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Microsoft and SUSE extend patent and interoperability pact

Jul 25, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Microsoft and Attachmate business unit SUSE (formerly Novell Inc.) announced a four-year extension of their controversial strategic collaboration that among other things involves Microsoft's purchase of $100 million in additional SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates. Meanwhile, the Linux community puzzles over Microsoft's major contributing role to Linux 3.0, as well as its surprise video birthday greeting to Linux.

The agreement between Microsoft and SUSE is touted as extending the companies' efforts to jointly build, market, and support mixed source, inter-compatible Windows and Linux solutions. Microsoft said the companies will also continue their collaboration in cloud, virtualization, and manageability technologies, including a cross-platform solution with Microsoft Hyper-V Cloud and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, "giving IT managers a robust solution to migrate to a private cloud architecture."

The announcement does not state how much Attachmate's SUSE will be paying Microsoft to protect it from being sued over patents. However, Microsoft does note that it has bought $100 million in additional SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates.

No more explanation was provided, but as Mary Jo Foley describes it in her ZDNet blog on Microsoft, the $100 million in certificates "are designed to insure Microsoft customers who are implementing Linux that they won't be caught in any Microsoft-Linux patent crossfire."

In addition, with the renewed alliance, SUSE now enables customers to consolidate their Linux support by offering subscription support for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and community Linux distributions such as CentOS, says Microsoft. It was not made clear how this support relates to Microsoft's involvement.

Same as it ever was — since 2006, that is

The extension of services will only cement the suspicion among many Linux and open source users that, like Novell before it, the newly Attachmate-owned business unit SUSE, is a Microsoft collaborator that has betrayed the Linux community to the "evil empire." Novell's November 2006 patent and collaboration agreement with Redmond was highly controversial in the Linux community, and presaged a series of patent agreements over the years in which Linux —  and now Android — vendors agree to pay Microsoft for not suing it over patents it claims over Linux (see farther below for background).

On the other hand, the agreement will be hailed by companies that deploy both Windows and SUSE Linux software. Since the 2006 agreement, the joint Microsoft-SUSE collaboration has served more than 725 customers worldwide, says Microsoft in its announcement, which lists 10 new joint customers, all of them apparently headquartered in Europe. (Following the Attachmate acquisition, SUSE has moved its headquarters to Nuremberg, Germany.)

Despite the company name change and new owner, the original pact with Novell was not due to expire until 2012. The new deal now extends through Jan. 1, 2016.

Last week, SUSE announced a partnership with Xamarin, which formed to support the open source Microsoft .NET clone "Mono" after Attachmate jettisoned the Mono team in May. The agreement grants Xamarin a broad license to all IP covering Mono products, including Mono for Android, and calls for Xamarin to provide technical support to SUSE customers using Mono-based products, said SUSE.

The renewed agreement between Microsoft and SUSE is not surprising considering Attachmate's long-time partnership with Redmond. As part of the Attachmate acquisition, Novell agreed to sell some of its intellectual property assets to CPTN Holdings LLC, a hithero unknown consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft. The $450 million sale led to some 882 patents potentially available to Microsoft.

Most of the patents were speculated to be related to WordPerfect, which Novell acquired in the late 1990s. WordPerfect was also at the center of Novell's lawsuit against Microsoft in 2008 regarding anti-competitive behavior.

Microsoft's march through Linux and Android vendors

Since launching its IP licensing program in December 2003, Microsoft has signed hundreds of patent licensing agreements with embedded Linux firms. The latter include Samsung, Fuji Xerox, Kyocera Mita, Melco Holdings (Buffalo), LG Electronics, Brother International, and most notoriously, TomTom, which dared to counter-sue Redmond before finally settling.

In February 2010, Redmond's lawyers reeled in a huge Linux bounty when it convinced to pay it patent royalties over the use of Linux in its Kindle e-readers.

Recently, Android has been the main legal target. Over the last two months, Microsoft has announced Android patent-licensing agreements with four different Android vendors. Including its earlier deal with HTC, the company can now boast five Android patent deals.

After signing up General Dynamics Itronix, apparently over its tactical GD300 handheld, the company roped in Velocity Micro due to alleged patent breaches on that company's Cruz tablets. Then came an agreement with Onkyo, presumably over its TA117 Android tablet, followed by a similar deal with Wistron that also covered Chrome OS. Unconfirmed reports say that Microsoft is working on a similar deal with Samsung, asking for as much as $15 per Android device from the consumer electronics giant.

Meanwhile, Microsoft still has ongoing Android-related lawsuits against two companies who refused to sign an agreement: Motorola and Barnes & Noble.

Microsoft kernel contributions and a strange birthday video

Along with all these big legal sticks, and occasional Linux trash-talking by Steve Ballmer and other Microsoft execs, Microsoft has tossed a few carrots at the open source heathens. In July 2009, the company made the surprising announcement that it was releasing 20,000 lines of code under GPLv2 for three Linux device drivers, for potential contribution to the Linux kernel. In September of that year, Microsoft further reached out to the open source community by announcing the formation of the CodePlex Foundation, chartered with enabling the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities.

Earlier this month, the shocking news emerged that Microsoft was the seventh largest contributor to Linux 3.0 and the fifth largest corporate contributor. Yet, all 361 changes or patches that Microsoft made to the Linux kernel turned out to be related to its Hyper-V driver, just like the 2009 contributions. Microsoft apparently went to work only after Linux kernel watchdog Greg Kroah-Hartman threatened to toss out the earlier Hyper-V code from the kernel unless it was updated.

Last week, Microsoft posted a light-hearted video birthday greeting on YouTube, celebrating the upcoming 20th anniversary of Linux (see below). The cartoon shows cartoon versions of the Linux "Tux" mascot and Bill Gates bickering over the years, including a reference to the confidential, but leaked, "Halloween documents" of 1998 in which Microsoft execs called open source software — and Linux in particular — a "major threat" to Microsoft.

The video concludes by changing the text "Microsoft vs. Linux?" to "Microsoft and Linux?"

The response from the Linux blogger community, as compiled by Katherine Noyes on LinuxInsider, is at times sarcastic, jaded, and defiant. As Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza reportely told Noyes, the video is contradictory in that on the one hand, it refers to the Halloween Documents which "prove that Microsoft saw Linux as a threat," yet it also contains "the assertion that Microsoft found Linux's ideas "childish.'

As for our own expert analysis, we wonder why Bill Gates? Wasn't Ballmer available for a sketch portrait? We also wondered why Bill is about three times taller than Tux. In fact, to demonstrate the rise of Linux, the video shows the penguin resorting to a mechanical pedestal to make himself as tall as Bill. At least one penguin species — the Empire Penguin (pictured above, right) grows to over four feet. Are you saying Bill is now 12 feet tall?

Microsoft's 20th anniversary of Linux birthday greeting onYouTube
Source: Microsoft
(Click to play)

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