Novell: Linux turns up the heat on Microsoft

BrainShare: Novell CEO Jack Messman tells ZDNet UK his theory about the reasons behind Microsoft's revised plans for Longhorn - and why patent war with Redmond won't happen
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

Novell chief executive Jack Messman sat down with ZDNet UK on Monday at BrainShare in Barcelona, and gave a typically combative take on the current state of the software industry.

According to Messman, Microsoft is under immense pressure to ship Longhorn before Linux becomes an even more compelling alternative to Windows.

"Microsoft's strategy is simple: to be able to sell something to keep their customers engaged," he said.

Messman also claimed that Microsoft opted to release the WinFS file system as a separate product and ship Longhorn sooner rather than give Linux more time to mature.

"They wanted to cut us off. The more time we have to sell against Longhorn, the worse it is for them," he claimed.

At the end of August, Microsoft announced a new roadmap for Longhorn to enable the company to have a test version of the software next year and a final release for desktops and notebooks by 2006. A server release is planned for 2007.

Longhorn was originally supposed to have three major changes: a new file system, WinFS; a new graphics and presentation engine known as Avalon; and Indigo, a Web services and communication architecture.

But after pushing the benefits of WinFS -- allowing users to find a piece of information regardless what format it is -- Microsoft opted to ship the tool as a stand-alone product rather than delay the release of Longhorn.

In a recent interview with ZDNet UK's sister site News.com, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said that the company had been forced to make a trade-off between functionality and shipping Longhorn on schedule.

"What was the right thing? Was it to take Longhorn as a whole and get these super-cool additional WinFS features in, knowing that that would push the release out into '07, or was it to come up with a plan that was a bit more clever and really not give up much? The plan we have does give up WinFS shipping with Longhorn. And so if you want my basic assessment here, the glass is three-quarters full," said Gates.

Novell's Messman also attacked Microsoft over what he describes as the "campaign" of FUD - Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - he says it has thrown up around Linux.

Messman claimed that recent reports that Microsoft has been quietly building a collection of patents that could be used in legal attacks against Linux community were more evidence that the Redmond company is threatened by the open-source OS.

"This is all just FUD. But if they want to play that game then we can play it with them," he said.

The Novell boss claimed that Microsoft may have patents that it could use against Linux, but equally Novell had its own patents that it could use against Microsoft. He claimed that with both sides armed with patents created a state of "mutually assurable destruction" -- with neither side likely to risk legal action.

A two-year-old memo from a Hewlett-Packard executive, that surfaced recently, highlighted patent-infringement risks in Linux, and Linux foe Microsoft is putting increasing emphasis on its patent portfolio, with a goal to apply for 3,000 new patents this year.

CNET News.com's Steven Shankland, Margaret Kane and Ina Fried contributed to this report.

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