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Microsoft Extends SuSE Linux Enterprise Interop and IP Deal

Microsoft and SUSE announced today that they are continuing their interoperability and intellectual property (IP) indemnity program with regard to Windows and SuSE Linux Enterprise products for another four years.

The deal is with SUSE, which is now a business unit of The Attachmate Group Inc. The Attachmate Group is a Houston-based software holding company that recently split Novell Inc. into "SUSE" and "Novell" business units after buying Novell Inc. in April. This newly announced deal with Microsoft can thus be considered to be a continuing one because it's basically the same one that was established between Microsoft and Novell Inc. back in November of 2006.

Under the new terms, Microsoft and SUSE will continue their interop and IP licensing arrangement through Jan. 1, 2016 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's customers for patent violations, vaguely ascribed to using Linux, if the customers will buy these certificates. This idea used to be referred to by Microsoft by 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. 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 long-time Microsoft vs. 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 online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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