This week, Microsoft renewed their union with Novell, to the tune of an additional 100 million dollars in commitment to buy more SUSE Linux support certificates that it can sell to its customers. Dang, Ballmer, for that kind of cash, you can get your vows renewed in Vegas, with the REAL Elvis. I'm not even going to mention what kind of a group package you can get at the Mustang Ranch.
Although this might be considered a minority and controversial opinion on this particular relationship as an Open Source advocate, I happen to feel that the Novell and Microsoft alliance is a good thing. Having these two work together to improve interoperability between Linux and Microsoft's systems is potentially very beneficial to both Microsoft and Novell's customers, and despite a small number of very vocal FOSS Community Whiners (FCWs) who have taken Novell to task for it in the past and accuse the company of compromising Open Source principles in the process, many folks --- read as "reasonable people who are oriented towards business solutions, fostering productive uses of technology and not mired in religious dogma" believe the alliance has made a positive impact (the so-called "Halo Effect") on increasing Linux adoption in the enterprise. Yeah, go ahead and send me hate mail and fire bomb my house. I said my opinion was going to be unpopular.
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Still, even I have questions about how effective the Union actually has been for its stated core purpose, which was to promote interoperability. Oh, don't get me wrong, we know it's all about making money if you want to get into the realpolitik. However, since the initial commitment between the two companies in 2006, what exactly in terms of Linux and Windows interoperability has been achieved as a result of this partnership?
Well there's... Mono? Sure, Novell has access to Microsoft's developers and documentation for re-implementing .NET on Linux, but Microsoft has hardly made a college try to help Novell actually FINISH Mono or commit programmers to the effort. Hell, if Microsoft took one million dollars of that hundred million, and earmarked a few of its .NET developers as consulting staff to Novell for 3 years, you can bet they would get to parity with the one on Windows, at least so it isn't always broken with the latest implementation of whatever API. Now, I'm not blaming Microsoft for not being open with Novell -- it's not their implicit responsibility to build Open Source projects -- Mono is a Novell sponsored, community effort. But if Microsoft really wants to see .NET running on literally every OS, then Mono is going to need more than just "here's our docs and call our guys and come on campus whenever you want when you need help, Miguel. Oh and by the way, have some free Diet Cokes and go use our Starbucks in the lounge."
And what about improving networking interoperability and such? Well, Novell had very little to do with that -- the EU forced Microsoft's hand into opening a whole bunch of documentation to the SAMBA folks. Still, I don't see a polished Active Directory implementation for Linux built by Novell that leverages anything SAMBA is doing. And Windows file formats on Linux? Granted, there has been some improvement in Novell's own OpenOffice.org implementation, but does it render Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents 100 percent flawlessly when you save and exchange data between the two platforms? No? Then I'd say they have a lot more work to do. For another million off that SUSE license commitment, why not lend some Microsoft Office people to Novell for a year to make PERFECT filters for Novell's OpenOffice.org implementation which they could then contribute to the upstream OpenOffice.org? And I'm not talking about Open XML support. I'm talking perfect support for existing Office file formats that people use right now.
And why should this alliance be exclusive to Novell? If we were to compare this to something like, I dunno... the old school Warsaw Pact (I picked this analogy because Microsoft is the Evil Empire) then the "Waltham Pact" should be extended to Novell and Microsoft Partners. As with the old Cold War country club, we need some Czechoslovakias, East Germanys and Romanias in the mix in addition to just the Soviet Union and Poland. Why not bring companies like CodeWeavers into the alliance and help them make Office 2007 run PERFECTLY on Linux, and make it a "Kosher" implementation of Win32 on the Novell SLED platform? Why not bring Centrify in and indemnify them so that they can either Open Source their product without fear of litigation, or dramatically reduce the cost of their Active Directory product for Novell and Microsoft customers? This is just scratching the surface of obvious synergies that could be leverged for the common good and to the benefit of both parties.
You know, for a lot less than a hundred million dollars, you could do an awful lot to improve Linux and Windows interoperability. Talk Back and let me know what else the "Waltham Pact" can do.