Microsoft-Novell Deal Causes StrifeBy Darryl K. Taft in Berlin | Posted 2006-11-27 Email Print
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The controversial deal between Microsoft and Novell is continuing to roil the open-source waters. Just weeks after its patent cooperation agreement with Microsoft, Novell is hitting back at statements by Microsoft executives that the deal acknowledges that Linux infringes on its intellectual property.
At the same time, officials with the JBoss division of top Linux distributor Red Hat lashed out at what they saw as recent assaults by both Microsoft and Oracle on Red Hat's open-source middleware and operating system technology base. Oracle has outlined plans to offer enterprise Linux support.
Novell, of Waltham, Mass., has been under fire from many members of the Linux and open-source community since entering into a set of broad collaboration agreements Nov. 2 with Microsoft to build, market and support a series of new solutions that will make Novell and Microsoft products work better together, including providing each other's customers with patent coverage for their respective products.
Recent statements from Microsoft officials such as CEO Steve Ballmer that the deal acknowledges that Linux infringes on his company's intellectual property have exacerbated criticisms from the open-source community. Novell President and CEO Ron Hovsepian refuted that claim in an open letter to the Linux community Nov. 20.
"We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents," he wrote. "Our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property."
When Novell entered the agreement with Microsoft, it did not admit that Linux or any other Novell offering violated Microsoft patents, Hovsepian said.
John Dragoon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Novell, told eWeek in an interview following the release of the letter that when a customer is making a decision whether to deploy in certain environments, it's in the vendor's best interest to remove any impediments. The agreement with Microsoft removed a lot of those inhibitors, in that it addressed technical collaboration issues, business collaboration issues and some customer concerns, he said.
"Some customers, for whatever reasons, decided they did not want the hassles of addressing intellectual property issues. Our doing this agreement with Microsoft is not an admission that we believe Linux is impugned in any way, but it is an admission that we wanted to remove whatever impediments there are to the adoption of Linux and open source," Dragoon said.
While he acknowledged that Microsoft has its own opinions, Dragoon said Novell will continue to compete with Microsoft. But there are a lot of customers using both environments, and Novell wants them to use Novell's SUSE Linux when deciding to use the open-source operating system, he said.
David Kaefer, director of business development for intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., told eWeek that while Microsoft stands behind Ballmer's assessment of the deal, the bigger issue is that customers want the company to work with Novell.
"I think a lot of people will parse words over the coming weeks and months, but customers will judge the solutions that come to market, and the open-source community will judge whether or not they can do what they have always done in terms of having freedom of development," Kaefer said.
But criticism of the deal continues. The same day Hovsepian's letter was issued, Marc Fleury, senior vice president and general manager of JBoss, speaking at the JBoss World Berlin show, said company officials knew when Red Hat bought the company this year that "there was a high likelihood of an answer by IBM, Microsoft, Oracle" and others. However, "the Microsoft [potential countermove] was always a legal threat, and it's a lot more clever than the one from Oracle, which was a 'for show' move," Fleury said.
Moreover, Fleury said that when Red Hat sealed the deal to acquire JBoss in April, both he and Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik reached out to Hovsepian "immediately and tried to preserve that [Linux core] relationship, in response to Microsoft. But now I think the boys over in Redmond are laughing their butts off" over making the recent pact with Novell.