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Microsoft Extends SuSE Linux Interop Deal 4 More Years

Microsoft and SUSE are extending their interoperability and intellectual property (IP) indemnity program through Jan. 1, 2016, the two companies announced on Monday. The program pertains to Windows and SuSE Linux Enterprise products.

The extended deal can be considered a continuation of the one struck between Microsoft and Novell Inc. in November 2006, although Novell has since been acquired by The Attachmate Group Inc., a Houston-based software holding company. Attachmate split Novell into two business units: "Novell" and "SUSE." It is with the SUSE business unit that Microsoft has the interop and IP deal.

Under the new terms, Microsoft and SUSE will continue their interop and IP licensing arrangement for another four years, and Microsoft will invest $100 million in "new SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates." These certificates are bought by customers electing to receive Linux support from SUSE, but they also provide interoperability support for mixed Windows and SuSE Linux Enterprise environments, as well as legal protection from Microsoft.

With regard to this latter point, Microsoft promises not sue SUSE customers for patent violations, vaguely ascribed to using Linux, if the customers buy these certificates. Microsoft used to refer to this idea with the seemingly innocuous term, "IP peace of mind." In Microsoft's latest announcement, it was referred to as a "solid foundation for tomorrow" by Sandy Gupta, general manager of the Open Solutions Group at Microsoft. Still, Microsoft is basically holding up the idea that it might sue those organizations that mix a little Linux into their computing environments, even though they also might be Windows customers.

Customers appear to be going along with that notion. Microsoft's announcement cited "more than 725 customers worldwide" that have bought into this joint Microsoft and SUSE program.

The program offers "expanded support," which appears to be a way to migrate away from Red Hat Enterprise Linux, according to this page. There's also interoperability support and "complementary management tools" from Microsoft partner BridgeWays, according to a blog post by Gupta. He also suggested that Microsoft is working on facilitating "cross-platform virtualization" as organizations move to the Internet cloud.

When Microsoft and Novell first struck this deal almost five years ago, it was considered fairly controversial among the open source Linux community. Many Linux vendors refused Microsoft's offer to indemnify at cost. Controversy swirled because the positive goal of enabling interoperability between the two server operating systems was eclipsed at that time by Microsoft attorney claims that Linux violated 235 of Microsoft's patents.

One of the notable holdouts from joining Microsoft's combined interoperability and patent indemnity program was Red Hat. However, Red Hat later joined Microsoft in establishing a hypervisor interoperability collaboration deal, minus the IP licensing aspect. According to an account by open source advocate Matt Assay, Microsoft first courted Red Hat for years before turning to Novell and inking that deal. Red Hat balked when Microsoft inserted its patent indemnity scheme along with the interoperability terms.

Microsoft's lawyers have been less sparing of Linux on the mobile device side, where they have been suing Microsoft's hardware partners over the use of the Google-shepherded Linux-based Android mobile operating system (see "Microsoft Attacks Android in HTC Patent Deal" and "Microsoft Sues Again Over Android, Targets Motorola"). Microsoft is not alone there, though, with Apple doing the same. Oracle is suing Google directly, with mixed results, over the use of Java in Android.

Despite the legal animosities, Microsoft has an internal group and an outreach campaign wholly devoted to addressing interoperability issues associated with Linux.

A happier view of the longtime Microsoft-versus-Linux struggle recently popped up in the form of a cartoon video. The video had been contributed to a Linux Foundation event celebrating Linux's 20th "birthday." It shows a Bill Gates look-alike offering a cake to a Linux penguin peeping from an igloo.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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