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Microsoft plays Good Cop/Bad Cop with Linux

It’s clear that Microsoft’s strategy on dealing with open source has a split-personality problem. Without dropping a beat after the company’s announced Linux partnership with Novell, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reasserted Microsoft’s legal challenges to Linux, and claimed that Novell’s agreement conceded that Microsoft’s intellectual property is infringed by parts of the open-source operating system.

Steve Ballmer and Co. have long been hostile to the Linux community, while at the same time trying to capture more developers to the Windows camp by using a variety of community licenses and pushing some components of the Windows and .NET development architecture as “open” standards through ECMA and other standards bodies.

The recent announcement of a strategic partnership with Novell and its SuSE Linux unit, which appears to be focused on improving compatibility between Windows and Linux networking, isn’t really a deviation from that path. Both Novell and Microsoft are seeking to make enterprise server virtualization customers happy, while Microsoft is still trying to find a way to snuff Linux as a competitor.

The same sort of customer-driven concerns were at the heart of Microsoft’s deal last year with Sun, which ended Sun’s Java lawsuit against Microsoft — Scott McNealy and Steve Ballmer both said enterprise customer demands for things like better compatibility between Sun’s LDAP-based enterprise directory services and Microsoft’s ActiveDirectory helped push them to the table.

Novell needs a competitive edge over Red Hat with big customers, and this agreement might help. In the long run, Novell gets better support for Windows virtual sessions running on SuSE servers, and Microsoft perhaps gets better support for Linux sessions running on its own Windows-based virtualization platform. But the real question is whether there is a long run for Novell, and whether there’s any real value for customers and the channel in the deal. Most of the reaction thus far has been lukewarm at best— and the propaganda value to Microsoft in its FUD war on Linux as a whole has gotten more of a boost than anything else.

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