Brainstorming from BrainShare

Published: March 26th, 2007

It was all sunshine and smiles in Salt Lake City last week when executives from Novell and Microsoft shared the keynote stage at Novell’s BrainShare conference.
But across the street from the convention centre a prominent open source advocate was singing a different tune.

But across the street from the convention centre a prominent open source advocate was singing a different tune.

The agreement between Microsoft and Novell announced last November aims to make Novell’s SUSE Linux the preferred Linux distribution for Windows networks, and includes technology interchange, joint marketing, and a US$240 million payment to Novell from Microsoft. It also gives Novell customers preferential access to Microsoft’s patented technology, which critics warn threatens the integrity of the General Public License (GPL) that governs Linux distribution.

In his keynote, Novell president and CEO Ron Hovsepian emphasized the agreement with Microsoft was purely customer driven. Companies will run both Linux and Windows servers, and Hovsepian said network managers have told Novell the two have to work better together.

The theme was continued when Novell executive vice-president and chief technology officer Jeff Jaffe shared the stage with Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, for a “fireside chat” to discuss the relationship.

Jaffe said in future there will only be two operating systems in the enterprise: Linux and Windows.

“At the end of the day Novell will push for Linux, Microsoft will push for Windows, and we’ll agree to disagree, but we’ll agree on interoperability,” said Jaffe.

Mundie agreed, saying customers looking to invest more heavily in both Linux and Windows are concerned about interoperability. He added they also sought assurances around patents, wanting to know that at least Novell and Microsoft would be at peace.

However, the licensing aspects of the agreement have raised the ire of some in the open source community, including Bruce Perens, a prominent open source advocate, who had 3,000 developers sign his open letter to Novell.

He doesn’t have an issue with the technical interoperability, but Perens said the patent portion of the partnership is tantamount to a “protection racket” that breaks moral faith with the spirit of the GPL.

“Here’s Novell coming along saying ‘We’re going to sell you the right to use Bruce’s software, which Bruce can’t sell himself’ – and if you don’t get it from them, Microsoft will sue you,” said Perens. “It just doesn’t sound fair. If this kind of deal continues, people won’t want to write this kind of software.”

In a statement, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, said Microsoft patents are being used to give an unfair advantage to Novell, and added such deals “make a mockery” of open source. Accordingly, Stallman indicated version 3 of the GPL, currently under development and expected to be released shortly, will take preventive steps.

Noting that GPL 3 is still being drafted, Justin Steinman, director of product marketing, Linux and open platform solutions with Novell, declined to comment on Stallman’s statement. However, he did say the company has 250 engineers on staff focused on in-house Linux development, and all their work is shared with the open source community.

While the purists in both the Linux and Windows communities may have some issues with the partnership, at the end of the day it’s good for enterprise customers, said Warren Shiau, lead IT analyst with The Strategic Council in Toronto.

“No matter what anybody says on one side or another, if the impact is good for you I’d say who cares what the intentions are,” said Shiau. “If you go to any large enterprise and ask them if the potential of Linux going into their environment increased as a result of this deal, I think they’re going to say yes.”

The partnership has gotten a thumbs-up from Darren Fankhanel, senior manager, IT operations with Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. The college has used Novell products to run much of its back end for 15 years, and Fankhanel said integration with best of breed Windows-based products has always been a challenge.

“Our end users often have software they require that is a Microsoft product, and we as an IT department have to provide a back end infrastructure to do that,” said Fankhanel. “We need to have support teams in both areas managing the servers, and that increases our cost. I think for us the partnership will be a good thing.”

The joint development work demonstrated at BrainShare included Windows running as a virtual machine on SUSE and the upcoming Windows Longhorn server running Linux as a virtual machine, as well as Active Directory interoperability. An OpenXML translator was debuted to allow file compatibility between OpenOffice and Microsoft’s new OpenXML format, and a beta for Open Enterprise Server 2 was also released.

Comment: cdnedit@itbusiness.ca