Microsoft Back In Bed With SUSE Linux

In controversial deal extended to the tune of $100 million, Microsoft resells SUSE Linux services and pledges not to sue on patents.

Paul McDougall, Editor At Large, InformationWeek

July 26, 2011

3 Min Read

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Microsoft on Monday said it agreed to extend by four years a controversial deal under which it resells SUSE Linux services to business customers and pledges not to sue those customers, or SUSE, for patent infringement.

Microsoft has long held that Linux violates its patents on parts of the Windows operating system, a claim rejected by advocates for the open source and free software communities. One such group, the Free Software Foundation, told InformationWeek that it plans to investigate whether Microsoft's new deal with SUSE violates open source licensing terms.

Under the renewed agreement, Microsoft is committed to purchasing $100 million worth of SUSE Linux certificates through 2015. Microsoft and SUSE also will work together to build and market software and services that combine Windows and Linux technology.

Microsoft inked the original deal, which was set to expire next year, in 2007 with SUSE parent company Novell. Novell has since been acquired by Attachmate, which established SUSE as an independent business unit.

"I personally am excited by the prospect of SUSE's newfound agility and focus as an independent business unit of the Attachmate Group, and the opportunity to evolve the joint interoperability work between our companies into new areas that will drive value for our joint customers," said Sandy Gupta, general manager of Microsoft's open solutions group, in a blog post announcing the new deal.

Gupta said a significant number of enterprises operate mixed data center environments in which Windows and Linux servers sit side by side. Microsoft's alliance with SUSE is aimed at helping those customers ensure that their systems can interoperate in key areas like virtualization and systems management, while freeing them from licensing and intellectual property concerns.

"I have met directly with an impressive number of IT executives around the world over the past 12 months who have spoken highly of the solutions we have delivered jointly with SUSE to their organizations which address priority problems," said Gupta. "The vast majority of these individuals have requested that we continue our collaboration work with SUSE, as well as expanding the scope into new areas."

Microsoft has successfully wooed a number of blue chip customers to the program, including Wal-Mart Stores, BMW, and Siemens.

But critics of the arrangement say it amounts to little more than a high-tech protection racket, under which Microsoft wields the threat of lawsuits to get organizations that run Linux to purchase the certificates.

"SUSE's patent deal with Microsoft has always hurt the entire software community," said a spokesman for the Free Software Foundation. "Software patents fundamentally threaten every programmer's ability to do their work, and a licensing deal like this gives the patent holder more power to control who can and can't use a specific technique."

The spokesman said that the Free Software Foundation believes parts of the most recent version of the GNU General Public License (GPLv3), which governs the use of some Linux components, may prohibit payment-for-indemnification deals such as Microsoft's arrangement with SUSE. "The FSF is investigating whether the proposed SUSE-Microsoft deal is consistent with these terms," the group said.

Microsoft said that more than 700 businesses and other organizations currently participate in its SUSE Linux program.

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About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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