As Microsoft continues to try to build a bridge between its proprietary products and those of the open-source community, it has entered into a broad technical co-operation and patent agreement with desktop Linux company Linspire.
Under the agreement, announced June 14, the two companies will work together to advance office document compatibility, enhance instant messaging interoperability and reinforce existing collaboration on digital media. Windows Live Search will also become the default Web search engine in Linspire.
The agreement between the two companies has been several months in the making, David Kaefer, Microsofts general manager for IP and licensing, told eWEEK.
“For us, this is just a continued effort to build a bridge between Microsofts platform and open-source platforms, particularly Linux. These deals are premised on a win-win concept that allows us to grow together and look for opportunities in the market where we can all make money,” he said.
“This deal also shows, clearly, that we are not going to build a wall around our software and that we are going to work with all the other leading vendors in the industry to popularize this collaboration model first announced with Novell,” Kaefer said.
Linspire desktop users will also be able to buy a specific distribution of the product going forward that includes the patent covenant from Microsoft.
“This is the same conceptual structure of a patent covenant for end users as found in the Novell and Xandros deals, and the design principle is respect for all of the licenses that are at play, including the GPL [GNU General Public License],” Kaefer said. “These patent covenants are foundational elements that allow us all to move forward.”.
However, Linspire did not provide any of its patent rights to Microsoft under the deal, given that it held very few such rights, he said, noting that Microsoft would happily talk to the company about such a license if that situation changes.
Kevin Carmony, Linspires CEO and president, agreed, telling eWEEK that the few patents it holds are irrelevant to this deal. The patent agreement with Microsoft is also simply about choice, he said.
“This is obviously a complex issue, and Im not going to play judge and jury,” he said. “I just do not want to limit choice. Some people are going to want this, and others wont. This is nothing new for Linspire: Over the last six years we have licensed technologies with dozens of different software companies to do QuickTime audio, Java, Flash, as well as for 3-D graphics drivers and Wi-Fi drivers.”
Linspire believes in reaching out and licensing technologies from others in those areas where open source has not yet reached. As such, the company approached Microsoft about 18 months ago with regard to cross-licensing so that it could interoperate better in that world, Carmony said.
Linspire will now join the group of companies—including Novell, Microsoft and Xandros—involved in developing and distributing open-source translators that allow OpenOffice and Microsoft Office users to better share documents.
These translators, which have an open-source license, will give customers greater choice by enabling effective translation between Ecma Open XML and OpenDocument Format documents.
“The first thing that came out of my mouth when I met with Microsoft was that we needed to do better document interoperability between Office and OpenOffice. That is super-critical and has always been critical for Linux,” Carmony said.
The office document translator work is particularly important to Microsoft, since it is one of the top priorities for its enterprise customers, Kaefer said.
On the instant messaging front, Linspire will license Microsofts RT Audio Codec (a device or program capable of encoding and decoding a digital data stream) to promote voice-enabled interoperability between Linspires Pidgin instant messaging client and Windows Live Messenger on the consumer front and Office Communicator, Microsofts instant messaging client for business.
Windows Messenger is the predominant IM client internationally, and Linspire, which does a fair amount of business in Latin America, was suffering from not having the next level of interoperability on that front, Carmony said.
“This is basically voice over IP chat between our instant messaging clients,” said Kaefer. “We at Microsoft have been trying to achieve IM interoperability at different layers over the years,” and while the Linspire and Microsoft IM clients already had text-based interoperability, the deal adds voice-based interoperability.
Future releases of Linspire will support the latest Windows Media 10 audio and video codecs, allowing Linspire and Microsoft Windows users to better share digital media files.
“We already had a Windows Media 9 license, but that was coming to an end and so I wanted to expand that with access to Windows Media 10,” Carmony said.
Linspire will also license popular Microsoft TrueType fonts, including Arial, Georgia, Times New Roman and Verdana, to give its customers better experiences when creating, editing, and viewing files and documents.
Many Linspire customers are mainstream computer users, so they want things to look the same as they do with Windows, and a big part of that is fonts. “So it was a culmination of a lot of little pieces that, when added to all the other pieces in Linspire, would continue to make it a compelling operating system going forward,” he said.
Linspire has decided not to make the instant messaging, digital media and TrueType fonts available to the current and future Freespire products as well as to the existing Linspire 5 distributions.
Linspire 6, which is due for release in early July, will include all of these technologies. “While we certainly have the option of offering a version of Linspire without these technologies, I personally would prefer not to do that and I do not anticipate that will happen down the line,” Carmony said.
“We did this so as to simply limit customers from wanting to mix and match the technologies they wanted included in their distribution. Customers will be able to get the community-based Freespire distribution, which does not include these three technologies, or buy Linspire, in which it is included,” he said.
Linspire is not going to raise the retail list price of Linspire 6 from the $59.95 charged for Linspire 5, even though it has all these new technologies bundled in. “I think thats a pretty good deal,” he said.
Freespire currently includes a number of proprietary options, such as video drivers, and so is not a 100 percent true open solution, Carmony said.
“The true die-hards in the free and open-source community are already avoiding both Freespire and Linspire because of this,” he said. “I expect the reaction to this deal with Microsoft to be less severe in our user base as we have never been against mixing open-source and proprietary technologies in the same product. We could lose some customers, but I expect the additional functionality this deal brings will win us 20 new customers for every one lost.”
For Microsoft, the agreement is the latest in a series of collaborations with Linux platform and open-source software providers, including Novell, JBoss, XenSource, Samsung, Xandros, Zend and Fuji-Xerox.