Novell execs fend off uncertainty over Microsoft pact

Novell execs fend off uncertainty over Microsoft pact

Surprise deal winning Linux customers

Three months into the sudden marketing and patent covenant agreement between Linux vendor Novell and Microsoft, the company's senior management are still justifying the merits of the deal and how it has so far been a blessing in disguise.

In Sydney for the company's leadership forum, CEO Ron Hovsepian and chief marketing officer John Dragoon both stood by Novell's decision to partner with Microsoft and said a lot of the initial reaction was misinformed.

"We did not sign a patent cross licensing agreement, what we agreed to was not to sue any customers over patents," Hovsepian said, adding there has been confusion and rhetoric over the intellectual property aspect of the contract.

The deal protects customers, but either company could still sue each other tomorrow, he said.

Many in the open source industry questioned why Novell would even think about entering into such an agreement, but Hovsepian remains adament it is all about customers.

"Our strategy is to drive Linux in corporate environments, so the agreement was driven by customer conversations and because most customers were developing on Windows or J2EE and most shops would have both platforms," he said. "It was not a deal we had to make, but we needed to do something to get more market momentum and this seems to resonate more with customers."

"We focused on customer worries like interoperability, which is where we put the bulk of our focus [and] from a deliverables perspective we feel good about it. So far Microsoft has lived up to its half of the bargain."

On the touchy subject of the IP covenant between the two, Hovsepian is confident the "balance of payments on IP" resulted in a net payment to Novell, not the other way around.

"I was involved in four deals we lost to Windows in terms of IP overhang," he said. "These were Fortune 500 companies that didn't move forward with Linux. The big battle for us is to win battles against Microsoft, but at the end of the day there is a poor customer that needs to run a shop."

To that end, Novell believes it has absolved a key stumbling block for the adoption of Linux in the enterprise - customer "uncertainty" over IP violations.

As to why would Microsoft do this, Hovsepian believes the company needed to demonstrate goodwill in front of customers and show it is doing things to help customers.

However, almost immediately after the agreement was inked, Steve Ballmer came out firing suggestions that Linux users have an "undisclosed balance-sheet liability" for Microsoft's IP.

While not openly renouncing Ballmer's statement, Hovsepian said since that "flare-up" Microsoft has been supportive and has agreed to disagree with Novell over existing IP infringements in Linux.

Another immediate ramification of the deal was the resignation of Samba developer Jeremy Allison, who fled to Google in protest; however, Hovsepian remains confident in developer morale and said the company's turnover is low of "key people".

"It is literally single digit numbers and nothing significant. The team is very enthusiastic," he said. "Samba is one hot spot with the agreement [and] people thought we signed a cross licensing agreement which we do not. Hubert Mantel, one of the founders of SUSE, has returned to Novell, and when he came back he said he liked the Microsoft agreement. They are very much aware of it and we are listening to the development teams."

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