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Microsoft and Novell have announced a broad collaboration on Windows and Linux interoperability and support. Two industry leaders collaborate--and it's IT shops who stand to benefit.

Novell and Microsoft announced an historic (an many would say surprising) bridging of the divide between open source and proprietary software. They signed three related agreements which, taken together, are intended to greatly enhance interoperability between Linux and Windows, and give customers greater flexibility in their IT environments.

The agreement encompasses three kinds of collaboration:

  1. Technical Cooperation- Novell and Microsoft will work together in three primary areas to deliver new solutions to customers--virtualization, web services management and document format compatibility.

    Virtualization is one of the most important trends in the industry. Customers say that virtualization is one way they can consolidate and more easily manage rapidly growing server workloads and their large set of server applications. Microsoft and Novell will jointly develop a compelling virtualization offering for Linux and Windows.

    Web services for managing physical and virtual servers continue to be one of the defining ways software companies can deliver greater value to customers. Microsoft and Novell will undertake work to make it easier for customers to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments and to make it easier for customers to federate Microsoft Active Directory with Novell eDirectory.

    Microsoft and Novell have been focusing on ways to improve interoperability between office productivity applications. The two companies will now work together on ways for OpenOffice and Microsoft Office system users to best share documents, and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument formats.

  2. Patent Cooperation- Microsoft and Novell provide patent coverage for each others customers, giving customers peace of mind regarding patent issues. As part of this agreement, Microsoft will provide a covenant not to assert its patent rights against customers who have purchased SUSE Linux Enterprise Server or other covered products from Novell, and Novell will provide an identical covenant to customers who have a licensed version of Windows or other covered products from Microsoft.

  3. Business Cooperation- Novell and Microsoft are committing to dedicate marketing and sales resources to promote joint solutions. In addition, Microsoft will distribute as part of a resale arrangement approximately 70,000 coupons for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server maintenance and support per year so that customers can benefit from the use of the new software solutions developed through the collaborative research effort, as well as a version of Linux that is covered with respect to Microsoft's IP rights.

The ultimate goal of these agreements is to help organizations realize greater choice and flexibility through improved interoperability and manageability between Windows and Linux. The arrangements will be in place until at least 2012.

None of this means that either Novell or Microsoft has any intention to stop competing. This agreement is focused on building a bridge between business and development models, not removing competition in the marketplace. The two companies will continue to compete head-to-head in a number of arenas, including the desktop, identity and security management, and systems and resource management. At the product level, Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise will continue to compete. But the agreement is focused on making it easier for customers who want to run both Windows and Linux to do so.

Some members of the open source community have wondered if the agreement violates the GPL, or perhaps constitutes an admission that Linux violates software patents. However, Novell has not agreed with Microsoft to any condition that would contradict the conditions of the GPL and remains in full compliance. Patent concerns did not drive Novell's entry into this agreement. The company makes no admission that its Linux and open source offerings infringe on any other parties' patents, and its position has not changed as a result of this agreement.

Stuart Cohen, CEO of Open Source Development Labs said the announcement by Microsoft and Novell "marks a significant milestone in the adoption of Linux. By choosing a course of co-opetition, Microsoft acknowledges the critical role that open source plays today in an enterprise IT infrastructure. We appreciate the role Novell is playing to help bridge the gap between Microsoft and the open source community. We are glad to see these two companies collaborating to further diminish the legal threat posed to developers and customers by patent assertions. This is good for customer confidence in Linux, the open source community and the broader IT ecosystem."

If you want to learn more about the announcement, and what it means for the community and the industry, Novell has provided a rich collection of official online resources.

Of course, there is no shortage of unofficial coverage and conversation. You can see a collection of comments and articles, both enthusiastic and skeptical, at EndOfArticleRedN

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