Novell and Microsoft Build A Bridge

Today Microsoft and Novell signed, and announced, a landmark collaboration agreement for building bridges between Linux and Windows. The two companies agreed to a technical and IP collaboration agreement that builds a bridge between the worlds of Linux and Windows. To me, the most compelling thing about the announcement is the demonstration of real collaboration between traditional commercial and open source with IP being a facilitator rather than an inhibitor.

For years I have spoken with people all over the world about the compression of business and development models to highlight the fact that success for commercial software providers is not going to be based on a pure-play “open” or “closed” approach. Open source commercial offerings have to move to more restrictive measures (example: support contracts that say no code modifications) in order to increase the value of their offerings (example: automated patch systems and application compatibility testing). At the same time, traditional commercial players have to increase transparency and community participation (example(s): Apple’s work with FreeBSD Unix, IBM’s contributions to Eclipse, Microsoft’s >600 collab dev projects, etc. etc.).  In other words, finding the right level of hybrid participation is a critical question of strategy for any commercial software organization today.  Also, the reality for all enterprise computing environments is one of heterogeneity. Customers are looking for solutions that are reliable, secure, and interoperable. They want high-value technology that drives significant return on investment. These are universal concerns.

I have been super impressed with Novell leading up to the conclusion of this deal. They have been so consistent about putting the community and customers first in all discussions. So enough of my blather – here is some info about the deal:

·         The Announcement

· is where all the deal info can be found from MS

o   There is a public FAQ there that will provide some additional insight

o   The public covenants are posted there as well from the patent cooperation agreement

o   Many quotes from folks supporting the announcement

o   And more..

The deal itself covers technical collaboration, interoperability, and IP licensing. Here is a breakdown:

l  Patent coverage

  The concern over potential patent infringements makes some people nervous about the deployment of open source technologies.

  From the start, a design principle of the agreement was to be compatible with the GPL.

  To do this, Novell and Microsoft are providing covenants to each other’s customers, therefore releasing each company from the other’s patent portfolio. This may sounds odd vs. a traditional patent cross-license agreement but it is one of the things that makes this deal so unique.

  What it really means is that customers deploying technologies from Novell and Microsoft no longer have to fear about possible lawsuits or potential patent infringement from either company.


l  Development: Virtualization

  Microsoft and Novell will collaborate in enhancing and developing the functionality required to efficiently virtualize Windows on Linux and Linux on Windows. 

  Both will now be first class citizens in data centers, addressing the needs of mixed environments. They will both enjoy optimized, supported and tuned device drivers to maximize their potential.


l  Development: Virtualization Management

  As a plus, the companies will work together to implement the necessary standards to manage data centers that run mixed environments (WS-Management).

  Novell will develop tools to manage virtualized Windows machines, and Microsoft will develop tools to manage virtualized Linux systems.


l  Office Open XML

  Novell engineers have been working for the last year together with Microsoft engineers through the ECMA TC45 working group in producing a complete specification that would allow for interoperability across office suites.

  Novell will develop the code necessary to bring support for Office Open XML into OpenOffice, and they will contribute that support back to the organization. They will also distribute the Office Open XML plug-in in their edition of OpenOffice. In addition, they will participate in the Open XML Translator open source project.


l  Collaboration Framework

  One of the most important components of the collaboration agreement today is that we have setup a framework to discuss future collaborations.

  Today's announcement marks the beginning of a new era, and should not be considered a limitation. With the collaboration framework in place, we will periodically evaluate areas where we can work together improving the interoperability of our products.


l  Mono, OpenOffice and Samba

  Under the patent agreement, customers will receive coverage for Mono, Samba, and OpenOffice as well as .NET and Windows Server.

  All of these technologies will be improved upon during the 5 years of the agreement and there are some limits on the coverage that would be provided for future technologies added to these offerings.

  The collaboration framework we have put in place allows us to work on complex subjects such as this where intellectual property and innovation are important parts of the conversation.

  Novell customers can use these technologies, secure in the knowledge that Microsoft and Novell are working together to offer the best possible joint solution.


In addition to the items above, the two companies are going to establish a joint research facility where Microsoft and Novell technical experts will design, build, and test new virutalization solutions with a community development focus.

Over the past few years, there has been a common thread of skepticism around the role of IP. I think it is important to remember (maybe a bit idealistic on my part) that intellectual property rights are meant to act as an incentive rather than a barrier to innovation. This agreement establishes a strong, positive precedent for the continued use of hybrid commercial OSS.

Comments (14)
  1. This is great news! Congratulations and thanks.

  2. tecosystems says:

    Before I begin attempting to parse the Microsoft / Novell news from the day, I’d like to set expectations appropriately. More specifically, I need to lower them. I’ll be taking a comprehensive look at the announcement from multiple angles as…

  3. Matt Asay says:

    With all due respect, Jason, this is a load of crap.  I’ve written on it <a href="">here</a&gt;, but it bears repeating:  if Microsoft were interested in promoting customer interests and Linux, it would have partnered with Red Hat (which, of course, doesn’t need Microsoft to succeed).  This is a cynical, Linux-defeating move (as well it should be – that’s what Ballmer gets paid to do, and has a clear fiduciary duty to boost Windows and kill Linux).  

