2 Giants in a Deal Over Linux

Today is a beautiful day here in Chappaqua:

Backyard view, November 2nd

It was made even more beautiful when I read the lead story in the Business section of the New York Times, a story about the most notable event in the open-source and Linux arena in recent memory.


SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — Microsoft acknowledged the influence of the Linux operating system on Thursday by striking a deal with Novell, a longtime rival, to ensure that Novell’s version of Linux could operate together with Windows in corporate data centers.

In an industry known for strange bedfellows, the two companies said they were collaborating on technical development and marketing programs. They also took steps to ensure that Microsoft’s intellectual property was protected as it modifies its software to work with the operating system Novell acquired in January 2004, known as SuSE Linux.

Steven A. Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, said that the companies began discussing the collaboration in April, but that Microsoft had been getting pressure from its largest corporate customers far longer.

“I certainly recognize that Linux plays an important role in the mix of technologies our customers use,” Mr. Ballmer said at a news conference here announcing the partnership. But he added that Microsoft would continue to push Windows over Linux to customers, endorsing SuSE Linux only if customers insisted on using it.

The partnership, according to industry analysts, is driven by both competitive and customer considerations. Linux and Windows are increasingly used on corporate server computers powered by the lower-cost microprocessors from the personal computer industry.

Analysts said Microsoft’s move might well help its fast-growing server software business by reassuring corporate technology managers that they could make continued investments in Windows and Linux. Both proprietary Windows and open-source Linux have made strong gains in corporate data centers, not so much against each other, but by supplanting costly machines that run commercial versions of the Unix operating system and sometimes, mainframe computers.

Richard Sherlund of Goldman Sachs said, “Microsoft doesn’t have to like Linux, but C.I.O.’s want Windows to play well with Linux.”
As part of the agreement, Microsoft said it would not file patent infringement suits against customers who purchase Novell’s SuSE Linux.

Stuart Cohen, chief executive of the Open Source Development Labs, said that aspect of the deal could further increase acceptance of Linux among corporations. The risk of lawsuits by Microsoft had been a lingering fear among Linux developers because Microsoft executives have been highly critical of what they said was the Linux world’s careless disregard for intellectual property rights.

“Microsoft customers are going to run a lot of Windows and a lot of Linux, and today Microsoft is saying that’s O.K. and there will not be resistance from Microsoft,” said Mr. Cohen, who leads a consortium that promotes the adoption of Linux.

Matthew J. Szulik, chief executive of Red Hat, said the announcement was recognition by Microsoft that Linux is now a “core component of information technology infrastructure” and an effort by Novell, a “weakened and vulnerable” Linux company, to gain ground.

Mr. Ballmer, though, disputed the notion that Microsoft’s announcement was in response to Oracle’s arrangement with Red Hat.

“We’ve been working on this deal for a long time,” he said, calling Oracle’s deal “just a service agreement” with Red Hat. “You get no covenant not to sue if you chose Oracle.”

Microsoft and Oracle are the two largest software companies in the world, competing in databases, programming tools and some business applications. Yet Oracle’s fundamental business is corporate database software, while operating systems are Microsoft’s core franchise.

“As of last week, Oracle essentially got in the operating system business,” Mr. Beach of CIO magazine said. “This is Microsoft’s response.”

Microsoft plans within weeks to introduce the first major upgrade to Windows in many years. In the meantime, some customers have defected to Linux to reduce their dependence on Microsoft’s development schedule and to cut their costs.

Open-source software, which developers are free to modify and redistribute, is seen as the antithesis of proprietary software like Windows. Linux companies like Novell make the bulk of their revenue from support and service for Linux, not the initial sale.


Especially notable is the following:

As part of the agreement, Microsoft said it would not file patent infringement suits against customers who purchase Novell’s SuSE Linux.

Stuart Cohen, chief executive of the Open Source Development Labs, said that aspect of the deal could further increase acceptance of Linux among corporations. The risk of lawsuits by Microsoft had been a lingering fear among Linux developers because Microsoft executives have been highly critical of what they said was the Linux world’s careless disregard for intellectual property rights.

Here is the Novell press release: Microsoft and Novell Announce Broad Collaboration on Windows and Linux Interoperability and Support. Companies Also Announce a Patent Agreement Covering Proprietary and Open Source Products.

This is indeed a historic announcement — Microsoft’s endorsement has made Linux better.

Microsoft has acknowledged what we in the Linux and open-source community have known for some time. Linux is ready, willing and oh so able for use in the data centers of our largest corporations, where it can now compete head-to-head, package-to-package, program-to-program, and developer-to-developer with the best that Microsoft has to offer.

This is good news indeed. As best I can tell it is bad news only to the Microsoft bashers. They will have to move on. I’m hoping they don’t look for another company that in their view needs some bashing, but that they sit down at their terminals, open up a bash shell, and start coding, to make Linux even better, and so even more competitive with Windows.

Notable too is the following:


Microsoft plans within weeks to introduce the first major upgrade to Windows in many years. In the meantime, some customers have defected to Linux to reduce their dependence on Microsoft’s development schedule and to cut their costs.


The Windows release cycle is now close to being measured in decades, while during the near decade since the last major release of Windows the Linux development and release cycle has advanced so far that now a new production-ready release of Linux appears every few weeks.

I run Suse 10.1 on my self-built Linux box at home. I’ve been a fan of SuSE since the day many years back when I visited the Suse booth at a Linux conference and asked if they knew about Jikes. They said it was new to them. So I told them about it and they said they would take a look and would most likely add it to their next release, as indeed they did.

This was before Suse was acquired by Novell. It’s still a great product. The only loss I’ve noticed is that Suse used to come with a wonderful manual that was very well-written and quite technical in nature, while the current paper manuals are very pedestrian.

The announcement also reduced the ranks of Linux opponents, a point I’m confident is fully appreciated by Jonathan Schwartz. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say about the announce in his blog. His most recent post, on October 31, is “Q1. and do Operating Systems Matter?” Indeed they do, Jonathan. Indeed they do.

[Note, as is always the case, that the postings on this site solely reflect the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views, positions, strategies or opinions of IBM or IBM management.]

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