Three companies accept Microsoft’s Linux support offer

Two banks and an insurance company have accepted Microsoft’s offer of technical support for Novell Inc.’s Suse Enterprise Linux.

One of the three, Credit Suisse Group, does not yet use Suse Linux, spokeswomen for the two software vendors said.

Novell and Microsoft announced a deal last month to “bridge the divide between open-source and proprietary-source software,” as Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer described it. Under the deal, Microsoft promised not to file patent lawsuits against Novell customers. It will also spend US$440 million on sales, marketing and license fees in support of Novell’s Suse Linux distribution, according to documents filed by Novell with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The two companies will work together to help customers integrate their competing operating systems.

As part of its marketing support for Suse Linux, Microsoft agreed to distribute “subscription certificates,” each one entitling customers to technical support from Novell for a server running Suse Enterprise Linux. Microsoft intends to distribute around 70,000 of the certificates a year for the next five years. Customers have already activated 16,000 of the certificates in the seven weeks they have been offered, Microsoft said.

The companies declined to put a price on the certificates, but Microsoft’s general manager for customer advocacy and licensing, Susan Hauser, warned: “Don’t assume that we’re giving them away.”

Credit Suisse is a new customer for Novell, said Susan Heystee, vice president of global strategic partners at Novell, and responsible for Novell’s new relationship with Microsoft. “They are making a commitment to deploying Suse Linux in their virtualization environment,” Heystee said.

Credit Suisse referred calls to its U.S. office, but a message left there was not returned.

Microsoft also named Deutsche Bank AG and AIG Technologies, part of insurance company American International Group Inc., as among the customers that have activated Suse Linux subscriptions. None of the companies would say how many certificates were involved.

Deutsche Bank already uses Microsoft software and Suse Linux. Hauser hinted that Microsoft is not the one losing servers to Suse at Deutsche Bank.

“They may not be completely a Suse shop in all parts of their organization,” she said.

Help integrating open source and proprietary software is the most important aspect of the deal for Deutsche Bank: the certificate for support for Linux takes a back seat.

“This is not about the certificates,” said Klaus Thoma, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank in Germany. “This enables us to integrate these systems,” he said.

AIG Technologies spokesman Michael Arcaro also confirmed that his company had struck a deal with Microsoft, but declined to comment further.

In promising not to sue Novell’s Linux customers for patent infringement, Microsoft is trying to portray other open-source systems as a risk for businesses.

Deutsche Bank’s Thoma would not say whether signing up to Microsoft’s patent promise formed part of Deutsche Bank’s risk management strategy. “That’s a question you have to put to Microsoft.”

Hauser, at Microsoft, answered: “Customers were often very confused as to what rights they had from an intellectual property standpoint. They didn’t want to have to figure it out, so we figured it out for them.”

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