MS-Novell pact not good news for all

After years of cutthroat competition with one another, Microsoft and Novell this month signed an agreement that will see the once bitter rivals work together to make it easier for customers to integrate and manage mixed Windows and Linux environments. While the deal has clear benefits for both Microsoft and Novell, its potential impact on the open source community is tougher to gauge.

There are several key points in the agreement. The first is that Novell and Microsoft will work together to solve interoperability issues for customers running mixed Windows and Linux shops and work on products that operate in hybrid environments. The vendors specifically agreed to work on a virtualization offering.

The second point is that Microsoft will not assert any patent rights against SUSE Linux, something the open source community had feared.

For Microsoft the deal could help improve the company’s image in the open source community, allowing Microsoft to portray itself as a flexible partner, rather than a staunch opponent of Linux. The agreement could also help Microsoft in its ongoing case with the European Union over antitrust penalties.

For Novell, the arrangement should help win over potential customers who were sitting on the fence over a Linux implementation because they were afraid of incompatibility with an existing Microsoft environment. It could also give Novell a leg up on other virtualization vendors, such as VMware.

For the rest of the open source community, the benefits are less clear. Linux has already established itself as a viable alternative to Microsoft in some enterprise environments and didn’t need the Microsoft-Novell pact to cement its position. There is some danger that the Novell-Microsoft deal could wind up pitting Novell, one of the largest Linux advocates and vendors, against other members of the open source community, fracturing what has until now been a very strong, cohesive group.

And that would obviously be the biggest benefit Microsoft could ask for from the deal.

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