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Microsoft and Novell: Exonerating Chinese piracy?

A Windows-Linux interoperability message won't accomplish much in China, which already has a strong and growing domestic Linux market. Beijing doesn't need to curry favor with Microsoft.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

I will admit, I am laughing as I type this. The news that Microsoft and Novell are taking their interoperability roadshow to China is hilarious on a number of different levels.

How much do you think that China cares about U.S. patents? It has been pirating Microsoft's Windows for years (though at least, in theory, new PCs don't ship with pirated Windows)--and now suddenly it's concerned about making sure it has patent protection for Linux? My mirth runneth over.

"We are very pleased with the original approach by Microsoft and Novell to address our concerns about deploying and managing a complex high-performance computing infrastructure across two platforms. It is essential for our future competitiveness and success," Nie Hua, vice president of Chinese company Dawning Information Industry, said in Microsoft and Novell's Sunday night press release. "We fully understand the concerns surrounding intellectual property rights and feel reassured that these issues have been addressed by our vendors."
China computing

I bet! I suspect Nie Hua was crying himself to sleep at night before Microsoft and Novell approached him with this. You can just imagine his fretting: "How will I deal with the uncertainty of Linux's intellectual property position unless Microsoft, which has attempted to introduce the uncertainty, blesses my Linux distribution?" Give me a break.

Still, I give Novell credit here. Why?

This is the most muted patent release yet. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that it's China, and the intellectual property issue cannot seriously be a major driver. But perhaps it's also because Novell may have finally persuaded Microsoft to downplay its IP fetish, which helps no one (including Microsoft).

I've heard from Novell sales representatives that Microsoft sales executives have started calling the Suse Linux Enterprise Server coupons "royalty payments," with an immediate, furious response back from Novell. Good. Perhaps Novell can teach Microsoft to play nicely with IP. Someone needs to do so.

As for whether this will have much of an impact on the Chinese market, I doubt it. Novell has been doing increasingly well in the U.S., but I just can't see a Windows-plus-Linux interoperability message doing much in China, which already has a strong and growing domestic Linux market. China doesn't need to curry favor with Microsoft.

It is almost certainly true, however, that both Microsoft and Novell need to curry favor with China. Microsoft, because Windows is already free (as in pirated) in China. And Novell, because Linux is, oddly enough, pirated in China and to the extent that it's paid for, Red Flag Linux dominates the market.