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More cooperation between the two companies will undoubtedly make integrating Microsoft and Novell products into the same solution much easier. The question seems to be whether that will attract any more business to the channel, and whether Microsoft can change its sales practices in addition to its cross-platform software development, to make combined sales more likely or more profitable.
Under the agreement Novell and Microsoft will jointly develop tools to let Linux and Windows servers run together, often on the same machine, as well as tools to manage virtual server software, Web services software that will run on Linux and Windows, and a common document format that will link Microsoft Office with open-source productivity suites, primarily OpenOffice.
Several Linux VARs contacted by SearchSystemsChannel.com had heard about the deal but hadn't investigated because of the likelihood that it wouldn't change their businesses any time soon.
In addition to co-marketing and integration help, Microsoft will pay Novell a total of $348 million as part of the deal.
Just making the agreement is a tremendous step for Microsoft, which is known for pushing its sales reps to "fight with their last dying breath to keep someone else's product out of a deal," according to Sean Canevaro, CEO of $14 million Fremont, Calif.-based KIS Consulting, which resells both Novell and Microsoft products.
But it doesn't mean the promises of integration will result in products that are easier to sell or easier to maintain.
"Microsoft has signed these kinds of deals before," he said. "So there's some trepidation about whether they're serious about making their stuff interoperable. The devil's in the details; we'll have to see what actually comes out of it."
A spokesman for Novell said it's far too early for any specifics on how the virtualization, storage networking, Web services or document formats will be combined.
He also said the companies are not yet prepared to discuss any new support programs, integration resources or other benefits they might offer to channel companies to incent them to sell Novell's SUSE Linux along with Microsoft products.
"The integration could be a big deal," according to Joe Clabby, analyst at Clabby Analytics in Yarmouth, Me. "It's probably more important that Microsoft not only isn't going to fight SUSE Linux, it's going to do more integration and sell along side of you. The net net is that it may open up new opportunities to run Linux in conjunction with Windows."
Whether potential or actual integration between the two will make a Linux/Windows or any other Novell/Microsoft combination more saleable isn't obvious, according to Ken Mclaurin, senior product marketing manager for open source and virtualization at Westborough, Mass.-based integrator Akiba.
Having Microsoft support Xen -- an open-source virtualization monitor sold as part of Linux by Novell, Red Hat and a number of other vendors -- could create a viable open-source competitor to EMC's VMware virtualization software, Mclaurin said.
Akiba customers have complained about the extra license cost of VMware products, which aren't an issue with Xen.
As for the rest of the deal, tighter integration makes for a smoother implementation, easier sale and more attractive product, Canevaro said.
"And Novell's making a strong push to drive Linux into the SMB markets. Microsoft is the king of SMB, so that's a good connection," Clabby said. "But is that a way to make more money [for VARs]? Or is it just a convenience to your customers so they don't have to do the integration themselves?"
It's only in the last six to 12 months that Microsoft has shown any willingness to tolerate Linux or any other non-Microsoft product without fighting to get it dumped from a project, he said. That's an improvement.
More of an improvement would be financial incentives to sales reps and partners that would reward them for closing a deal that centered on Microsoft products, but included some from Novell, even if they displaced Windows.
"Don't disincent [sales reps] by saying they've lost 100% of a 100-license deal if the customer buys Linux, so they have to go find that revenue somewhere else. They'll never give up trying to shut out a Linux deal," he said. "If you say they lost a 100-license deal, but the customer went with SUSE, so you give them a 20% drawdown for closing the deal with SUSE, that would put the Microsoft sales reps in a position where they don't have to fight Linux with their dying breath."