Novell took a lot of heat from open source backers for executing an interoperability pact with Microsoft in late 2006 but the partnership -- strengthened with a new $100 million investment from Microsoft today -- is probably looking sweeter to mixed IT shops these days.
Why? Because of recent events in the virtualization and document format compatibility fronts, notably Microsoft's recent release of its Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor and the ISO's recent approval of Microsoft's OOXML as a standard document format. In theory, these means that IT users will increasingly need solutions to integrate open source virtualization and Office suites with Microsoft's propietary Hyper-V hypervisor and OOXML-based Office suite.
Yesterday, Microsoft announced a major relaxation of its virtualization licensing policy that will enable customers to more freely run and manage virtual machine workloads across server farms. This alone will be a huge benefit to any IT shop using VMware or Citrix XenServer. But it seems apparent now that it will be even a bigger benefit for customers running Windows Server with Novell's Xen-based SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Virtualization is complicated enough to deploy using a standalone solution. Creating a mixed vitualization environment exacerbates the complexity. If I were a customer, I'd be happy that Novell and Microsoft today reiterated the pledge to cooperate on interoperability.
(A note for hard liners: I'm not saying I am a proponent of the partnership. I am merely a neutral observer speculating how an IT manager might perceive the announcement today).
On August 15, the ISO and IEC technical boards announced that they will not consider any appeals on its decision to approve Microsoft's Office Open XML formats as a document format standard. ODF, which is implemented in OpenOffice, the open source competitor to Microsoft Office -- was previously approved as a standard by ISO. (Frankly, I'm not surprised that ISO decided to approve OOXML in spite of open source protests, since Microsoft Office has hundreds of millions of users across the globe and is currently the de facto standard).
From a customer perspective, it means that IT managers and users will have to worry about making sure any flavor of OpenOffice (including IBM's Symphony) is interoperable with Microsoft Office. No big surprise: document format interoperability is critical to ongoing business operations and must be assured before anyone will adopt OpenOffice.
The fact is, ODF-based Office suites are already very interoperable with Microsoft Office due to ECMA specifications and the fine work of many open source developers. But there's more work to be done on macros. I'm not sure how sincere Microsoft is about making it easier for customers to use OpenOffice. Still, if I were a CIO contemplating adding OpenOffice to the mix, having a guarantee of interoperability from Microsoft would make me feel a lot better about moving in that direction.
In the press release issued today about the enhanced partnership, the Redmond, Wash company identified these two areas that need interoperability. Again, am not sure how sincere the company is but I'd feel better as a customer that I have this pledge on paper to make both companies accountable. "Through their joint interoperability lab in Cambridge, Mass., and other initiatives, will continue their close technical collaboration on a wide variety of solutions including virtualization, systems management, directory and identity federation, document format compatibility, accessibility technology, and the Moonlight multimedia framework," according to statement issued Wednesday.