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Microsoft-Novell Pact Good For Novell; Is It Good For Open Source?

Novell will file the documents of its Microsoft pact by the end of the month, a Novell spokesman told the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The details of the deal Microsoft struck with Novell last November will be public knowledge soon. No one knows, for example, what fee Microsoft collects on each Novell shipment of Suse Linux, one of the hidden features of the deal. Novell will file the documents of its Microsoft pact as an attachment to a previously delayed 10K filing by the end of the month, Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry noted at a panel at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The panel was moderated by Doug Levin, CEO of Black Duck Software, a firm that supplies a service to check software for code sequences that might be derived from other known pieces of software. Levin said the panel, called "Is the Microsoft Novell Deal Good for Open Source," had been suggested to conference organizers by Microsoft and Novell.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith had recently told Fortune magazine that Microsoft's patent officers had concluded that 235 Microsoft patents had been infringed by Linux, OpenOffice, and other open-source code.

Panelist Sam Ramji, director of platform strategy and head of Microsoft's open source software lab, offered an explanation when asked why the patents weren't identified so Linux contributors could defend themselves: "There's been tremendous community pressure for increased transparency. This was as far as we can go to increase transparency."

The explanation was one of the few that aroused a murmur of discontent in an otherwise willing-to-listen crowd. The standing room only audience filled a meeting room of the Palace Hotel, where the conference is being held. Conference attendees include many open-source practitioners at start up companies and their venture capital funders.

Ramji referred other patent questions to Jim Markwith, Microsoft open-source licensing counsel, sitting next to the panel in the front row. But Markwith declined to add much additional information. Asked by InformationWeek after the session if Microsoft has ever assessed the number of patents that Windows might be infringing, Markwith said he couldn't comment. He said he wasn't part of Microsoft's patent team and wasn't sure how it had come up with the 235 number in connection with open source code.

In November, Microsoft entered a contract with Novell to provide coupons worth $240 million in Novell Suse Enterprise Linux technical support and to distribute those coupons through its own sales force. "We've gained 40,000 new Linux subscriptions since the deal was signed," said Justin Steinman, director of Suse marketing for Novell. "Microsoft was our number one sales channel in the first quarter. Who would have thought Microsoft sales representatives would be selling Linux?"

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