Microsoft, Novell talk up 'meat' of technical collaboration

The two companies vow to optimize virtualization servers and directories, with an interoperability and testing lab planned.
Written by Martin LaMonica, Contributor
Microsoft and Novell on Monday fleshed out the technical aspects of their corporate partnership, saying that the two firms are committed to optimizing their respective products in the years to come.

In November, the two companies signed a wide-reaching pact to make Novell's Linux server software work well with Microsoft Windows products. The deal is also meant to shield joint customers from any potential legal liabilities of using open-source software.

In the area of virtualization, Novell and Microsoft on Monday said that Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server 10 will be able to run on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 when a service pack is released in the second quarter of this year.

That compatibility will carry through when Microsoft releases Windows Longhorn Server, expected in the second half of this year, executives said. The joint virtualization work will result in better performance, they said.

Microsoft is developing its own "hypervisor" technology for upcoming versions of Windows Server while Novell uses Xen, an open-source virtualization product.

"The Xen hypervisor and (Windows) hypervisor both require tuning of the operating system through APIs (application programming interfaces)," said Bob Tenczar, director of product management in the Windows Server product group. "We will deliver adapters that will allow Windows that has been developed for our hypervisor to run on Xen."

In the area of management, the two companies said they intend to support Web services standards to make it easier to manage networks with Novell and Microsoft server software, said Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft.

Specifically, the companies intend to rely on three protocols--WS-Management, WS-Federation and WS-Security--to bridge their administration tools and network directories.

The companies will be announcing more details on a planned interoperability lab that will do regular testing to ensure that new versions of products from both companies maintain the same level of interoperability over time, Hilf said.

"You don't want ad hoc testing. When Microsoft (updates) Windows or Novell (updates) Suse Linux Enterprise Server, you want to know that the WS-Management is still a bridge," he said.

The two companies will also work out a mechanism so that joint customers can call either company to resolve issues related to Novell Suse Enterprise Linux Server or Windows Server.

In the area of document interoperability, Novell is participating in a Microsoft-sponsored open-source project. In the next few days, Novell intends to release a plug-in to the Suse Enterprise Linux Desktop suite that will allow users to open Microsoft Word documents and save them in the OpenDocument Format, a document standard, said Justin Steinman, Novell's director of marketing for Linux and open-platform solutions.

In May, Microsoft will release a service pack that will include the plug-in, he said. Later in the year, it will ship converters for spreadsheets and presentations.

Even with high-level support from both companies' chief executives, the deal has run into some roadblocks.

Weeks after finalizing the deal, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that the legal protections indicate that Linux "infringes on Microsoft patents." Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian took issue with that in an open letter in November 2006.

"The question for the marketplace has been, 'Is there any technical substance behind this partnership?' And the answer is unequivocally yes," Steinman said. "There is some meat and we're going to be delivering over the next couple of years."

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