Microsoft has raised a media alert for a press conference at 2PM Pacific time where CEO Steve Ballmer will make “an industry announcement.” There are no more official details than that, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting (actual WSJ link here, subscription required) that Microsoft and Novell are entering into a partnership whereby Microsoft will offer sales support for Novell’s SUSE Linux and the two will work on technologies that make it easier for users to run both SUSE Linux and Windows. It sounds to me like a Microsoft Virtual Server deal in the same vein as Microsoft’s agreement with Xensource in July.
Update: The actual deal was rather bigger than I had guessed:
Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc. today announced a set of broad business and technical collaboration agreements to build, market and support a series of new solutions to make Novell and Microsoft® products work better together. The two companies also announced an agreement to provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products. These agreements will be in place until at least 2012.
Removing the spectre of Microsoft patent lawsuits is nice for the Open Source crowd and I suppose vice versa, but here’s the fine print:
Under the patent cooperation agreement, both companies will make upfront payments in exchange for a release from any potential liability for use of each other’s patented intellectual property, with a net balancing payment from Microsoft to Novell reflecting the larger applicable volume of Microsoft’s product shipments. Novell will also make running royalty payments based on a percentage of its revenues from open source products.
So at one stroke, Novell gets cash and Microsoft establishes the position that Linux in some way infringes on Microsoft patents. Nice.
But wait, there’s more:
Under the agreement, Novell is establishing clear leadership among Linux platform and open source software providers on interoperability for mixed-source environments. As a result, Microsoft will officially recommend SUSE Linux Enterprise for customers who want Windows and Linux solutions. Additionally, Microsoft will distribute coupons for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server maintenance and support, so that customers can benefit from the use of an interoperable version of Linux with patent coverage as well as the collaborative work between the two companies.
I’m somewhat doubtful that Microsoft salesmen are going to be giving SUSE Linux more than a footnote for sheer personal economic reasons. Could you blame them? The fine print says that Microsoft is purchasing 70,000 coupons from Novell so my take is that this is merely another cash transfusion.
The two companies will create a joint research facility at which Microsoft and Novell technical experts will architect and test new software solutions and work with customers and the community to build and support these technologies. The agreement between Microsoft and Novell focuses on three technical areas that provide important value and choice to the market:
• Virtualization. Virtualization is one of the most important trends in the industry. Customers tell Microsoft that virtualization is one way they can consolidate and more easily manage rapidly growing server workloads and their large set of server applications. Microsoft and Novell will jointly develop a compelling virtualization offering for Linux and Windows.
• Web services for managing physical and virtual servers. Web services and service-oriented architectures continue to be one of the defining ways software companies can deliver greater value to customers. Microsoft and Novell will undertake work to make it easier for customers to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments and to make it easier for customers to federate Microsoft Active Directory® with Novell eDirectory.
• Document format compatibility. Microsoft and Novell have been focusing on ways to improve interoperability between office productivity applications. The two companies will now work together on ways for OpenOffice and Microsoft Office system users to best share documents, and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument formats.
I question how much of a player Novell is in any of these areas where there are already substantial ongoing efforts, but heck, why not share the love? Finally, the press release is replete with encomiums from executives at Intel, AMD, HP, Dell, IBM, and SAP, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays in the broader Open Source community.
To net it out in one line: Microsoft bought some legitimacy in the heterogeneous environments that predominate in larger businesses while Novell got cash and perhaps a slight advantage in the Linux commercialization business.