In the aftermath of Steve Ballmer's statement that Linux infringes on Microsoft Corp.'s intellectual property, Microsoft is attempting to make its views clear on whether Linux is a competitor, what role it plays in Microsoft's business strategy, and what the agreement it recently signed with Novell actually means.
"Microsoft is reaffirming that Linux is an important operating system for IT environments, which is the reason behind the agreement with Novell, and prior technology agreements with XenSource and other open source vendors," said a Microsoft spokesperson.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told attendees at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference in Seattle two weeks ago, that Microsoft was urged to sign a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell. Part of the reason was that the company wanted to "get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation."
The agreement itself — as well as the vague and seemingly contradictory statements about it's meaning from both Microsoft and Novell – left customers, competitors and IT solution providers unclear on the intent of the agreement, or what Microsoft's next step will be. The Microsoft spokesperson told SearchStorageChannel.com that the agreement is not intended to create a proprietary version of the Linux operating system as some observers theorized. Instead, it's focused on "building a bridge between business and development models, not removing competition in the marketplace."
"At the product level, Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise will continue to compete; however, the agreement is focused on making it easier for customers who want to run both Windows and Linux to do so," the spokesperson added.
The companies will continue to compete – with existing products — in desktop operating systems, identity and security management, and in systems and resource management.
However, they will cooperate to develop new software solutions for virtualization, Web services for managing physical and virtual servers, and document format compatibility.
In the lucrative area of virtualization, however, providing software solutions may prove a tough sell especially since VMware has dominated the market.
Indeed VMware executives said the announcement sets up two different approaches to open source implementation in the virtualization space.
"We believe in working with the [Linux] community and creating an open interface that is vendor independent and community developed. Microsoft and Novell are creating a proprietary API between the Novell version of the Linux operating system and their own hypervisor software," said Raghu Raghuram, VMware's vice president for product and solutions marketing.
Virtualization software providers are themselves watching Microsoft's virtualization play.
"I would never rule Microsoft out from anything in technology, but until Microsoft comes out with a product with a competing architecture to VMware's products I don't see how it's going to be possible for them to play in the same space," said Steve Kaplan, president of systems integrator AccessFlow Inc., Sacramento, Calif.
In fact, Microsoft said its agreement with Novell is much broader than virtualization and creates a blueprint for cooperation between traditional software providers and those pursuing the open source model.
And while the company said it has strong customer adoption for Virtual Server 2005 and Virtual PC products it intends to broaden its portfolio to include management tools and application virtualization.
"Only Microsoft offers customers investment protection with a clear transition from today's virtual machine technology to tomorrow's hypervisor-based virtualization technology," the Microsoft spokesperson said.
AccessFlow's Kaplan said if Microsoft comes up with a hypervisor and makes it free then they might stand a chance of picking-up business, but then again when companies consider a virtual infrastructure, the savings on software is less of a consideration.
"When you are entrusting your data center to a virtualization layer, the most important thing is that it works well, is reliable and has all the functionality you need," Kaplan said. "You gain so many other benefits from data center virtualization that the cost of the software is somewhat irrelevant to the overall savings," Kaplan added.