Microsoft, Novell Continue Unlikely Windows-Linux Partnership

In November 2006, Redmond, WA-based Microsoft and Waltham, MA-based Novell surprised the software world by announcing that Microsoft would market Novell’s version of the Linux operating system to its own customers, and that the two companies would set up an “Interoperability Lab” in Cambridge, MA. Nearly two years later, the partnership is still in place, and today the old rivals—Microsoft nearly wiped out Novell in the early 1990s—said that they’re extending it to the tune of $100 million.

That’s how much more Microsoft will spend on certificates that Windows Server customers can redeem for support from Novell, including support for its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. (In the first 18 months of the partnership, Microsoft purchased $240 million worth of the certificates, and customers such as Wal-Mart, HSBC, Renault, Southwest Airlines, and BMW redeemed $157 million of them.) The idea is to lend a hand to Windows Server users who are interested in running Linux on the same machines.

It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was calling open-source software a “socialist” technology that threatened to undermine profits and innovation in the commercial software world. So the Novell partnership is an example of what many observers have called increased pragmatism on Microsoft’s part about the spread of Linux inside the corporations that are the software giant’s mainstay.

If businesses are going to use Linux, Microsoft seems to be saying, it might as well be a version of Linux sold by a company that Microsoft currently likes. “Some customers have told us they want to be able to run Windows Server and Linux together seamlessly, but in many cases, they need help with the transition to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server from other Linux environments,” Kevin Turner, chief operating officer at Microsoft, said in a company press release today. “Our increased investment in the relationship with Novell is intended to give these customers and partners the best possible Windows-Linux interoperability solution, while also extending their existing Windows Server investments and helping to give them IP peace of mind.” (That last part about “peace of mind” is code for “making sure they’re running a fully licensed, paid-up version of Linux and not some free or pirated version.”)

But the relationship between Microsoft and Novell goes beyond Linux support. At their Interoperability Laboratory in Cambridge, the companies are also collaborating on virtualization technology—specifically, making sure that SUSE Linux runs well on Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor and that Windows Servers 2008 runs well on Xen, the open source hypervisor that’s at the core of Novell’s Linux virtualization software as well as almost every other virtualization system outside of those from VMware. The companies are also working together on document format compatibility, directory and identity federation (a Novell specialty), accessibility technology, and the Moonlight multimedia framework (a version of Microsoft’s Silverlight multimedia platform that runs on Mono, an open-source alternative to Microsoft’s .NET architecture).

The whole idea is to keep customers in the fold of the commercial software world by “building a bridge between proprietary and open source software,” in the words of Novell president and CEO Ron Hovsepian. And it seems to be working: the Microsoft-Novell partnership has resulted in “very high demand” for SUSE Linux Enterprise, Hovsepian says.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Microsoft, Novell Continue Unlikely Windows-Linux Partnership”

  1. joshuadf says:

    Thanks for the article, I hope Microsoft’s pragmatic stance continues since it definitely helps those of us who live in the real world of mixed computing environments.

    The “IP peace of mind” part is about Microsoft’s claims that Linux violates their IP, and that leading Linux vendor Red Hat does not license Microsoft patents like Novell is doing.

    Also, there are a lot more virtualization technologies out there, including KVM (included in Red Hat’s oVirt) and VirtualBox (recently purchased by Sun).