Strategic partnerhip or unholy alliance?

Strategic partnerhip or unholy alliance?

Summary: Whether you are a dyed-in-the-wool Linux geek or a Redmond-eesta this one has to have you wondering about what in the world either vendor (the one you love, or the one you love to hate) is up to.


One thing is for sure, neither of these vendors is going to be duped by the other.  Whether they will admit it to each other of not, each knows this alliance is based upon their own self-interest.  If the customer benefits as well, then so be it. 

Lest anyone forget, Novell began its run by riding on Microsoft's coattails in 1981 when they decided to support IBM's newly released PC-DOS instead of CP/M for their Network Operating System, later to become known as NetWare.  The introduction of Windows NT Server in 1993 marked the beginning of the long slow decline of NetWare dominance in the space.  It didn't really matter though.  Novell's acquisition of AT&T UNIX Systems Labs in mid-1993 assured Novell a future as a major player in the operating systems space. 

It's Novell's ownership of the UNIX System V Release 4 (SVR4) code-base (and it's Novell-branded successor, UnixWare) that makes this story especially interesting.  Today, there is only one vendor with undisputed (and unlimited) rights to the UNIX SVR4 code-base -- Sun Microsystems, its co-developer (with AT&T).  In short, Sun is free to do as it wishes with its SVR4-derived code-base and no one can challenge their right to do so. 

SCO also claims ownership to SVR4 (and UnixWare), which they believe they acquired from Novell in 1995.  Novell's counterclaim is that they granted marketing rights for the code-base and the right to modify and market Novell's UnixWare.  The water is muddied by the fact that while it still owned UnixWare and the SVR4 code-base, Novell transferred authority over the UNIX Standard (but not the SVR4 code-base) to the Open Group. 

Things got interesting in January 2004 when Novell acquired SuSE Linux.  Assuming that Novell's claims to the UNIX SVR4 and UnixWare code-bases are upheld in court, Novell will be in the unique position of of owning outright both the SUSE code-base and the SVR4 and UnixWare code-bases.  This would make Novell all but litigation-proof regarding any blending of UNIX code and Linux code (provided that in doing so, Novell does not violate the GPL protecting the Linux code-base.) 

Shortly after Microsoft purchased its own perpetual UNIX license from SCO, it settled a number of lawsuits and then entered into a partnership with its former adversary, Sun Microsystems.  But it didn't stop there.  In the months since, Microsoft has settled a string of lawsuits with Novell and a new partnership has emerged! 

The rumor circulating this summer, that Vista Ultimate would support virtualization and would run Linux binaries, should have been a hint. 

Will this partnership mature?  Who knows?  After all, the partnership between Sun and Microsoft seems to have fallen flat.  But what does this mean to the end user?  Probably not very much. 

SLED aficionados will continue to praise Novell while espousing the virtues of free Linux -- pretending all the while that Novell is not just as anxious to turn a profit on enterprise versions of their Linux products as Microsoft is to push its Windows wares. 

Others in the Linux camp will criticize Novell as a 'turncoat' to the Linux movement -- never mind that everyone pushing their own Linux distribution is desperately trying to make money off of the open source software movement. 

What is the upside of this partnership for the enterprise then?  Well, the potential upside can be summed up in one word.  Interoperability.

Could this alliance result in the interoperability that we have all sought for years?  Maybe, but I'm not holding my breath. 

Will Microsoft really open up its patents to third-party developers?  They've said they will, but I suspect that will last only as long as it suits their needs. 

Will this partnership benefit Novell?  Yes, if it pans out.  That said, if Novell loses its suit with SCO (which seems unlikely), or if SCO is acquired by a Novell competitor (a distinct possibility), the landscape could change dramatically, virtually overnight. 

If Novell wins the suit (or acquires SCO), and if the respective partnerships between Microsoft, Novell, and Sun Microsystems survive, they could prove to be a powerful force against their two largest competitors -- RedHat and the grandaddy of them all, IBM. 

(In truth, I am surprised IBM hasn't already acquired SCO, just to head off this possible outcome.  IBM cannot afford to be at the mercy of Novell to monitor its AIX license compliance in addition to its SUSE Linux licenses.)

IT certainly makes strange bedfellows.

Topic: Enterprise Software

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  • stop making stuff up

    "SCO also claims ownership to SVR4 (and UnixWare), which they believe they acquired from Novell in 1995"

    "That said, if Novell loses its suit with SCO (which seems unlikely)"

    Have you read the contract papers. If you havent stop making stuff up. Just because you have a soft corner for certain technologies, certain companies, by writing favoring articles and trying to pass them off as credible, just brings down the quality of zdnet.
    • Not every word, but I have seen the ...

