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Microsoft +/vs. Novell: The rich irony of then and now

Microsoft once wadded Novell up and threw it away. Now Novell can't get enough of its "partner." But Novell has the chance to take Microsoft down a notch. Which Novell will show up? The Novell of then or the Novell of now?

There is a tragic (but rich) irony in the news that Microsoft failed in its appeal to throw out Novell's decade-old antitrust lawsuit against it. On one hand, you have Novell arguing (rightly) in court that Microsoft unfairly bullies competitors:

"Microsoft specifically targeted WordPerfect and Novell's other office productivity applications because they threatened Microsoft's Windows monopoly," according to the Novell court filing quoted by the Bloomberg news service.

In its case, Novell also said that Microsoft withheld technical information to make WordPerfect work with Windows 95.

On the other hand, we see Novell supping at the feet of Microsoft to revive its Linux business, conveniently forgetting that what Microsoft giveth, Microsoft taketh away the minute a competitor becomes inconvenient. But the irony gets better as we dig into Novell's complaint with Groklaw:

As Microsoft knew, a truly standard file format that was open to all ISVs would have enhanced competition in the market for word processing applications, because such a standard allows the exchange of text files between different word processing applications used by different customers....

Microsoft withheld the RTF specifications from Novell, however, forcing Novell to engage in a perpetual, costly effort to comply with a critical "industry standard that was, in reality, nothing more than the preference of its chief competitor, Word....

Microsoft withheld critical information concerning earlier versions of the Windows operating system, thereby giving itself a time-to-market lead in the applications markets....

Microsoft also harmed Novell by hiding the computer-based training ("CBT") "hooks," or interfaces, in Windows, which Microsoft Word and Excel employed to train their users. Novell's developers requested information regarding these undocumented hooks, but they were advised that no information was available to ISVs.

In other words, Microsoft engaged in selective interoperability via closed "standards,"which sounds eerily similar to the interoperability and patent scheme that Novell signed up to with Microsoft. Is it OK now that Novell gets to dish out the closed "standards" now, with Microsoft's help?

I'm hopeful that Novell will do itself and the industry a favor by aggressively pursuing this legal action against Microsoft. If it succeeds, it won't need back-door agreements with Microsoft anymore. It will be able to deal with Redmond on an equal, open footing, the same as the rest of us.

If it opts not to - for whatever reason - then Novell will eventually discover, yet again, what Microsoft does to competitors who prove momentarily useful:

It buries them.

Novell took 10 years to dig itself out from Microsoft's last monopolistic barrage. Why undergo the same humiliation again? Why not join with the industry in forcing Microsoft to play fairly, rather than siding with the bully because it's momentarily convenient?