Microsoft Enlists Second Linux Vendor For Controversial Patent Covenants


The deal mirrors the one Microsoft struck with Novell in November, which includes intellectual property license rights guaranteeing that neither vendor will sue the other or their customers for patent infringements. While Microsoft hasn't backed its rhetoric with legal action, the company claims that the Linux operating system infringes hundreds of its patents.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president in charge of Microsoft's server and tools business, slipped mention of the Xandros deal into his opening keynote at Tech-Ed, being held this week in Orlando, Fla.

"We work with industry partners to ensure that when customers want to use open-source software, they can do so with the knowledge and security that the software offers all the licenses and rights that the software requires," Muglia said.

Xandros is one of many second-tier vendors vying for a share of the enterprise Linux market. The Debian-based distribution is its desktop operating system, but during the past year Xandros has shipped business servers for SMB and corporate audiences. In a competitive bake-off of Linux desktops for enterprise users, CRN's Test Center ranked the Xandros 4 Professional Desktop second, behind Novell's SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop.

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Microsoft's deal with Novell sparked a firestorm of criticism from open-source advocates irate at the idea of Microsoft pressuring Linux vendors to pay fees to license its intellectual property or risk lawsuits against them and/or their customers over the infringements alledgedly lurking in Linux.

While Microsoft's arrangement heavily favored Novell, financially "- Microsoft agreed to give Novell approximately $350 million for software purchases and a licensing "balancing payment" -- it also set a precedent of a Linux vendor paying Microsoft to stave off patent litigation and tacitly legitimize Microsoft's intellectual property claims. Novell agreed to make ongoing payments to Microsoft of at least $40 million over the next five years, based on a percentage of its Linux platform and server revenue.

A Microsoft representative said the company is not releasing any details on its financial arrangements with Xandros.

Not eager to wade into a legal morass, Microsoft is hoping to resolve its licensing dispute with Linux distributors through alliances rather than lawsuits. But some key players have balked: Red Hat published a manifesto in opposition and pledged never to pay an "innovation tax," and the Free Software Foundation reworked the soon-to-be-adopted GNU General Public License 3 to prohibit users of GPL 3 software from entering patent-convenant arrangements that protect only their customers.