The software giant enlists one of its key antagonists, the SuSE Linux salesman whose efforts led the city of Munich to adopt Linux and open-source software instead of Microsoft's products.
Karl Aigner, formerly SuSE's account representative for Munich, is overseeing sales of Microsoft's data center products to midsize companies in Germany. He began his new role April 1, Microsoft said Tuesday.
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Munich, which last year chose Linux for 14,000 computers, already taught Microsoft that it's not invulnerable--despite Linux's comparative immaturity for use on desktop machines, Microsoft's incumbent status there, a lower price and a personal last-minute visit by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. While Munich may not have been Microsoft's Waterloo, it was a serious warning shot across the bow.
Aigner left SuSE in late 2003, said Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry. Novell acquired SuSE in January for $210 million.
The new hire will be an asset at Microsoft, Governor predicted. "He's obviously a guy who well understands the dynamics of selling to European public sector organizations, and he understands the huge difficulties that the open-source community has had in delivering on the Munich contract," Governor said. "He will make a wonderful figurehead for Microsoft."
Snapping up competitors' employees is a practice with a long history in the technology business. Storage specialist EMC lured Hewlett-Packard's Howard Elias in 2003; Microsoft in 2000 hired Peter Moore, a gaming executive from Sega; and Juniper Networks in 2000 recruited Yakov Rekhter from archrival Cisco Systems, where the expert had risen to the status of fellow.
Such moves can trigger lawsuits, however. Siebel Systems sued Brett Queener in 2003 after he moved to rival Salesforce.com. Borland sued Microsoft in 1997 for hiring away dozens of employees. And SANgate systems lost a legal battle with EMC in 2001 to keep Chief Executive Doron Kempel, who came from the storage giant.
But more than the usual corporate barriers separate Microsoft and Linux. Top executives have labeled open-source software a "cancer" and "Pac-Man-like," while open-source advocates often treat Microsoft as a moral as well as technological enemy.