allow individual and non-commercial contributors the freedom to continue open source development, free from any concern of Microsoft patent lawsuits. That’s right, Microsoft wants you to keep hacking.

Emphasis mine. Some are raising concerns that honest-to-goodness individual contributors are few and far between. However you can quickly reel off a list of commercial contributors — IBM, HP, Red Hat, and a host of others — that, under this verbiage, could fall prey to a patent lawsuit from MS.

The attorneys were either planning well ahead or were a little rushed in trying to get a response to Oracle’s newly minted Red Hat indemnification out the door.

And at this point, it’s all theoretical. Remember the same concern was raised back in 2004 when it was revealed that Microsoft could possibly sue OpenOffice.org developers and users for patent infringement. And nothing came of that.

Vendor alliances come and go and only time will tell if products, litigation, or adoption will sprout from the seeds planted this week. For now, the most important thing to come out of all of this might be one sentence in the letter to the community linked above:

With this news, Microsoft is saying that Linux is an important part of the IT infrastructure.

Indeed. Now I need to go find my copy of the collected works of Washington Irving, so I can see what happens after Rip Van Winkle wakes up.

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