Novell To Release Microsoft Pact Details

Waltham, Mass.-based Novell has not yet disclosed the information due to an on-going and unrelated stock options review, a spokesman said. "We will now file the documents by the end of the month and will publish the Microsoft agreements as attachments to our 10-K," spokesman Bruce Lowry told attendees of a panel at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in San Francisco.

The pact, which is controversial in the open source world, was announced last fall.

Under its provisions, the companies have said Microsoft will recommend Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise for use in mixed environments and is buying $240 million worth of support subscriptions for SUSE.

Under the technology collaboration provisions, the companies promised bi-directional virtualization between WIndows and Linux; standards-based systems management; directory and identity interoperability; and document format compatibility between Microsoft Office and Novell OpenOffice.

Sponsored post

Finally, the companies agreed not to sue each other's customers over intellectual property issues.

Opinions about whether the deal was good, bad or indifferent for the open source world in general were mixed among show attendees. Many questions during the panels centered on whether or not Microsoft might sue Linux customers over some 235 patents its general counsel recently said infringed its intellectual property.

A Novell executive during a panel Tuesday said the deal has already opened many doors for its SUSE Linux.

"It drives open source in a broad manner. We have sold more than 40,000 new SUSE Linux subscriptions. We took Linux into Wal-Mart into HBC, into places like Nationwide. More than 200 customers have taken advantage of it," said Justin Steinman, Novell's director of marketing for LinuxOpen Platform Solutions.

And in what many might see as irony, he said Microsoft was Novell's No. 1 channel in the first quarter of 2007. "That's Microsoft reps selling SUSE linux. How many people could have seen that coming?"

In a panel discussing whether the pact was good for open source, Steinman represented Novell's point of view and Sam Ramji, director of Platform Technology Strategy, did the honors for Microsoft.

This appears to be a tender topic for Microsoft. Ramji asserted that Microsoft has used its patent portfolio "offensively" just twice.

In a report published last week, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith told Fortune Magazine that free and open source software (FOSS) "infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents."

Ramji referred the question to his "open source counsel" in the audience.

"Most people familiar with patents know it's standard operating procedure not to go out and list the patents you have because of the administrative work required," said attorney Jim Markwith with Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs. "The response that it would invoke would be administratively impossible to work with. You won't see any company list the patents they have. Even those they are actively licensing or cross licensing."

When asked why the company was so specific on the number of patents but unclear beyond that, Ramji said: "We disclosed [the number] because of requests for increased transparency, but this was as far as we could increase transparency."

One industry pundit said Microsoft is not speaking with one voice regarding the patent issue. "On the one hand you have the general counsel and CEO making these inflammatory statements. On the other, you have people like '[Bill] Hilf and Ramji trying to make nice with the open source community. It's an untenable position."

Panelist Allison Randal, open source evangelist for O'Reilly Media, concurred in that assessment.

"Microsoft, like any large organization can be very schizophrenic. There are a lot of smart, clue-full people and a lot of non-clue-full people. And you might get many answers [on a subject] from the same person. There's an internal process of negotiation and you can't necessarily predict how it'll turn out."

One open source VAR said he doubts anything will come of all the patent threats -- explicit or implied. Microsoft and the open source companies all know that suing customers would result in "mutually assured destruction," said Tony Awtrey, vice president of integration services for Ideal Associates, Orlando, Fla.