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Microsoft and Novell Take Linux Licensing to China

Microsoft and Novell have stepped up their collaborative efforts on open source operating system technology and intellectual property by moving their controversial enterprise Linux licensing agreement into the Chinese market.

Three Chinese corporate clients have accepted interoperability, support and specific intellectual property indemnity assurances from Microsoft and Novell. The companies run a mixed IT environment that uses Microsoft Windows and Novell SuSE Linux operating systems, according to a statement issued by Microsoft yesterday.

The Chinese companies include the Dairy Farm Company Ltd., Dawning Information Industry Co. Ltd. and the People's Insurance Company of China Group. All have contracted to receive three years of support for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, based on certificates issued by Microsoft.

The certificates essentially assure organizations using Novell's SuSE Linux that Microsoft won't sue Novell over intellectual property claims that Microsoft makes broadly against providers of Linux operating systems. The message to customers seems to be: avoid a potential fight over intellectual property when using Linux by getting your software licensed through Microsoft-issued "subscription certificates."

However, IDC analyst Al Gillen, coauthor of a study on worldwide Linux growth, doesn't believe that intellectual property is the main driving force in these Microsoft-Novell China deals, which may have cost the companies involved very little.

"I don't know that the concern about intellectual property issues is as strong in China as it is in other parts of the world," Gillen said. "I think the big thing that happened there in China with this particular announcement is that Novell was able to move customers off a nonpaid operating system and on to a name-supported subscription for SuSE Linux Enterprise. When a customer makes that type of move, I believe that it's more related  to the fact that a customer has some kind of an application running in that environment that they realize is fairly critical to the overall operation. And they realize that it's important to have it under support contracts, so that if they have problems, they have someone to back them up."

Gillen added that he believes the probability that Microsoft would start litigation over Linux patents would be low.

Still, Microsoft and Novell's licensing arrangement caused sharp reactions from the open source Linux communities when it was first announced.  Fear, uncertainty and doubt were ratcheted up after a Microsoft official alleged that Linux OSes violate 235 of Microsoft's patents. To date, Microsoft has not publicly disclosed which of its patents it believes have been violated by Linux OSes.

Microsoft has spent the past year and a half inking deals with a handful of Linux OS providers, promising not to sue them. Novell was the first company to sign such a deal, which was announced in November of 2006. Other Linux OS providers that joined Microsoft's licensing initiative include South Korea's LG Electronics and Xandros Inc.  

On the technical side, Microsoft and Novell's collaboration in China is focusing on interoperability issues involving high-performance computing and virtualization. The companies are testing "Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 with Xen technology," according to the announcement.

Even though Microsoft and Novell are assuring interoperability with such deals, the technical kinks of integrating Microsoft's proprietary technology with open source have not been fully worked out, according to details described at a recent Linux/Open Source on Wall Street conference.

About the Author

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

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