Week in review: Seismic shifts

Between the Microsoft-Novell deal, and a call for a less U.S.-centric Internet, major change appears on the tech world's horizon.

Between the partnering of former foes Microsoft and Novell, and the call for a less U.S.-centric Internet at a United Nations summit, this week's news shows signs of some potentially earthshaking changes on the technology world's horizon.

Microsoft and Novell created a stir Thursday by announcing they will collaborate on efforts such as helping Microsoft's Windows, a proprietary operating system, work with Novell's Suse Linux, which is based on open-source code.

In addition, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Novell CEO Ronald Hovsepian said the software makers had struck a deal on patents designed to give customers peace of mind about using Novell's open-source products.

The impetus for the arrangement was to make it easier for software buyers to run both Windows and Linux-based systems, Hovsepian said. "We came together to focus on giving you, our customers, the choice," he said.

The deal surprised some industry watchers who remember the companies' archrivalry in the 1980s and '90s and the longtime wedge between the open-source and proprietary worlds.

And Novell's fellow Linux software maker, Red Hat, moved quickly to pour cold water on the new partnership. It published a response on its Web site within hours of the announcement, proclaiming that the deal was a victory for Linux, not just Novell. Red Hat also distanced itself from the possibility that it might strike a similar deal with Microsoft.

CNET News.com readers were also skeptical of the deal, to put it mildly. "Sounds like Microsoft is fattening the hen while sharpening the knife next to the chopping block," one reader wrote in Talkback.

Another reader added: "What is Novell thinking? This is the same tactic Microsoft uses against their competition every time. Embrace them and then destroy them. First it was Red Hat with Oracle. Now it's Microsoft with Novell. Am I the only person in the world seeing this drama unfold?"

Meanwhile, in Athens, Greece, delegates at a U.N. Internet summit were calling for a different type of change.

Officially, the inaugural meeting of the United Nations' Internet Governance Forum was designed to explore topics like free speech, security, spam and multilingualism.

But the diplomatic subtext has been more pointed: Does the U.S. government have too much influence over how Internet addresses are allocated and domain names are assigned?

A top U.N official kicked off the four-day event Monday by calling for changes in the way the Internet is operated, taking aim at "self-serving justifications" for permitting the U.S. to preserve its unique influence and authority online.

Yoshio Utsumi criticized the current rules for overseeing domain names and Internet addresses, stressing that poorer nations are dissatisfied and are hoping that this week's meeting will erode U.S. influence.

Delegates also wondered how to lessen the U.S. government influence, born of how the Internet was created decades ago.

They also complained that the domain name system requiring English-only characters is representative of an Internet culture that's far too English-centric and fails to respect other languages. Efforts have been made, however, to create internationalized domain names.

And there was also talk in Athens about Cuba's expensive Internet connection, China's censorship policies, and a call for global free-speech regulations.

Another story this week that illustrates an industry shift was Google's acquisition of JotSpot, which provides a hosted service mainly to corporate customers for building wikis. With the acquisition, the search king picks up another little piece of what could eventually lead to a giant tech empire a la Microsoft.

Executives didn't say how much Google spent on the 3-year-old company, but they were eager to say how well the two companies' online offerings dovetail.

"We watched them acquire Writely and launch Google Groups, Google Spreadsheets and Google Apps for Your Domain. It was pretty apparent that Google shared our vision for how groups of people can create, manage and share information online," JotSpot co-founder and CEO Joe Kraus wrote in a blog announcing the deal.

Rather than try to replicate Microsoft Office, Google appears to be trying to beat the software king to a point in perhaps the not-so-distant future when a good chunk of applications used by businesses and consumers alike are Web-based services rather than PC software.

The Vista from Redmond
More information trickled out of Redmond, Wash., this week on Microsoft's next version of the ubiquitous Windows operating system, expected to be broadly released in January 2007.

Amid outcry from tech enthusiasts, Microsoft reversed a licensing change announced two weeks ago and said it will not limit the number of times that retail customers can transfer their Vista license to a different computer.

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