We could be at the "send lawyers, guns, and money" moment in the Microsoft-loves-Linux saga begun last fall with the infamous Novell deal. If this ends up in legal limbo -- who benefits most?
A long, drawn out legal collision might thwart Microsoft's purported aim to help its Windows users better enjoy co-existence with Linux in their datacenters. A long period of uncertainty, however, might also allow Linux to continue to grow in use and depth of use, as well as bring more open source use patterns into play at enterprises, large applications providers, and hosts. That's actually the status quo, right?
Based on some non-scientific but telling polling, it seems any delay or uncertainty would not readily cause users to end or postpone their Linux leanings. It's just on to more open source use and appreciation, hither and yon. The desktop is next, folks.
So Microsoft on Monday continued its drive to provide "interoperability, systems management solutions and patent assurances" for its customers using both Windows and Linux, this time inking a deal with Xandros Inc. and keeping a steady, beady eye on the PC OS. Microsoft wants to find ways to "extend the bridge between commercial open source and Microsoft software and to deliver customers value in mixed systems environments," the release says. In other words, the status quo is obviously not what Microsoft wants.
As part of the new Xandros deal:
Over the next five years, Microsoft and Xandros have agreed to work together on four primary efforts:
--Systems Management Interoperability - Xandros will partner with Microsoft to deliver management agents that will work with the next generation of Microsoft Systems Center products which provide end-to-end service management. Xandros will also join Microsoft in implementing the WS-Management set of protocols in Xandros products and in various systems management standardization efforts.
--Server Interoperability - Xandros will license a broad set of Microsoft server communications protocols. Xandros will develop enhancements to Xandros Server allowing it to perform more like a Windows Server in a network setting.
--Office Document Compatibility - Xandros will join Microsoft and other companies who are building open source translators fostering interoperability between documents stored in OpenXML and Open Document Format. Xandros will ship the translators in upcoming releases of its Xandros Desktop offering.
--Intellectual Property Assurance - Microsoft will make available patent covenants for Xandros customers such that the technologies Xandros customers use and deploy in their environments are compliant with the two companies’ patents.
Seems pretty close to the nature of the Novell deal on SUSE. Yet try as Microsoft does to change the game, the game keeps changing back. To wit: there are some very interesting assertions coming from the Free Software Foundation about apparent loopholes in Microsoft's November covenant with Novell on distributions of its SUSE Linux and other open source products.
In an accompanying FAQ document the FSF put its position even clearer: "The draft says that if you arrange to provide patent protection to some of the people who get the software from you, that protection is automatically extended to everyone who receives the software, no matter how they get it. This means that the patent protection Microsoft has extended to Novell's customers would be extended to everyone who uses any software Novell distributes under GPLv3," it stated.
... The FSF said it would hear comments on the last call draft of the GPLv3 for 29 days, with the final version due to be published on June 29.
Another commonality between the Xandros and Novell deals is the smell of real money. Novell as a public company we know has been under pressure. Microsoft came a callin' with a large stash of cash. We don't know the details of what will make Xandros a "preferred Linux Server and Desktop Provider and a member of the Microsoft Interop Vendor Alliance." I'll be it wasn't peanuts, and Xandros probably really needed the money.
So there we have it. Legal wrangling and rescuing of financially vulnerable open source companies as the path to assimilation. They don't call them the Borg for nothing. But like with the Borg, there will be new twists and turns in the plot. It will be very curious to see how the GPLv3 thing plays out. May the best lawyers win!