CEBIT - Novell execs talk Microsoft interop announcement

At the Cebit trade show, Novell executives discussed Microsoft's recent pledge of openness.

A pair of Novell executives Wednesday touted the company's recent financial performance, but questions during the press conference at Cebit in Hanover, Germany, focused more on Microsoft's recent, high-profile pledge to improve interoperability and shore up its relationship with the open-source community.

Microsoft and Novell entered into a wide-ranging partnership in late 2006, which has seen the companies collaborate on interoperability and sales support for customers who want to run both Windows and Novell's SUSE Linux. In addition, Novell and Microsoft began a cooperative research effort around virtualization, physical and virtual server management, and translators for interoperability between the Open Document Format (ODF) and Microsoft's Open Office XML (OOXML) specification. Microsoft is attempting to get OOXML recognized as a standard.

"That's always difficult to speak on behalf of a partner," said Volker Smid, president and general manager of Novell EMEA. "With Microsoft, interoperability is not limited to the Novell partnership. The infrastructure our joint customers have built is more than just one platform. ...What Microsoft has done is an extension of what they've done with Novell."

Indeed, Microsoft appears to be extending a virtual fistful of olive branches to the open-source community. As a first step in its new openness pledge, the Redmond software giant released some 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols.

Holger Dyroff, vice president of product management for SUSE Linux, said that since his company's business model remains open source, it only benefits Novell if more people have access to such data and documentation.

But clearly, seamless interoperability doesn't occur instantaneously. Novell first shipped a translation tool for ODF and OOXML last year, but it is not yet fully baked.

The tool will have "full supportability across all the components of the Office suite in the first half of 2009," Dyroff said. In the meantime, the company will continue to ship beta versions, he added.

"It just takes time," he said of the roadmap.

Even as Novell works hand-in-hand with Microsoft, it remains a staunch competitor on both the back end and the desktop, according to the executives. "I think we have been aggressive on the desktop and will continue to be, as we are on the server side. The interoperability agreement in no way means less competition on the desktop side," Dyroff said.

In an interview after the press conference, Dyroff said he believes Novell and Microsoft's competition now revolves around who has the better product.

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