The recent announcement of the Microsoft and Novell—or Windows-SUSE Linux—collaboration was earth-shaking in many ways. But metaphors and historic comparisons aside, the new alliance should represent new opportunities for IT deployment.
Local technology companies and systems integrators, including the business I run, stand to benefit, as do Microsoft and Novell.
In recent years, Microsoft has softened its attitude toward Linux, recognizing that its customers deploy both Windows and Linux servers in mixed IT environments. Microsoft had even gone so far as to establish its own open-source lab.
But until Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian publicly shook hands and announced their companies agreement, there was always an uncomfortable level of disconnection between Windows and Linux. The two camps would work together, but only grudgingly.
That grudge match is gone—legally, technically and psychologically—at least for the Novell SUSE Linux distributions. Enterprise Linux advocates also should be more willing to see Microsoft as a willing partner, not a threat.
The agreement between Novell and Microsoft extends at least until 2012, which means that the results of the collaboration will roll out over the next several years. The two companies already announced some key focal points for their joint development lab.
The companies will begin by improving virtualization technologies to enable Windows to run as a virtual operating system on top of SUSE Linux, and vice versa. Virtualization will allow IT systems to benefit from both operating systems, while enabling greater opportunities for hardware choice and harmonization.
Novell and Microsoft will also work together on server management technologies to improve operations of mixed systems. Finally, the two companies will work to improve interoperability between document formats—Open XML, used by Microsoft, and ODF (Open Document Format), used by OpenOffice.org and supported by SUSE Linux.
While some of the results of this collaboration will be months and years away, we should not lose sight of immediate implications. First and foremost, Microsoft will now be providing support to users of SUSE Linux who are also using Windows. The connection between the two companies should improve the quality and results of the support.
The companies also have pledged to improve interoperability. Customers and systems integrators will no longer be stuck alone in the middle of disputes or technical hurdles.
The alliance also greatly eases the burden of patent liability for Linux customers who choose SUSE. There has been a good deal of debate in the IT industry about the financial risks of using Linux and other open-source software due to potential patent infringement.
One study by Open Source Risk Management claims that the Linux kernel potentially violates 283 patents, including many held by Microsoft. There have been some patent skirmishes, but no major lawsuits. Some have argued that the risk should be ignored, but thats not a reasonable answer.
The Microsoft-Novell alliance helps address this risk because it includes patent sharing. Microsoft has provided a covenant not to enforce its patents for any users or developers of SUSE Linux. If any enterprise has shied away from Linux because of patent liability concerns, now is the chance for systems integrators to introduce these potential customers to the SUSE distribution.
The technology sector has recovered remarkably since the dot.bomb crash, but the impasse between open-source and proprietary software—between Linux and Windows—threatened to be a continuing anchor. With the Novell-Microsoft alliance, that anchor has been lifted, and the whole industry should benefit from the ride.
Kelly Yeh is president of Phalanx Technology Group, a security solutions provider in northern Virginia. Contact him at [email protected].