    Save the nice words about an "epoch" agreement.  The only thing that is epoch about this is how badly Novell must be hurting to let its biggest competitor promote its software, because it apparently can’t on its own.

  4. Microsoft et Novell ont annoncé, via les voix de Steve Ballmer et de Ron Hovsepian, president et CEO

  5. jasonmatusow says:

    Matt – you and I are not in agreement on your assessment of the deal with Novell. I’ve read your posting, and as usual you show how smart you are. I think though that you have missed some pretty key points. I’m too tired to answer now, but I will get to it.

    a) This IS good for customers – they are telling us that in no uncertain terms ALL OVER THE WORLD at this point. Our sales staff is hearing positive statements about both the tech and IP sides of this deal.

    b) As Steve said in the press conference, we have be speaking with many in the Linux community and we are open to all discussions.

    there is more…we’ll chat.

  6. The seemingly startling nature of the Microsoft Novell Linux alliance deal announced on Thursday was bound to produce a variety of reactions. Below is a selection of those I found most relevant. Readers will recall my own assessment that the deal basi..

  7. Rick says:

    Sounds great. But the best of both worlds sees Microsoft disappear completely.

  8. Jono says:

    Perhaps an understandable amount of cynicism in some quaters I guess but some pretty immature comments posted here – c’mon guys, you can do better than that.

    From the standpoint of someone running a mixed MS/Novell environment this is a really interesting turn of events and it will be interesting to see how it pans out over the next few months.

  9. Jason, there’s quite a sizeable uncertainty about what Microsoft’s patents cover.  But there’s a general agreement that Novell, having distributed GPLed software – the Linux kernel, the GNU utilities, the kde and Gnome desktop environments, etc – is in breach of the GPL if it has agreed to distribute GPLed software under the further restrictions that the Microsoft patent agreement implies – since Ballmer has clearly stated that this set of agreements only applies to Novell.  The only way Novell can avoid the community backlash if this is indeed the case, is if Microsoft agrees to extend the patent agreement to all other Linux distributors, indifferent to whether or not they are commercial entites or not.

    So, does this patent agreement have anything to do with anything that’s released under the GPL and the LGPL?

    Or, put it another way, if Microsoft has specifically agreed to share its patents that may (or may not) cover GPLed software, with Novell and with Novell only, for the specific purposes of covering GPLed software, it then becomes guilty of inducing Novell to commit massive copyright infringement.  Not a very advisable position, if you ask me, considering Microsoft’s prior massive investment in criminalizing copyright infringement.

  10. Free to innovate says:

    I am sorry but suggesting that in some way Microsoft is going to somehow help out Novell with Linux is ludicrous.  We all fully know that M$ is out to crush Linux and FOSS in any direct or devious way possible.  M$ is trying to do serious damage to the GPL.  M$ is trying to do serious damage to Redhat.  Anyone who believes that there will anything positive from M$ having control of Novell, is in need of a cat scan!  M$ will never change: embrace, control, lock-in, profit and destroy, such are the methods of this fearless monopoly without ethics.  As Rick said above, the best of both worlds means M$ goes away, and leaves the world to become a much better place.

  11. jasonmatusow says:

    Please read my response to some comments on the posting about the website discrepency as there are some answers there that apply to these comments.

    Hi Wesley – there is no problem with the GPL in this deal. I’ll ask you for some patience in my responding to this as it is a long answer and merits a full posting on it. I hear you that this is a matter of critical importance to discuss – but not on a comment response.

    For "Free to innvate" – thanks for the comments. I doubt there is much that I can say to allay your fears. I will say that since 2001, I have been party to all of our internal strategy around FLOSS. We have never been anything but completely straight forward in that entire time about our motivations and our concerns. For commercial providers of software, the GPL presents challenges – true. I was a lead author (with some really great attorneys) on the Microsoft Community License which is our reciprocal license because there are real benefits to that model of licensing. We have projects out under GPL-like licenses, and feel that there are really important reasons why the Mozilla-style reciprocal grants are better than the GPL. We have increased transparency on core products, extended OSS project on complementary tools and components, and how support a thriving OSS community at our CodePlex site. Yet for all of that, we are going to build Windows, and sell it. We will build Office, and sell it. We beliver our products offer superior value to our competitors – and that competition in the market place is healthy and good.

    Keep the comments coming – hold our toes to the fire. That is all good.

    – Jason

  12. I’m sure by now most folks have read the news on the collaboration agreement between Novell and Microsoft.

  13. Après une liste des liens sur le format Open XML, voici quelques blogs intéressants autour de ce sujet,

  14. Interoperability Interoperability as a question of power and market dominance Interoperability tends to be regarded as an issue for experts and its implications for daily living are sometimes underrated. The case of Microsoft vs….

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