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Microsoft hires key rival from SuSE Linux

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.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Microsoft has hired one of its worst enemies, 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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"I think Microsoft sees the European public sector as the vanguard of the fight against open source," said RedMonk analyst James Governor, and hiring Aigner will give the company insight into its foe's methods. Microsoft is a "learning organization, and one of the ways of learning is bringing in different ways of thinking," he added.

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.