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2/1/2007
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Microsoft-Novell Deal: Nightmare In Linux Land

The open source community lashed back, but was it right?

When Microsoft and Novell announced their Linux agreement last November, it knocked the open source community for a loop, and some hit back hard. "The Microsoft message here is clear. 'I can pick and choose among the players and bribe whomever I want,'" says Francois Banchilhon, CEO of Mandriva, a Linux marketer.

That's harsh, but not untypical of the online postings that have proliferated since the deal was disclosed. And while a big customer win and a new Linux support organization may serve to blunt some of that criticism, they haven't answered all the questions the deal has raised.

In November, Microsoft and Novell pledged to work together for the next five years on SUSE Linux, which Novell acquired in 2003. Microsoft and Novell promised to improve system interoperability and create new virtualization tools. Microsoft agreed to purchase and resell or distribute "certificates" for SUSE Linux, upgrades, and support. Also, the two software makers inked a software-patents covenant to the effect that Microsoft won't be able to sue Novell's customers for any potential infringements of Microsoft's patents, and vice versa. Hundreds of millions of dollars will change hands between Microsoft and Novell over the next three years, with a net balance of $118 million going to Novell.

Marc Potter, director of business development for Redjuju, a Novell reseller, admits to feeling alarmed when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian appeared side by side on his PC screen. "My first thought was, 'Oh, no. Microsoft just bought Novell,'" he says. But Potter now favors the agreement, on the grounds that Microsoft's willingness to "step to the plate for Linux" has reassured some of his customers.

And not just his. Wal-Mart said two weeks ago that it has tapped Microsoft and Novell to provide open source Linux software for use in the megaretailer's internal computing and Web site operations. Under the agreement, financial terms of which weren't disclosed, Microsoft will provide Wal-Mart with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and an undisclosed number of support certificates. The plan is to use SUSE Linux as a platform to connect a number of systems, Wal-Mart says.

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"We have wanted information technology vendors to deliver true interoperability and IP assurance between multiple platforms for some time now, and we are pleased that Microsoft and Novell are committed to fulfilling that need," Nancy Stewart, Wal-Mart's CTO, said in a statement. According to Novell, the Microsoft partnership has distributed more than 35,000 subscription certificates for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

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