Strange Bedfellows: Linux And Windows

In one fell swoop, Microsoft has legitimized Linux as a viable choice for desktop PCs, and Novell has dramatically increased the mindshare for SUSE Linux. Both companies are sure to benefit from cooperative support and development, but does this partnering really change the rules for the channel? After all, integrators have been creating mixed environments for years, forcing Windows and Linux to play together in the enterprise, without much help from the vendors.

Initially, the pact is little more than smoke and mirrors, but the new detente between the two giants will definitely generate some positive change.

Right off the bat, many patent and licensing issues that have plagued the operating system market will cease to be an issue for Microsoft and Novell -- and their respective channel partners. What's more, the agreement to share proprietary information should speed future development of both Linux and Windows.

The interoperability pact addresses three key areas -- virtualization, management and document compatibility -- all of which have been previously addressed by third-party vendors such as VMWare, LANDesk and Nuance. Purveyors of those products will definitely be affected, especially if the channel adopts the Microsoft-Novell approach.

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The integration of those three areas provides the most opportunity for the channel, due mostly to the legitimized support that will be offered by the companies. The ability to seamlessly share documents between Office and Open Office will have the largest impact on the corporate desktop, while virtualization support will offer a major advantage to software developers. The management interoperability should reduce administrative overhead and help to improve solution providers' ROI for both operating systems.

How will all of this affect other Linux distributions? Only time will tell, but it does not bode well.

Oracle's recent announcement that it will offer support services for Red Hat Linux distributions puts both vendors now at even more of a competitive disadvantage. Oracle and Red Hat already are competing with each other to support Red Hat's customers, now those companies are at a further disadvantage when compared to the Novell-Microsoft alliance.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to come from the Microsoft-Novell pact will be full Active Directory support for SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, if that does indeed materialize. While no one has specifically mentioned full Active Directory integration, that possibility could quickly lead to enterprises running SLED 10 on the desktop and Windows Server in the back rooms.

Other developments that could speed adoption include support for proprietary technologies such as Active-X or even Internet Explorer on the Linux desktop. If Microsoft helps Novell implement those technologies into Linux, then the desktop world could change dramatically.

FRANK OHLHORST is the director of the CRN Test Center.