      ... disputed passages and they are ambiguous enough that the courts did not see fit to dismiss the case out of hand -- or otherwise make a summary judgement in SCOs favor.

      The first thing Novell did after purchasing USL from AT&T was sell off perpetual licenses for SVR4. (That moved seemed pretty dumbd at the time.) By the time SCO bought what was left, all of the 'big players' had already purchased their perpetual licenses. At the very least, SCO itself a perpetual UNIX licenses and licensing rights which were, by then, of very limited value.

      If they bought the code-base itself as well, and not just perpetual rights for themselves (including marketing rights), and if the courts find that to be the case, SCO could also win their suit against IBM -- and force big money out of "Big Blue".

      This would most probably result in IBM buying SCO outright and giving IBM tremendous influence over the future of UNIX. Placing them on equal footing with Sun Micrososystems. (A really good place to be.) This would not be a good outcome for Novell.

      Whether or not Novell actually sold off the SVR4 code base or not remains to be seen but it is implausible that Novell would sell off their own rights to SVR4. Could they possibly have been that stupid?
      M Wagner
    • So, you are uninformed about this case, eh?

      If you bothered to read Mark's reply you may see, or may choose not to see, that he does in fact know something about this case. I have read the contract, the addenda, the side letters and almost all of the court documents. This is a huge volume of detailed information and I wouldn't expect anyone who isn't serious to even attempt get up to speed on it or the legal principles, decisions and filings that have been involved over the last three-odd years. The situation for SCO is actually much worse than he describes.

      Since you [obviously] haven't a clue as to what is going on in the case, much less the history of what happened before it was set in motion, it seems laughable that you accuse HIM of making stuff up. What we have here is the kettle calling the Pyrex coffe pot black.

      For those who wish to see the documents, both corporate and legal, as well as opinions by folks such as Brian W. Kernighan, who calls B.S. on the technical aspects of SCO's claims, then go to I know you aren't interested but maybe your other brother Darryl will find it informative.
      Still Lynn
  • Whop de do...

    Ok, so we have the worst OS maker in the world in alliance with the worst Linux distro. What do they have in common, hmmm... an interest in more money and some serious corporate connections, this even fits in with SCO Unixware which has Novell hooks.

    Great, more bad software to manage.
    • SCO UnixWare has Novell hooks ...

      ... because Novel WROTE IT using the UNIX SVR4 code it bought from AT&T.
      M Wagner
    • WHAT?

      Ok, so from your short rant there I see that you have a dislike for novell and suse. You DO realize that it requires $$$ to break into the corporate world on a scale larger then 10%. If linux is ever going to make it's self a threatening component of the corporate world it will need to have a big name behind it. Novell makes great products. SuSE is a great flavor of linux. I've been using linux for 10 years almost 11 now, and i used Slackware for the longest time then went on to use my own custom build of it. It requires time and money to build and keep inovating new ideas, and when the product is free and you have no way of paying for it except with tech support then your kind of SOL as seen with other linux ventures that have failed or never grew past a certain point. You obviously must not have any facts to back up what you say.
  • Microsoft is hedging

    I don't know if Novell is the right partner, but Microsoft is taking Linux seriously. It once had an investment in SCO as well, in order to hedge its bets before Windows took off.

    Windows only won because of legacy apps. Now Ballmer is trying to combine legacy apps and Linux on one machine. It hopes that will keep people from abandoning Windows altogether. Especially if another company -- say, google? -- makes a desktop version of Linux popular.
    • Yes, they are ...

      But I am not sure it means anything. The Linux desktop is not much of a threat to Microsoft but both Linux and UNIX are threats in the machine room. "Know thine enemy."

      Microsoft didn't just invest in SCO, it also bought a perpetual UNIX license. IMO, this was a strategic move in support of SCO's lawsuit against IBM. But, that license also serves Microsoft's partnership with Sun Microsysrtems.
      M Wagner
      • About that license ...

        Indeed MS paid SCO for something. What is still open to question. SCO lists the money on their books as SCOSource income but claims in court that it isn't for a SVRX license. Hmmmm...

        Since SCO wasn't authorized to sell any licenses that Novell didn't pre-approve it may be that the cash payment to Novell (a net differential between the payments each company was making to the other to cement the agreement) and the patent covenant looked pretty good to MS. I noticed that "Windows 2003" was listed as a product covered under the patent covenant. Who would assert a patent claim against that product and not all the other versions of Windows? Hmmmm...

        It certainly helped them get rid of all but one of the lawsuits with Novell. It gives them talking points with the DOJ, and the EU. Dunno about the Koreans.
        Still Lynn