Today Microsoft and Novell signed, and announced, a landmark collaboration agreement for building bridges between Linux and Windows. The two companies agreed to a technical and IP collaboration agreement that builds a bridge between the worlds of Linux and Windows. To me, the most compelling thing about the announcement is the demonstration of real collaboration between traditional commercial and open source with IP being a facilitator rather than an inhibitor.

For years I have spoken with people all over the world about the compression of business and development models to highlight the fact that success for commercial software providers is not going to be based on a pure-play “open” or “closed” approach. Open source commercial offerings have to move to more restrictive measures (example: support contracts that say no code modifications) in order to increase the value of their offerings (example: automated patch systems and application compatibility testing). At the same time, traditional commercial players have to increase transparency and community participation (example(s): Apple’s work with FreeBSD Unix, IBM’s contributions to Eclipse, Microsoft’s >600 collab dev projects, etc. etc.).  In other words, finding the right level of hybrid participation is a critical question of strategy for any commercial software organization today.  Also, the reality for all enterprise computing environments is one of heterogeneity. Customers are looking for solutions that are reliable, secure, and interoperable. They want high-value technology that drives significant return on investment. These are universal concerns.

I have been super impressed with Novell leading up to the conclusion of this deal. They have been so consistent about putting the community and customers first in all discussions. So enough of my blather – here is some info about the deal:

·         The Announcement

·         www.microsoft.com/interop is where all the deal info can be found from MS

o   There is a public FAQ there that will provide some additional insight

o   The public covenants are posted there as well from the patent cooperation agreement

o   Many quotes from folks supporting the announcement

o   And more..

The deal itself covers technical collaboration, interoperability, and IP licensing. Here is a breakdown:

l  Patent coverage

  The concern over potential patent infringements makes some people nervous about the deployment of open source technologies.

  From the start, a design principle of the agreement was to be compatible with the GPL.

  To do this, Novell and Microsoft are providing covenants to each other’s customers, therefore releasing each company from the other’s patent portfolio. This may sounds odd vs. a traditional patent cross-license agreement but it is one of the things that makes this deal so unique.

  What it really means is that customers deploying technologies from Novell and Microsoft no longer have to fear about possible lawsuits or potential patent infringement from either company.

 

l  Development: Virtualization

  Microsoft and Novell will collaborate in enhancing and developing the functionality required to efficiently virtualize Windows on Linux and Linux on Windows. 

  Both will now be first class citizens in data centers, addressing the needs of mixed environments. They will both enjoy optimized, supported and tuned device drivers to maximize their potential.

 

l  Development: Virtualization Management

  As a plus, the companies will work together to implement the necessary standards to manage data centers that run mixed environments (WS-Management).

  Novell will develop tools to manage virtualized Windows machines, and Microsoft will develop tools to manage virtualized Linux systems.

 

l  Office Open XML

  Novell engineers have been working for the last year together with Microsoft engineers through the ECMA TC45 working group in producing a complete specification that would allow for interoperability across office suites.

  Novell will develop the code necessary to bring support for Office Open XML into OpenOffice, and they will contribute that support back to the OpenOffice.org organization. They will also distribute the Office Open XML plug-in in their edition of OpenOffice. In addition, they will participate in the Open XML Translator open source project.

 

l  Collaboration Framework

  One of the most important components of the collaboration agreement today is that we have setup a framework to discuss future collaborations.

  Today's announcement marks the beginning of a new era, and should not be considered a limitation. With the collaboration framework in place, we will periodically evaluate areas where we can work together improving the interoperability of our products.

 

l  Mono, OpenOffice and Samba

  Under the patent agreement, customers will receive coverage for Mono, Samba, and OpenOffice as well as .NET and Windows Server.

  All of these technologies will be improved upon during the 5 years of the agreement and there are some limits on the coverage that would be provided for future technologies added to these offerings.

  The collaboration framework we have put in place allows us to work on complex subjects such as this where intellectual property and innovation are important parts of the conversation.

  Novell customers can use these technologies, secure in the knowledge that Microsoft and Novell are working together to offer the best possible joint solution.

 

In addition to the items above, the two companies are going to establish a joint research facility where Microsoft and Novell technical experts will design, build, and test new virutalization solutions with a community development focus.

Over the past few years, there has been a common thread of skepticism around the role of IP. I think it is important to remember (maybe a bit idealistic on my part) that intellectual property rights are meant to act as an incentive rather than a barrier to innovation. This agreement establishes a strong, positive precedent for the continued use of hybrid commercial OSS.