Is it Microsoft + Novell or Microsoft vs. Novell?

Novell + Microsoft isn't it?

Mary Jo Foley notes some of the highlights of Microsoft's patent/interoperability deal with Novell, following Microsoft's own press release celebrating the deal. She says something, however, that I'm not sure I agree with:

Not surprisingly, Microsoft isn?t saying much about the part of its collaboration with Novell which has generated the most publicly outcry: The patent-protection component. The press release simply states that the 30 new customers are "join(ing) the ranks of all other Microsoft and Novell customers currently benefiting from the companies? collaboration to enable interoperability and IP peace of mind in mixed environments."

Actually, this is very surprising. I've started to notice a trend in all the announcements the two companies have made over the past year: Novell stresses interoperability while Microsoft beats its drum on patent protection.

Are the two companies talking about the same deal?

The answer, of course, is yes. But it's interesting to see just how divergent the two companies' angles on the deal are. (Just look at the press releases. The Microsoft quotes are always about IP, while Novell's are always about interoperability.) Novell was clearly fishing for a leg-up against Red Hat, and in the interoperability piece it has largely succeeded (even if the differentiation through interoperability is more chimera than reality).

Microsoft, for its part, want a patent/IP club with which to beat up on open source. In this it has largely failed. SCO was scarier than Microsoft's IP claims, because SCO was actually foolish enough to sue.

I've talked with some of the companies who have adopted SUSE based on the Microsoft/Novell deal. The patent/IP part is almost always an afterthought. If someone is predisposed to SUSE then it is a nice nudge, but it doesn't motivate deals. Not in most cases. (I understand that it was a compelling differentiator for Wal-Mart, though.)

Interoperability? That's more persuasive with customers (though I still think it's a largely bogus story). Novell markets this (sometimes distastefully), and it's having a positive effect on its business. Fair enough.

I wonder how long Microsoft will continue its efforts to try to cast the deal as about IP. It's not for Novell, it seems to me now. Microsoft did the deal to hurt Linux - there's no other explanation for it. It has no fiduciary duty to enable a competitor (unless its a weaker competitor against the Linux market leader, Red Hat). It has a fiduciary duty to kill that competitor.

But its efforts to do so through patent FUD are falling flat. All it's doing is shifting some Linux revenue from Red Hat to Novell or, worse yet, shifting potential Windows revenue from Microsoft to Novell. This can't last.

When Microsoft and Novell started dating, both seem to have expected different things from the relationship. Will they continue it if Microsoft doesn't get its way?

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