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IBM officials scoffed at Sun Microsystems Inc.’s intimations last week that it would buy Novell Inc., calling the rhetoric nothing more than an attempt to disrupt IBM and its customers.

The issue ignited when Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz mentioned in interviews with the press, including eWEEK, that the Santa Clara, Calif., company has considered making a move to buy Novell. Adding fuel to the fire, Schwartz said such a move could force IBM to depend on Sun for Linux.

Click here to read Schwartz’s comments about a Sun-Novell deal.

“Now that [Red Hat Inc. is] supporting an application server, IBM now finds Red Hat competing against it,” said Schwartz in an interview, referring to Red Hat’s J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) application server, which was announced here last week at the LinuxWorld conference.

“What would happen if Sun decided to acquire Novell? What would IBM do?” Schwartz asked. “If Red Hat is competing with them, they are left with only one choice: Novell SuSE Linux. Sun could then end up as the owner of the operating system that runs IBM’s mainframe. Wouldn’t that be an interesting scenario?”

Jim Stallings, general manager of IBM’s Strategic Growth Initiative group, in Armonk, N.Y., said Schwartz’s view does not consider all of IBM’s business.

“We have lots of products that are above and beyond Linux,” Stallings said. “I can’t comment on [Schwartz’s] logic and position. His view is his view. But our view is that we have always supported two Linux distributions, through Red Hat Linux and Novell’s SuSE Linux, and here at LinuxWorld we made joint announcements in that regard.”

Read eWEEK’s interview with IBM’s Jim Stallings.

In fact, IBM’s premier business partners are now part of Red Hat’s and Novell’s platinum partner programs. “So, if we had anything less than a positive relationship, we wouldn’t be doing that. We’re in the market driving a set of solutions together; there’s nothing hostile here,” Stallings said. He cited as an example IBM’s relationship with Oracle Corp., whose database runs on IBM machines, even though it competes with IBM’s DB2.

“Let me be clear: Our relationship has never been better with Red Hat. It has never been better with Novell. We are all gaining share and displacing Sun Solaris implementations all over the world. So I’m not sure who’s more vulnerable here,” Stallings said.

One company that hopes Sun acquires Novell is The SCO Group, of Lindon, Utah. SCO, which is fighting Novell and others in court over who owns the intellectual property rights to Unix, would welcome such a deal, as it could change the fundamentals of the case. SCO officials claim a good relationship with Sun, which has paid SCO IP licensing fees.

Read why Linux & Open Source Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is telling Sun and IBM to quit their open-source posturing.

SCO has sued IBM, alleging it took proprietary Unix code, which SCO claims it holds all rights to, and included it illegally in the open-source Linux operating system.

“[An acquisition] could change the dynamics of the lawsuits with Novell and IBM,” said Darl McBride, CEO and president of SCO, in an interview. “Last time I heard, IBM and Sun weren’t exactly playing golf together. It is probably [IBM CEO Sam] Palmisano’s worst nightmare for that scenario to play out.”

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