Only Novell to get Linux sales perk from Microsoft

Despite claims by executives, Microsoft is limited in striking Novell-type deals with other companies.

A week after Microsoft Corp. struck a broad Linux pact with Novell Inc., Microsoft executives made claims that they are open to considering making similar deals with Linux vendor Red Hat and other open-source companies.

But one term of the deal with Novell means Microsoft can't offer other companies the same benefits it is offering Novell: sales support that includes the distribution of 70,000 coupons for Linux maintenance and support to customers that want to run both Windows and Linux in their environments.

"This kind of limited and time-based provision is common in broad collaboration agreements," Microsoft said through its public relations firm.

However, Microsoft said that there "is no exclusivity" in some of Microsoft's collaborative technical work with Novell on Web services management and connectors between Open Document Format and the file format for Microsoft Office, as well as the companies' patent agreement.

Through that agreement, Microsoft has said it would not assert rights over patents to any software technology that might be incorporated into Suse Linux. Protected under this are individuals and noncommercial open-source developers who create code and contribute to the Suse Linux distribution, as well as developers getting paid to create code that goes into the distribution.

"While Microsoft cannot enter into exactly the same set of agreements with another Linux provider based on the few areas of exclusivity, Microsoft can and would be willing to entertain similar deals that contain many (in fact, most) of the same elements that are at the core of the Novell agreement," Microsoft said.

While that's all well and good, protection from Microsoft patent litigation is not likely a benefit of great interest to Red Hat and other open-source companies, said one analyst.

"Open-source people don't think so much about patents to begin with," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research. "I suspect they're not overly impressed with it."

He added that some small open-source companies, however, might like to be offered protection against patent litigation from Microsoft.

Moreover, the Software Freedom Law Center is currently evaluating whether the patent part of the Microsoft-Novell deal, which involved the payment of more than US$40 million from Novell to Microsoft, violates the GNU Public License, the software license for Linux. The group plans to release its findings late Friday or early next week.

As for the co-development work, Microsoft struck a similar collaborative deal with Sun Microsystems Inc. to co-develop technologies linking .Net and Java in 2004. While Microsoft said that it has done engineering work behind the scenes with Sun to meet the terms of that pact, little has been publicly disclosed about what benefits it has had for customers.

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