The Microsoft-Novell Linux deal: Two years later

The controversial arrangement over open source and Windows still creates strong feelings, pro and con

Two years ago this month, Microsoft forged its controversial partnership with Novell that, among other things, had the two companies agreeing not to sue each other over intellectual property issues, in part to protect Suse Linux users over any patent litigation from Microsoft.

Just how well has that deal worked out? That depends on whom you talk to.

Microsoft and Novell paint nothing but a rosy picture of the arrangement. "[Customers] like the idea that Microsoft and Novell are in the same room," says Susan Hauser, Microsoft's general manager for strategic partnerships.

But a fervent opponent of the deal, responsible for the Boycott Novell Web site, sees things differently: "Novell compromised interests of the free software community for hundreds of millions of dollars that it received from Microsoft. Novell and Microsoft put their interests ahead of the free software community that makes the software everyone else uses," says Roy Schestowitz, a freelance writer and co-editor of the Boycott Novell site. The arrangement, he adds, "legitimized Microsoft's doubtful and undisclosed patent claims." Schestowitz says the Microsoft-Novell deal may have led to a chain of at least seven more patent deals covering Linux and accompanying parts, which he believes also harm Linux's self-interests.

Today, Microsoft and Novell executives talk as if there never was a controversy. But there was, and many believe Novell made too big a concession to Microsoft regarding intellectual property issues and Linux. (Under the deal, the two companies agreed not to sue each other over intellectual property issues.)

Several months after the agreement, Microsoft claimed that open source software such as Linux violated 235 of its patents. But the company has not publicly detailed what those alleged violations are. Under the agreement, Novell was released for any patent liability, so those claims don't directly affect it.

Other elements of the agreement covered bilateral virtualization between Windows Server and Suse Linux, directory interoperability, systems management, and a translator between Microsoft's Open Office XML and the Novell-backed Open Document Format file formats.

Does the deal harm Linux and open source efforts?

But critics like Schestowitz argue that the Microsoft-Novell deal, coupled with Microsoft's continued patent-infringement claims against Linux, is simply one more step to marginalize Linux or make it a mere guest in Windows-dominated datacenters. "If Novell and Microsoft get their way, then metaphorically speaking, Linux will increasingly be pressured into a corner of the datacenter, essentially being marketed as a guest machine [running under Windows] as opposed to a host running with or without Windows virtualized," he says.

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