Microsoft and Novell team up on Windows and Linux

3 Nov 2006

Longtime sparring partners Microsoft and Novell have joined forces in an agreement to make Windows and Linux operating systems work together better.

The collaboration agreement announced yesterday is set to run until 2012 and includes both technology and business elements, with the companies intending to build, market and support “a series of new solutions” to make their existing products more compatible.

The move is a significant milestone in bridging the gap between proprietary software — as represented by Microsoft –and the open source model, which Novell has championed for some time, particularly since its acquisition of SUSE Linux almost three years ago.

The surprise agreement could be interpreted as an acknowledgement by Microsoft that many organisations want to have the choice of using more than one operating system. At the press conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer seemed to suggest as much. “I certainly recognise that Linux plays an important role in the IT infrastructure of many of our customers, and will continue to play an important role. We have customers who use a mix of technologies to manage their businesses and they demand strong interoperability amongst all their systems.”

Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft will officially recommend SUSE Linux Enterprise for customers who want to run Windows and Linux solutions. It 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.

“Too often technology companies ask their customers to adapt to them. Today we are adapting to our customers,” added Ron Hovsepian, president and CEO of Novell. “Microsoft and Novell are enabling customers to take advantage of each other’s products where it makes sense in their enterprise infrastructure.”

He added: “We all know that Linux would continue to grow as a market segment with or without this deal. What this does is, this allows our customers to really focus on accelerating their growth and accelerating the opportunities associated with virtualisation, with the interoperability issues associated with many different aspects of what we’ve talked about.”

On the technology side, the deal has three main planks: virtualisation, web services and document format compatibility. Microsoft and Novell intend to jointly develop a virtualisation offering for Windows and SUSE Linux to allow administrators to manage servers more easily. The companies will also work on improving interoperability between Microsoft Active Directory and Novell eDirectory to help customers manage mixed IT environments more effectively. Thirdly, the software providers will work together on ways to let OpenOffice and Microsoft Office system users share documents and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument formats.

Ballmer also noted that the agreement represents considerable progress around the area of intellectual property, as the open source and proprietary software models have historically had very different ways of handling patents because of the way in which the products are developed.

Microsoft is to work with Novell and actively contribute to several open source software projects. The world’s largest software company has undertaken not to assert its patents against individual noncommercial open source developers or against individual contributors to whose code is included in the SUSE Linux Enterprise platform.

In a statement issued on foot of the agreement, several IT industry groups gave their blessing to the news, including the processor makers Intel and AMD, along with IBM, Dell, SAP and Open Source Development Labs.

By Gordon Smith