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Microsoft, Novell Join Forces

Longtime rivals will work to make Windows and Linux work more smoothly for business customers.

(San Francisco) Longtime software antagonists Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc. have reached a technological truce that promises to smooth the way the still-dominant Windows OS and the increasingly popular open-source Linux system work together.

The agreement announced Thursday between the world's largest seller of patent-protected software and a leader in the open-source software movement has potentially important business, technical and legal implications.

"This builds a very important intellectual-property bridge between the open source and proprietary sides of software," Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, said shortly before the companies formally announced their alliance in San Francisco.

"They said it couldn't be done. This is a new model and a true evolution of our relationship that we think customers will immediately find compelling because it delivers practical value by bringing two of their most important platform investments closer together," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.

Under the partnership, Microsoft's sales team will offer its corporate customers a chance to license its Windows operating system as part of a package offering maintenance and support for Novell's Suse Linux platform. Novell primarily relies on the fees for customer support to make money off the Linux software, which is developed by a global community of programmers who aren't tied to any single company and freely share improvements to the code.

By working together, Microsoft and Novell are betting they will enable more companies to seamlessly run Windows and Linux together without crippling breakdowns.

The two companies also plan to improve the interaction between Microsoft's Office software and a free alternative known as OpenOffice. This appears to be the only part of the collaboration with a potentially significant impact for consumers.

To encourage more companies to embrace Novell's open-source platform, Microsoft has pledged not to assert its patent rights over any of its technology that may be blended with Suse Linux.

The concession is meant to address the concerns of many corporate users who have been reluctant to use Linux because they feared Microsoft might retaliate with patent-infringement claims.

The new partners have a stormy history.

In 2004, Novell reached a $536 million settlement with Microsoft over antitrust complaints in Europe and then sued its rival again in the United States. The U.S. suit alleged the Microsoft withheld technical information about Windows that Novell needed for word processing and spreadsheet programs. Novel has since sold those WordPerfect and Quattro Pro programs.

Microsoft's decision to work with Novell reflects the increasingly important role of Linux's open-source software in corporate computing systems.

Because it's available for free, Linux software long has been has been a source of consternation for Microsoft, which makes most of its money from the sale of its proprietary software.

But Microsoft has been under increasing pressure to loosen up, and not just from customers who want to be able to run Linux with Windows.

Online search leader Google Inc. also is giving away more online software, including word processing and spreadsheet programs, and last year promised to work with Sun Microsystems Inc. to help distribute OpenOffice.

Just last week, Oracle Corp. provided the Linux system with another major lift by offering steep discounts on product support of the Linux platform provided by Red Hat Inc.

Microsoft's backing of Novell's Linux platform may raise even more worries for Red Hat, whose stock price has dropped by 17 percent since Oracle launched its assault.

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