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Integrators see little impact from Novell/Microsoft pact

Integration promises are great, but integrators may not benefit even if the formerly feuding vendors deliver on promises of easier integration.

Yesterday's agreement between Microsoft Corp. and Novell, Inc. -- hailed by much of the open-source community as a combination cease fire and religious conversion for Microsoft -- sounds more like empty marketing than a substantive agreement that will help customers or the channel, according to integrators who work with both Linux and Windows.

It's hard to object to any kind of agreement between software vendors that includes the promise of more interoperability and ease of use, according to Daniel Haurey, managing partner at Exigent Technologies LLC in Morristown, N.J. But it's hard to pin down the real benefit, as well.

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"Generally that kind of agreement is a big win for the channel," Haurey said. "It's overdue that they start playing nicely with each other and these companies, especially Microsoft, put the customer's needs first. But I don't see it impacting anything here, tactically speaking. Maybe more so with software developers, but not for integrators."

Among the more ominous parts of the agreement were promises Novell and Microsoft made to not sue each other or either company's customers for unnamed patent violations. Patents are a hot issue in open-source ever since SCO, Inc. threatened a string of lawsuits against both vendors and customers who, SCO executives said, had allowed SCO proprietary information from the Unix source code into the open-source Linux.

As onetime owner of the Unix name and current owner of SuSE Linux, Novell could be expected to be concerned about patents, but not to the extent that Linux integrators or resellers are conscious of the risk.

"It really just doesn't affect what we're doing," said Denise Hanna of Brains II, Inc., of both the agreement and the potential risk of patent violations. Brains II is an IBM enterprise technology partner in Markham, Ontario. The company builds business intelligence and Web services applications with IBM's WebSphere, OS/400, AIX and Linux.

"The issue of patents did come up in one meeting, but there wasn't much talk about it," she said. "I wasn't very concerned."

Specific product plans were thin in the announcement and subsequent interviews. But Novell and Microsoft did promise to make progress on integrating Novell's E-Directory service with Microsoft's Active Directory and let customers or integrators run both Linux and Windows as virtual servers on the same box.

Virtualization and server consolidation is hot, but that particular combination isn't, according to Alex Zaltsman, managing partner at Exigent, which builds systems that run Linux virtual servers using VMware Corp.'s virtual software.

"I was really disappointed," he said of the announcement. "All our customers use VMware and every big company we know that does virtualization uses VMware. If [Microsoft and Novell] think it's great to work on their virtualization products together, that's great, but I don't see any value in it."

He also doesn't see value in connecting Novell's edirectory to Microsoft's Active Directory. "If you're talking about the 80/20 rule, the stuff in [this announcement] is talking all about the 20."

The announcement annoyed Zalstman so much he blogged that its title "Bridging the divide" should have been "Creating market confusion".

That's not to say there couldn't or shouldn't be better integration between Linux and Windows, according to Robert Simpson, CTO for Systems Design Group, Inc. in Lexington, Ky.

But both integrators and customers have already adapted to the present, spotty level of integration.

"There are particular sweet spots where there would be a requirement for integration, but in most of those cases you can pick another product," Simpson said. "With other integrations, though, you generally stick to one technological silo; the customers and developers inherently segregate themselves to one platform or the other. "

System design group builds mostly on top of Debian, with some Red Hat thrown in. Simpson has never considered Novell's SuSE Linux, but if the integration with Microsoft produced concrete results, that might change.

"For right now, though," he said, "it doesn't change the landscape a whole lot."

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