This Microsoft-Novell partnership's not all it's cracked up to be

It's now November 21, and both Microsoft and Novell are still spending an inordinate amount of energy trying to convince nonbelievers that their intentions in forming their interoperability alliance on November 2 were as altruistically pro-customer as they originally claimed.

You know a partnership isn't all it's cracked up to be when the parties involved need to spend more time explaining (and defending) themselves than actually delivering on what was promised.

Case in point: The Microsoft-Novell technological agreement, announced with much fanfare on November 2. It's now November 21, and both companies are still spending an inordinate amount of energy trying to convince nonbelievers that their intentions in forming the alliance were as altruistically pro-customer as they claimed.

Until November 20, the pair attempted to present a united front in justifying their deal to release each other's customers from the potential threat of lawsuits involving patent infringements. (Precisely which patents and which infringements was something the two parties also seemingly agreed to avoid detailing.)

But after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's remarks last week that Linux somehow violates Microsoft's intellectual property, the facade that all was well between Microsoft and Novell quickly crumbled.

Now the two companies have "agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe on Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents," according to a Microsoft statement published to its Web site late Monday. (Microsoft officials are telling anyone who will listen that the two companies made similar claims during their November 2 press conference announcing their new-found love. But I distinctly recall the pair committing to continued coopetition, not to common thinking about potential patent infringement.)

At least Microsoft is admitting "Novell is absolutely right in stating that it did not admit or acknowledge any patent problems as part of entering into the patent collaboration agreement." When I asked Novell this very question, Novell officials did, indeed, publicly claim they were not admitting any infringement.

But, at the same time, Microsoft basically is calling Novell and other Linux vendors thieves. Under what circumstances would a pro-customer company encourage its users to buy software from a partner who was stealing its own IP? I’m having trouble coming up with any justifications for that kind of behavior. And Microsoft isn’t supplying any convincing ones , either.

So now I'm back to the question I originally asked on November 2: If Novell supposedly isn't paying Microsoft at least $40 million to cover patent infringement claims, what, exactly, is Novell paying for? I think Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian would do well to spell out more specifics -- and not just the generalities Novell outlined when it took an earlier stab at silencing critics of the Microsoft-Novell agreement.


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