Microsoft Extends SuSE Linux Enterprise Interop and IP Deal

Extends agreement for four years.

Four more years.

That's the new life Microsoft and SUSE will give to their interoperability and intellectual property (IP) indemnity program for Windows and SuSE Linux Enterprise products.

The deal is with SUSE, now a business unit of The Attachmate Group Inc., the Houston-based software holding company that, after its April purchase, split Novell Inc. into "SUSE" and "Novell" business units. The deal with Microsoft is essentially a continuation of a deal between Microsoft and Novell Inc. back in November of 2006.

Under the new terms, Microsoft and SUSE will continue their interop and IP licensing arrangement through January 1, 2016.  Microsoft will invest $100 million in "new SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates;" certificates are purchased by customers electing to receive Linux support from SUSE, but they also provide interoperability support for mixed Windows/SuSE Linux Enterprise environments, as well as legal protection from Microsoft.

Microsoft promises that it will not sue SUSE's customers for patent violations, vaguely ascribed to using Linux, if the customers will buy these certificates. This idea used to be referred to by Microsoft by the seemingly innocuous term, "IP peace of mind." In Microsoft's latest announcement, it was referred to as a "solid foundation for tomorrow" by Sandy Gupta, general manager of the Open Solutions Group at Microsoft. Still, Microsoft is basically holding up the idea that it might sue those organizations that mix a little Linux into their computing environments, even though they also might be Windows customers.

Customers appear to be going along with the idea. Microsoft's announcement cited "more than 725 customers worldwide" that have bought into this joint Microsoft/SUSE program.

The program offers "expanded support," which appears to be a way to migrate away from Red Hat Enterprise Linux, according to this page. There's also interoperability support and "complementary management tools" from Microsoft partner BridgeWays, according to a blog post by Gupta. He also suggested that Microsoft is working on facilitating "cross-platform virtualization" as organizations move to the Internet cloud.

When Microsoft and Novell first struck this deal almost five years ago, it was considered fairly controversial among the open source Linux community. Many Linux vendors refused Microsoft's offer to indemnify at cost. Controversy swirled because the positive goal of enabling interoperability between the two server operating systems was eclipsed at that time by Microsoft attorney claims that Linux violated 235 of Microsoft's patents.

One of the notable holdouts from joining Microsoft's combined interoperability and patent indemnity program: Red Hat. However, Red Hat later joined Microsoft in establishing a hypervisor interoperability collaboration deal, minus the IP licensing aspect. According to an account by open source advocate Matt Assay, Microsoft first courted Red Hat for years before turning to Novell and closing that deal. Red Hat balked when Microsoft inserted its patent indemnity scheme along with the interoperability terms.

Microsoft's lawyers have been less sparing of Linux on mobile devices, where they have been suing Microsoft's hardware partners over the use of the Google-shepherded Linux-based Android mobile operating system. Microsoft is not alone there, though; Apple is doing the same. Oracle is suing Google directly, with mixed results, over the use of Java in Android.

Despite the legal animosities, Microsoft has an internal group and an outreach campaign wholly devoted to addressing interoperability issues associated with Linux.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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