Microsoft/Novell: The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Friday, November 3, 2006 by

I wrote the following as I was listening to the music and waiting for Microsoft and Novell’s partnership announcement. Its still pertinent; more to follow – particularly around the patents question and potential impact to other vendors.

It comes as little surprise the Novell’s shares have spiked following the announcement about the partnership with Microsoft, to extend the interoperability between Windows and Suse Linux. Perhaps we should be reeling in shock that Microsoft should cosy itself up to what the company has traditionally seen as “the enemy”, but the main sentiment I feel is one of relief. Microsoft’s anti-linux façade has been looking increasingly shaky over the past couple of years, as the company has claimed (for example) through its “Just the Facts” campaign that Linux’s benefits were being overstated, the campaign itself riding on the back of Microsoft’s seeming disinterest in Linux.

Now, apart from pointing out that Microsoft was originally a Unix vendor (remember Minix), what other signs have there been that Microsoft’s hardline stance has been wavering? For a start, the Interix subsystem, today called Services For Unix, is a Unix-compliant subsystem in all but name. The primary purpose for its existence according to Microsoft is to enable people to migrate away from Unix, but be in no doubt that the company’s resulting Unix integration expertise is substantial. I should know, I helped write the documentation.

Second of course, we have the solid efforts made by the Microsoft Management division, to assure the manageability of Unix environments. Perhaps because it is coming from behind, Microsoft has listened hard to its customers who have asked the company to provide a management hub for heterogeneous environments. It has been working on this, along with partners like Vintela (now part of Quest Software), and indeed, many of the Salt Lake City types involved have taken roles at Microsoft.

It would be too much to state that perhaps the likes of execs such as (ex-Novell, now Microsoft) Brad Anderson had managed to mellow Microsoft’s attitudes to Novell. Potentially true is what the pundits are saying – that this is a response to Oracle’s platform play – but it is unlikely that Microsoft started talks with Novell just two days ago, far more likely is that they’ve been talking for a while, and have had to reach a conclusion more quickly than they planned.

Overall, from the customer perspective, anything that improves interoperability is to be seen as positive, and Microsoft should be credited for biting the bullet. Oh and for anyone who is still saying, “this is about Linux, not Unix,” I say, don’t be silly. Linux is Unix in all but kernel tweaks, its just not wanting to use the name. Don’t ask me, ask an IT manager if he sees a difference – or indeed, if he cares.

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