Microsoft, Red Hat to interoperate patent-free

Companies have entered into a significant virtualization interoperabilty alliance that could well pave the way for Microsoft to productively partner with open-source vendors.

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
3 min read

For years, Microsoft has insisted that open-source vendors acknowledge that its patent portfolio is a precursor to interoperability discussions. On Monday, Microsoft shed that charade and announced an interoperability alliance with Red Hat for virtualization.

The deal includes several key components, all related to virtualization:

  • Red Hat will validate Windows Server guests to be supported on Red Hat Enterprise virtualization technologies.
  • Microsoft will validate Red Hat Enterprise Linux server guests to be supported on Windows Server Hyper-V and Microsoft Hyper-V Server.
  • Once each company completes testing, customers with valid support agreements will receive coordinated technical support for running Windows Server operating systems virtualized on Red Hat Enterprise virtualization, and for running Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtualized on Windows Server Hyper-V and Microsoft Hyper-V Server.

Pretty straightforward, as interoperability should be, and driven by customer demand for Microsoft technologies running alongside Red Hat's, according to Mike Neil, general manager of Virtualization Strategy at Microsoft. The top Linux vendor partnered with Microsoft: this is a major win for customers.

Crucially, Red Hat's interoperability deal with Microsoft does not include any patent covenants, the ingredient that torpedoed Novell with the open-source community:

The agreements establish coordinated technical support for Microsoft and Red Hat's mutual customers using server virtualization, and the activities included in these agreements do not require the sharing of IP. Therefore, the agreements do not include any patent or open source licensing rights, and additionally contain no financial clauses, other than industry-standard certification/validation testing fees.

Red Hat has long argued that patent discussions only cloud true interoperability, which is best managed through open source and open standards.

While Red Hat has flirted with such interoperability before by joining with Microsoft in the somewhat toothless Vendor Interop Alliance, this is its first direct interoperability initiative with Microsoft.

What most people don't know is that Red Hat had been discussing interoperability initiatives with Microsoft for a year before Novell and Microsoft tied the knot, but Microsoft ultimately derailed the talks by trying to introduce a covenant not to sue over patents, similar to what it ended up negotiating with Novell. Red Hat rejected this unnecessary inclusion, left the bargaining table, and Microsoft connected with Novell to use interoperability as an excuse to attack open source.

Monday, Red Hat and Microsoft have together demonstrated that interoperability can exist independent of back-room dealings over patents. Microsoft has increasingly been forced to open its stance on patents by the European Commission, anyway, proving Red Hat's resolute stance against patents was the right one. But this announcement suggests that Microsoft is maturing in its views on how to interact with open-source vendors.

It also suggests that Red Hat is maturing in its realization that it must interoperate with the old world of proprietary software even as it attempts to forge a new one of open-source software. Red Hat has long depended upon proprietary software: Red Hat Enterprise Linux's success has derived from its support for Oracle and other proprietary vendors.

Both Red Hat and Microsoft on Monday lowered their guns long enough for customers to win. They did so without encumbering interoperability with patents, which will be critical to ensuring that Microsoft can lower its guard further to welcoming open-source solutions to the Windows fold as a full partner.

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