Microsoft and Novell defend their partnership

Microsoft and Novell's partnership has created much controversy, but the two vendors have been defending the pact at The Open Source Business Conference.

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Executives from Microsoft and Novell defended their controversial business agreement to collaborate and promote integration between Windows and Novell's SUSE Linux operating systems on Wednesday, saying that Microsoft's sales organisation is now the biggest channel for SUSE Linux and that the deal will help, not hurt the prospects of Linux in the enterprise.

Representatives from the two companies said that Microsoft has opened the door for Linux adoption at large companies such as Wal-Mart and Nationwide Bank, benefiting the open source community. Still, Novell promised to allay concerns by providing details about the arrangement by the end of May, along with a raft of restated financial quarterly and annual reports, according to Justin Steinman, director of marketing for Novell's Linux and Open Platform Solutions.

Steinman was participating in a session titled "Is the Novell-Microsoft Deal Good for Open Source" at The Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco. Also on the panel were Microsoft's Linux Labs Director Sam Ramji and open source advocates Jonathan Corbet, executive editor of LWN.net and Allison Randal of O'Reilly Media.

Contrary to its image within the open source software community as a threat to open source and Linux, Microsoft is the chief source of Linux business for Novell and the deal between the two companies has been a boon for SUSE Linux, Steinman said.

"Microsoft was Novell's number one channel partner in the first quarter of 2007," he said. "We've seen 60% (first quarter) growth in SUSE, year over year."

Ramji, of Microsoft, seconded that, saying that the future of networked computing is in heterogeneous environments based on commodity, x86 hardware, and that Windows will have to be able to interoperate with platforms like Linux to survive.

But Ramji and Steinman faced tough criticism from Corbet and Randal, as well as audience members, especially concerning recent claims by Microsoft's lead attorney that the company will seek royalties from open source users for violations of over 200 company patents.

Microsoft has since backed off claims that it will pursue legal action, but open source advocates - including Novell - have expressed anger at the charge and have been skeptical of the company's claims.

"I don't think there's a lot in that 235 number," said Novell's Steinman, referring to the number of patents Microsoft is claiming "but we feel that comments like that are not productive", he said.

Corbet of LWN.net, however, accused Novell of enabling Microsoft's bad behaviour.

"Novell is paying Microsoft a per unit fee (on sales of SUSE Linux). If there's not a patent issue, what are you paying for?" he asked. "I feel as if I'm being called a thief and to have it come from within our own community is divisive."

Under the patent cross licensing and co-development deal, Novell agreed to pay Microsoft a percentage of revenues from open source products, while Microsoft agreed to waive patent claims against users of SUSE Linux. The deal has been a source of controversy since it was unveiled in November 2006.

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