26 November, 2006

Good Grief, Novell!

The Bad

It seems you’ve got somebody’s back up. In fact, you’ve got his back up so much he wrote a letter about it. It’s written up in a blog entry about it. For those of you still living under a rock, it seems that Microsoft signed yet another deal promising the following, among other items:
As part of this agreement, Microsoft will provide a covenant not to assert its patent rights against customers who have purchased SUSE Linux Enterprise Server or other covered products from Novell, and Novell will provide an identical covenant to customers who have a licensed version of Windows or other covered products from Microsoft.
This of course made somebody at UWC rather peeved in the process. The text of the letter can be found at the first link above, and no doubt many other places too by now.

The Good?

Of course, there are other goodies in there, like:
The two companies will create a joint research facility at which Microsoft and Novell technical experts will architect and test new software solutions and work with customers and the community to build and support these technologies. The agreement between Microsoft and Novell focuses on three technical areas that provide important value and choice to the market: * Virtualization. Virtualization is one of the most important trends in the industry. Customers tell us that virtualization is one way they can consolidate and more easily manage rapidly growing server workloads and their large set of server applications. Microsoft and Novell will jointly develop the most compelling virtualization offering in the market for Linux and Windows. * Web Services for managing physical and virtual servers. Web Services and service oriented architectures continue to be one of the defining ways software companies can deliver greater value to customers. Microsoft and Novell will undertake work to make it easier for customers to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments and to make it easier for customers to federate Microsoft Active Directory with Novell eDirectory. * Document Format Compatibility. Microsoft and Novell have been focusing on ways to improve interoperability between office productivity applications. The two companies will now work together on ways for OpenOffice and Microsoft Office users to best share documents and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument Formats. “As a result of this collaboration, customers will now be able to run virtualized Linux on Windows or virtualized Windows on Linux,” said Jeff Jaffe, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Novell. “Customers continually ask us how they can consolidate servers with multiple operating systems through virtualization. By working together, Novell and Microsoft enable customers to choose the operating system that best fits their application and business needs.”

... and The Ugly

I think I smell a rat here. A rather fishy smelling rat. From what I’ve read, it rather seems like Novell went to Microsoft and offered this deal, seemingly on a plate, although the actual mechanics (legal or otherwise) are beyond me at the moment. But one other tidbit I did get from the commentaries that I read was the fact that Novell would make a one-off payment to Microsoft, of course the amount is undisclosed. Now exactly why would they do this, given that Novell offer a free operating system (Suse) based upon the Linux kernel? And that it’s very unlikely that any of the Open Source code offered by Novell would infringe any patents claimed by Microsoft, valid or otherwise? Just who benefits here? I find it really really hard to believe this is merely a case of "You scratch our back, and we’ll scratch yours".
It's Virtually pointless
For anyone holding a valid Windows licence, they surely can run Windows how the hell they like. For anyone else, whether or not they choose to run Windows under a virtualization layer OR natively, they are still infringing upon the Microsoft End User License Agreement and no amount of finger—pointing to Novell is going to claim otherwise in a court of law, as the agreement only covers exercise of patents. Or do Novell want the ability to exercise some of those patents held by Microsoft so they can improve the virtualization experience?
Service ME now
Of course Web services are big. They’ve been saying that for the past ten years or so. Frankly when SOAP was first released, on April Fool’s Day, I thought the announcement really was the biggest April Fool’s joke yet. It turned out not to be so. And many of the other services available today (AJAX, etc etc) add to the experience. Why does Microsoft want a bigger slice of the pie? Haven’t they messed up IIS enough already? Granted, there is still no way of emulating an ActiveDirectory server without losing some of the functions that this piece of Microsoft technology provides, but not everyone needs all of that functionality. Do Novell want to be the company that is finally able to offer that, for their customers?
Documenting the Blob
Now, this makes more sense. Microsoft have been complaining for a very long time that there really is no need for the OpenDocument format to even exist, given that they consider their OpenXML format already does all a user could want and more, freely offered royalty—free to any user that is willing to use their format, for only the small cost of a blob of binary code in each XML file created. Whoops, did I say that? Sorry, Microsoft. Guess that’s not Open enough. Document the Blob, and we’ll talk further.

To wrap up

I’ll freely admit I don’t know most of the details of the agreement between Microsoft and Novell. Maybe it’s just as well I don’t. But I do know a lot of people in the Open Source community and in the Free Software community too are probably seething, shouting out comments like sellout, traitors, and .... yeah well, I won’t go there. Others have claimed that Microsoft eventually want to claim a "legal right" to run Linux, and that anyone else who has not purchased a license from Novell are then in infringement of any patents contained in Linux code that Microsoft think that they currently own. Does that sound like more of "Embrace, extend, eliminate alternatives"? Yeah, I thought I smelled a rat.