Microsoft and Red Hat ink a 'one-dimensional' Linux deal

Microsoft has signed a virtualization interoperability pact with Red Hat, but officials contend that it's quite different than the controversial deal inked between Microsoft and Novell, another big Linux distributor, a few years ago.

At a press conference on Monday, Microsoft's Mike Neil described the new deal with Red Hat as "more one-dimensional," and the older one with Novell as "more multi-dimensional."

More specifically, Microsoft and Red Hat have now agreed to provide mutual validation of one another's operating systems as guests on their respective host virtualization platforms, as well as to provide "coordinated technical support." The deal is aimed at speeding adoption of virtualization among "mutual customers" -- or businesses deploying both Windows and Red Hat Linux on PC servers -- by making deployment less "risky," said Red Hat's Mike Evans, also during the press conference.

"People want to use virtualization in mixed Windows and Linux" environments, according to Evans, who is Red Hat's VP of corporate development.

Citing research by analyst group IDC, though, Evans acknowledged that the "amounts of servers virtualized is still small," especially for mission-critical applications. He also pointed to interoperability between the "two leading x86 vendors" as giving customers more opportunities to move off of more costly Unix servers.

But Microsoft's new deal with Red Hat is also very different from Microsoft's late 2006 agreement with Novell, which called for technical collaboration across a broad range of areas, patent agreements, and "business collaboration," said Neil, who is Microsoft's general manager of virtualization strategy, under questioning by reporters.

Also under the Microsoft/Red Hat pact, no money will change hands, except that each company will be able to charge partners for validation testing and results analysis, Evans said.

Under the extensive Microsoft/Novell deal, first announced in November 2006, Novell -- the distributor of the SuSE Linux OS -- pledged to start working together with Microsoft in areas the included software patents and licensing, support, and joint R&D around Windows/Linux interoperability. In a patents covenant, Microsoft and Novell agreed that neither company would be able to sue the other for potential infringements of each other's software patents.

The Microsoft/Novell deal also called for hundreds of millions of dollars to change hands between those two companies over the subsequent three years, with a net balance of $118 million to go to Novell.

Neil and Evans each spoke on Monday of customer demand as driving the virtualization agreement between Microsoft and Red Hat. But Evans said, too, that Red Hat's ISV and OEM partners have voiced wishes not to have to support "five or ten" different hypervisors for virtualization.

Evans also maintained that Red Hat has garnered support from the Linux community around the virtualization collaboration with Microsoft. "We did consider and discuss this with some or our community leaders and got [a] strong stand from them, as well," he told journalists.

Only a couple of years ago, on the other hand, the Microsoft/Novell pact drew huge criticism from many open source developers, who questioned Novell's integrity in partnering with and receiving money from a traditionally proprietary software industry giant such as Microsoft.

Evans emphasized on Monday, however, that Red Hat's new deal with Microsoft contains no patent rights or open source licensing planks.

In running Red Hat Enterprise Linux server as a guest on Windows Server Hyper-V and Microsoft Hyper-V Server, Microsoft plans to focus on versions 5.2 and 5.3 of the Red Hat software, Neil said. Red Hat plans to support Windows Server 2000 SP4, Windows Server 2003 SP2, and Windows Server 2008 on its own virtualization platform, with support to be added by the second half of this year, according to Evans.

Also under the new agreement, Red Hat will become a Microsoft SVVP (Server Virtualization Validation Program) partner, and Microsoft will become a Red Hat Partner for virtualization, journalists were told.

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