The Microsoft-Novell Linux deal: Two years later

The controversial arrangement over open source and Windows still creates strong feelings, pro and con

Schestowitz also claims the Microsoft-Novell deal "creates revenue streams at the expense of those who build, maintain, support, and distribute free software. This not only deters developers but also makes free software a less-appealing choice based on cost. It impedes adoption of Microsoft's No. 1 competitor." In the deal, Novell agreed to pay royalties to Microsoft based on Novell's open source sales, which Schestowitz says essentially penalizes the open source contributors.

But Novell has claimed that it actually gets more money from Microsoft when all is said and done, thanks to Microsoft's agreement to purchase US$240 million worth of Suse Linux support certificates from Novell for customers that have both Windows and Linux in their environments. And in August, Microsoft agreed to purchase as much as US$100 million more in Linux support certificates. That money aids Novell's Linux efforts, company officials say. (Neither Microsoft nor Novell responded directly to Schestowitz's criticisms, instead simply calling them "differences of opinion.")

At the core of Schestowitz's complaint is his belief that a dominant provider of proprietary software is trying to worm its way into the open source world, with designs to hijack open source competition. "The deal enabled Microsoft to 'sell' the impression that it intended to do well with the free software community and thereby enter Linux and [free and open source software] conferences as early as the deal was signed, sheltered by Novell's presence or implicit invitation," he says. "If Microsoft wanted to cooperate with the free software community, it would start by liberating its own code and adopting patent- and royalty-free formats," he adds.

What the deal does for Novell's Suse Linux

Whatever the implications for the greater Linux and open source worlds, Novell says the Microsoft deal has been good for its Suse Linux and for IT shops that use both Suse and Windows. Customers wanted a "bridge between Microsoft Windows and Linux," says Microsoft's Hauser. Customers also wanted peace of mind over potential intellectual property disputes, since those can take products off the market or result in additional licensing fees. About 100 customers are covered by the Novell-Microsoft agreement, she notes.

"Over the last two years, we've actually expanded our technical collaboration quite a bit in areas of accessibility and [with] the Moonlight-Silverlight project and collaboration on Linux management," says Susan Heystee, general manager for global strategic alliances at Novell. "We've had great customer feedback."

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