Sunday, June 23, 2024

Has Microsoft’s Patent Deal with Novell Hurt Red Hat?

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In November of 2006, Microsoft entered into a patent covenant and interoperability deal with Novell. In 2011, Microsoft has renewed and extended that deal to SUSE Linux, which was spun off from Novell as part of Attachmate’s $2.2 billion acquisition of the company.

Across the last five years, Microsoft has acquired over $300 million worth of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) subscriptions for resale and now has the option for an additional $100 million with SUSE. The Microsoft Novell deal shocked the Linux world at the time it was announced and potentially represented a risk to others in the Linux market.

As it turns out, five years later, it’s a risk that hasn’t affected SUSE Linux’s rival, Red Hat all that much, if at all.

“Patents always come up in the same way that it always comes up for any piece of proprietary software,” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat told “I don’t think it’s any different for us than it is for any other software company.”

Whitehurst explained that Red Hat provides patent indemnification to its customers. He added that Red Hat has also defended itself in lawsuits as have others in the software industry.

“The thought that it (patents) were somehow different for open source than regular software, that has gone away,” Whitehurst said. “I don’t ever hear from customers that there is some differential and they need to be more worried because the software is open source.”

In addition to the patent covenant between Microsoft and SUSE, the two firms have also been working on interoperability issues between Windows and Linux. Both Microsoft and Novell in the past have stated that customers have specifically chosen SUSE Linux due to the interoperability. It’s a claim that SUSE continues to make in 2011.

“Most environments are not homogenous; they are heterogeneous, and so there is good opportunity there,” Allan Clark, Board Chair for the openSUSE Project told in a recent interview. “If I’m a CIO and I know I’m going to have Linux and Windows workloads, I will look for those that work with both vendors to help speed opportunity.”

Whitehurst said that he never hears from customers that they will choose SUSE over Red Hat for interoperability issues. Going a step further, one of the Novell Microsoft partnership customer wins that the two companies announced back in 2007 was a win with Walmart.

Whitehurst hinted that the Walmart win story may no longer be as valid a case study as it once was.

“I would suggest that you follow-up with Walmart on their technology decisions and see what they might be using today,” Whitehurst said. “I’m not saying…I’m just saying you might want to call and check with them.”

“In regards to Linux and Microsoft, as a general practice we don’t comment on our supplier relationships,”
Dan Fogleman, Walmart spokesperson told

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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